Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Some friends and I are planning an island vacation. We spent hours and hours and hours choosing an island, the right flights, and the best hotel. In just over a week (1 week!!!), we’ll be lying on a beach, being served drinks. By hot men. Well, maybe the last part if we’re lucky.

I haven’t yet told my friends about my last beachy vacation when Elvera and I almost missed our flight home. (Ok, so I just spoiled the ending of the story).

In case you forgot, let me remind you about that trip. For a week in July 2009, my friend Elvera and I stayed with Joe and Victoria and their growing family in Panama City, and were wined and dined  nearly every night. Having quickly found a favorite restaurant and eaten there twice in four days, I was determined to meet the chef. With such a tight-knit Jewish community in Panama, it wasn’t difficult to get the email address of Darna owner and chef, Ayelet. We agreed to meet on the morning of my departure at her newest venture – Darna Bread. Leaving the next day for a few days of island hopping in Bocas del Toro, we settled on Sunday morning a few hours before our flight home.

After arriving from Bocas at nearly midnight and frantically re-packing our over-stuffed bags, we awoke early Sunday morning determined to find Darna Bread. With directions in hand, we found a taxi and in our broken Spanish (read: Elvera speaks medical Spanish and I can pick my way through a menu) tried to get to the cute little coffeehouse we had heard so much about from the locals. An hour later, several pantomime conversations with strangers on the street, and a little bit of a hike, we finally finally finally found our way. In addition to eating a delicious shakshuka breakfast, snapping photos, and checking out the lending library on the walls, I had the chance to sit down with Ayelet. She told me of her plans to open a third restaurant (now open) and how she and her sister ended up in Panama from Israel. We shared recipes and her challah recipe below has become a favorite.

As we were chatting, Elvera kept giving me looks. Tapping her watch. Leaning her head towards the door. I, of course, saw her…and ignored her. She finally came over and said we really had to go. Just a few  more questions? She frowned. A few questions later, I joined her back at our table, ate the last, now cold, bites of shakshuka. We called a taxi, paid, threw our remaining bread in a bag. As we jumped into the taxi, our phone rang — it was Joe, wondering where we were and sounding a bit panicked. We assured him we were en route. We had the taxi wait while we ran up to grab our luggage and hug Joe, Vic, and little Jack goodbye.

We got to the airport 59 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off. That’s one minute after the check-in cutoff. Some spectacular negotiating tactics finally got us onto the flight and on our way home.

Luckily, I haven’t had to use any of these negotiating tactics since then.

Darna Challah

This is Ayelet’s recipe with just a few little tweaks. I use my mixer to knead the dough. And I like Ayelet’s use of a bowl of water in the oven while the challot are baking to help the crust form. This recipe makes 2 very large challot. It’s a little more time intensive than my bread machine challah recipe, but I actually think it has a better texture.

– 3 T dry yeast

– 3 T sugar

– warm water (~2C)

– 1 kg bread flour (aka 8 cups)

– 1 T salt

– 3 eggs

– 3/4 C oil

– 1 egg for egg wash

– sesame seeds

Prepare the yeast. Dissolve yeast in ~1/2 C warm water and sugar. Allow to percolate until frothy. This can take up to 15 minutes.

Mix the dough. Throw flour, yeast mixture, salt, eggs, and oil into your mixer. Start to knead with the dough hook and slowly add water “until you get a nice dough.” OK – I realize these are not the most exact directions, but this is what Ayelet suggested and I’m sticking to it. I added about 1.5 cups of water. Then I had to add some flour. Then a little water. And a little more flour. But it just kind of worked. Eventually the dough came together, stopped sticking to the bowl and completely wrapped around the dough hook.

Knead. I let my mixer do some of the kneading (about 5+ minutes) and then knead it by hand on a floured surface for another 5+ minutes.

Let rise. Roll dough into a ball and let rise in the mixer bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 1 hour over a warm oven until it doubles in bulk. Punch the dough down, knead it and let it rise again until doubled. Divide dough into six or eight equal-sized balls, depending on whether you plan to make 3- or 4-stranded challot (or 12 or 16 if you’re planning to make 4 challot).

Braid. Divide dough into equal-sized pieces – the number of pieces depends on how many challahs and what type of braid you plan to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long strand. If you want to make a four-stranded braid as pictured, start by pinching four strands together at one end. A four-stranded braid is actually weaving and always starts on the same side (rather than conventional braiding that involves alternately crossing strands from the right and left). Weave the leftmost strand over its neighboring strand, under the next one, and over the fourth, laying it down on the far right of the braid. Pick up the new leftmost strand and weave over-under-over as before. Continue until the end of the braid and tuck the ends under the loaf.

Bake. Whisk an egg with a few splashes of cold water. Brush this egg wash over the challah and sprinkle with seeds if you’d like. Place a bowl of water in the oven to create steam. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

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Whenever I travel, my sister asks for a postcard. I always buy a few. I usually write at least one. Sometimes I even get a stamp. Rarely does a card hit a foreign mailbox. Almost always, the cards are hand-delivered. And while one of the postcards has already been signed, stamped, sent, and received, until the others arrive, this post(card) will have to do.

Last month, my friend Sarah and I crisscrossed the Portugal-Spain border. The day I stumbled into Lisbon, still recovering from my red-eye and transfer in Munich, Sarah welcomed me with a box of pastéis de nata. Our time in Portugal revolved around these incredible custard tarts in a caramelized crust. Sarah wanted to sample pastéis de nata from every corner bakery and pasteleria we passed, but once I tried the original from Pastéis de Belém, I couldn’t go back to mere copies. I loved the ones in Belém so much that on our last day in Lisbon, we took a €15 taxi for one final taste. And we did take in a few sights, including ducks, peacocks, and a couple of Portuguese good luck symbols in a little park near our hotel.

If Lisbon was all about the sweet, then Seville was all about the savory and the sensual. (Ahem … tapas and flamenco.)

We started our time in Seville with a tapas tour. Best. Idea. Ever. What better re-introduction to a city I hadn’t visited since college than a four hour (tapas) bar crawl with a virtual local (Shawn) who can find food to satisfy any taste? I like fish and vegetables, Sarah wanted to try everything. And Shawn navigated our preferences as easily as she navigated around the Sunday after-churchgoers vying for space up against the bar under dozens of jamón hanging from the ceiling like the pots and pans that adorn my own kitchen. She also armed us for our own gourmand adventures over the next few days with lists of restaurant recommendations and real-time tweets about where to go and when to show up to guarantee a table early or to catch the kitchen before it closed.

Sarah’s done a great job of cataloging her favorite stops. Just like I can’t stop thinking about the best pastéis de nata in Belém, I keep replaying in my mind our meal at La Azotea until my mouth waters (as cliché as that sounds). After several days of largely fried foods, I was craving more vegetables than salmorejo could offer (more on that cousin of gazpacho in just a bit). La Azotea delivered.

We were greeted and seated just before 1:00 at one of only six tables. Just in time, too, because by 1:15, all six of those tables were filled and the waiters could barely squeeze past the lunching crowd crowding the bar.  Lucky for us, owner Juan helped us choose lunch and wine and dessert. Course after course,we pulled out our cameras and peppered Juan with questions.

When I asked for a recommendation on a good local wine store, Juan slipped out the front door with us, crossed the street and unlocked the door to Vinos y Más. Only open in the evening, the restaurant’s wine bar is filled with some of Spain’s best goodies, from local wines and olive oils lining two walls to cheeses and meats behind a glass case. Wine barrels scattered in the small space serve as high-top tables. I leaned against one as Juan helped me pick out several wines to bring home (to be carried back, as usual, in my suitcase).

When we finally followed the scent of orange blossoms  back to Santa Cruz, it was nearly 5:00 pm.

After days of stuffing ourselves with tapas and walking from monument to cathedral to clothing store, we dedicated our nights to flamenco. We saw one,  sometimes two shows a night: in tablaos like my favorite El Arenal and the more commercial Los Gallos; at Museo del Baille Flamenco – the flamenco museum where I also took a flamenco dance class (!!); at La Carbonería (Levíes, 18), a hidden-from-the-street almost subterranean bar with a nightly flamenc0 gathering at 11:00 pm. Clearly we should have hit La Carbonería before our last night when we had to catch a midnight bus back to Lisbon.

Flamenco is all about the interplay between the dance, the music, and the song. Assuming that I would mainly watch the dancer, I found myself again and again drawn to the guitarist’s fingers strumming, plucking, tapping the strings and reflected in the dancer’s expression and fanning hands.

My dance training always emphasized that even the most difficult step should appear light and effortless. In flamenco, emotion is at the fore and effort-full movement follows. They literally dance from the soles of their feet to the tips of their fingers. The result is passion. It’s not always pretty, but it’s very very real. (Can you tell I’m planning to take some more classes?)

Don’t worry…I didn’t forget about that salmorejo  recipe I promised. Every day (sometimes twice a day) I ate this tomato-only, slightly thicker with the addition of more day-old bread, riff on gazpacho. Or maybe gazpacho is a riff on salmorejo. Luckily, I love them both.


Salmorejo is a creamy chilled tomato soup thickened with bread. It is traditionally served with a sprinkle of diced egg and ham.


– 8-12 ripe tomatoes

– 2 garlic cloves

– 1/4 C sherry vinegar (can substitute wine vinegar)

– sea salt to taste (I used ~2 t)

– 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

– 2/3 day old baguette (~200 gm) — in a pinch, I’ve used pita!

– Fruity olive oil (Spanish arbequina is perfect for salmorejo – if you can’t get it in Spain, Unió is my favorite and available online and at Whole Foods)

– 2 eggs

Purée. Core and roughly chop the tomatoes. You can peel them for a smoother consistency, but I haven’t found that it makes an appreciable difference. Throw them in blender with the garlic and purée. A lot. The mix will be a light red. Add vinegar, salt, and regular olive oil. Keep puréeing until smooth and orange. This can take a few minutes. You might need to do it in 2 batches.

Soak. Tear up the bread and drop into the blender with the tomato mixture. Let soak for about 15 minutes until soggy.

Boil. Hard boil the eggs. Cool.

Purée again. Once the bread is good and soggy, purée until smooth and even lighter orange.

Garnish. Drizzle with a special fruity olive oil and sprinkle with chopped egg (and ham if you want).

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The past month has been characterized by two constants – snow and travel. And unfortunately (or fortunately in some cases) the former has been interfering with the latter. I’ve managed to miss both major snowstorms here in Boston, returning to an icy runway and snow piles well above my waist.

Over Christmas, Meira and I went out to San Francisco to visit her brother and sister-in-law. And their two pups. We ate and ate and drank and ate. It was a gluttonous few days including the times when we did cook at home. In the span of 48 hours, we had three different beef dishes — brisket, Micah’s cholent (hopefully the subject of a guest post), and hamburgers. We rounded out shabbat dinner with a few of my old standbys — butternut squash soup and apple cake — and some new favorites that I picked up from Eliana. Before we get to the recipes and as I pack (yet again) to head out of town, I figured I’d share a little sunshine (I hope it still comes through in my experiments with sepia) on this gray gray Boston day.

Roasted Bites

I didn’t grow up eating brussels sprouts and always avoided them based on reputation. But, Eliana showed me how to make them fabulous. And the sweet potatoes were a concoction that I had been dreaming up as a ravioli filling, but I like them so much on their own that I have yet to mash them to fill some pasta.

Brussels Sprouts

Preheat oven to 450ºF (or even higher). Cut sprouts in half or quarters, toss on a cookie sheet, and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. 10-20 minutes later, they will brown and crisp up, ready to pop in your mouth.

Sweet Potato Candy

The maple syrup caramelizes but is not too sweet and the cayenne really spices things up.

Again, heat the oven to 450ºF. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes.  Toss on a cookie sheet (are you sensing a theme here?), drizzle with maple syrup, a squeeze of lemon, and olive oil. Add your favorite spices – I used turmeric and cayenne. 15-25 minutes later (depending on size of sweet potatoes) they’re ready.

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I  bet you thought I was going to talk about Thanksgiving. Nope. Too predictable. Instead, I have a very special gift for you.

Today, I want to introduce you to Julie. She has been thinking about starting her own food blog, so help me encourage her with this baby step she’s making. Julie has actually been with me on my entire blogventure. We were in Paris together exactly 2 years ago when I met Clotilde Desoulier at a book signing and decided to start little cooking diary. We spent that night figuring out where we were going to spend the next 5 days and how to actually get there, with periodic breaks for me to gush about how excited I was to start a blog. We checked airlines, train schedules, and travel sites, finally formulating our plan at 3 am. We would take an overnight train from Paris to Berlin, spend the day and a night in Berlin, and then go to our main destination, Prague the next morning.

Arriving in Berlin, we toured around, drank some beer (I know, me, beer!), cancelled our hotel, and spent the night in a casino. We jumped on the early morning train, snoozed, and a few hours later, disembarked when we heard commotion in the aisle and the conductor shouting something in Czech (well, we assumed it was Czech). We found a taxi and showed the driver a printout of our hotel address. He loaded our luggage into his trunk and then started driving into a residential neighborhood in the mountains. We looked at each other in the back seat and shrugged; I mouthed to Julie, “I thought we were just a few minutes from downtown Prague.” Neither of us spoke Czech and our driver didn’t speak English (or Russian for that matter). The driver pulled up next to another car parked near the driveway of a house. A quick exchange of words with the driver of the parked car and our driver was gifted with a GPS. Again, Julie and I shrugged at each other. We started driving and driving and finally, from the back seat, we were able to inquire as to why this was taking so long. Turns out, we had managed to detrain right after we crossed the border into the Czech Republic, over an hour from Prague. Our driver returned us to the border station and refused our money. We took another train to the right stop this time.

Prague was freezing. We went to the castle, the opera, the Alte-Neu synagogue. We ate venison (first time ever for me) in a restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel. We took a mini-cruise along the Vltava River.

The prior year, Julie and I had spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving together in Amsterdam and Brussels. It seems Thanksgiving has become a bit of a tradition for us. This year, we are both in Miami with our families. I’m hoping Julie and her parents will come over for dessert.

You know, I said this wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving post. But apparently it is. Thanks, Julie, for being a great friend and travel partner!


I was asked to write a guest blog a while back by my friend, Gayle, and I procrastinated because I really didn’t know which dish to write about.  I love food, and all cuisines—from the most complex and authentic to the simplest of dishes. Having a wide range of different dishes prepared by my mom, who is one of the best cooks I know, and by experiencing the cuisine of different countries through the travels I’ve done over the years, I’ve developed a special love for food.  And of course, if there is an idea about a dish in my head, I always try to make it at home. As I was deciding on the menu for the blog post, I really wanted to combine something old and traditional with something new and fresh that I could relate to my every day life.

Back in February, I was in Amsterdam for a friend’s wedding and was invited to one of the sheva brachot. The hostess informed everyone that she wasn’t going to be cooking much, just dunne pannekoeken, Dutch pancakes. I was very excited to try real traditional Dutch food. Finally, when she brought out a huge plate of what seemed to me a stock of typical Russian blini, I was pleasantly surprised to see a taste of home. “This is not Dutch,” I thought to myself,these are Russian blini!” I grew up with blini, topped with caviar, lox, Nutella, jam or whatever other toppings you could think of.  After seeing 30 Dutch people eating their Dutch dunne pannekoeken and folding them a different way, I realized that food is what binds us together; we may come from different corners of the world but we all eat the same food. The only difference is that we call it our own, and by our own names: blini, blintzes, crepes, or dunne pannekoeken. It’s that comfort food that is universal and loved by the whole world.  This is the reason I chose to share the blini recipe with you, along with another episode from my life—that reminded me of my childhood—that would complement the Russian blinis.


<<note from Gayle: I made these and they came out so well that I ate the entire batch for breakfast. I used skim milk and it worked very well. I think I could have thinned out the batter a bit with more hot water to make the blini easier to spread in the pan. Julie recommended experimenting with the right “ladle size” to give you just enough batter to cover the bottom of your pan. I used ~1/3  cup of batter and made 10 blinis. Julie’s thinner batter made closer to 15 blinis. >>

1 cup of milk (or soy milk)

– 1 cup of flour

– 2 eggs

– 1/4 cup of oil

– pinch of baking powder

– pinch of salt

– 2 tablespoons of sugar

– 3 -4 tablespoons of hot water

Blend all the ingredients, except for hot water, with a hand blender until smooth; add the hot water, mix everything well; add more water if needed to get the right smooth consistency.  Heat up and grease a frying pan and pour a ladle full of batter into the center of the pan and quickly move the frying pan in a circular motion, so that the batter spreads evenly all around until it’s all set. Cook for a minute on each side or until brown.

Stack the ready blinis up one on top of the other until all the batter is used. If the first blin didn’t come out right, don’t get discouraged! There is a Russian saying that says that the first blin isn’t meant to come out right: “Pervi blin komom!

Now that you have the recipe for authentic Russian blinis, I would like to share a recipe for home-made lox fillet that you can eat along with your blinis.  Recently, my mom’s friends were visiting from Canada and at one of the meals my mom served lox, one of the sisters said: “Why do you buy lox, it’s so much better to make it at home.” Huh?! Home-made lox? I thought lox was Scandinavian, and one of those foods that can only be bought, like canned tuna. And then I was quickly reminded that her father used to bring fresh and salted fish direct from the Caspian Sea and sell it in my hometown.  I didn’t realize that he was the one salting the lox. It’s almost as if I could still taste of delicious, fresh, and juicy lox in my mouth from when I was about 10 years old. The recipe sounded simple, so I decided to try it—and it was too easy to make and too delicious to not continue making again and again.


Take a fresh salmon fillet with the skin on, wash it, pat dry it with a paper towel and put it in a glass dish. Cover the fish with salt all around about 2mm (or if you use kosher salt I use 1 layer of salt all around). Cover with a lid and keep it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for 16-22 hours. Wash off the salt, pat the fish dry with a paper towel, dip the towel in some olive oil and smear it all around the fish.  Slice fillet as you like and enjoy it with anything from a cracker to home-made blinis for Sunday brunch, or as a starter for Shabbat lunch. Enjoy!

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So, I’m back from my little around-the-world adventure. Wasn’t that quick? It sure was for me.

Before we get to the food, I need to take you on a walk around Tokyo.

First, you have to buy your subway ticket and rush to the train.

Then, wander around the fashionable Ginza district. You may not be able to afford anything in the stores, but it is fun to look around. And, someone is always available to help you find what you’re looking for.

You never know who you’re going to see outside the subway station.

Hats are pretty big in Tokyo right now — it was 85° that day. Also, those glasses have no lenses. They are just cool.

Walking in Kagurazaka, you might find a family on their way back from the temple.

But let’s get down to business. The food. Most people think of sushi when they hear Tokyo, and that’s where my culinary adventure began. I went to Tsukiji market but missed the 5 am tuna auction.

I instead got there in time to watch the tuna being sliced.

Not so kosher.

Matsutake mushrooms.

Akebi. I saw this fruit in a stall and stood in front of the boxes for about 5 minutes, hoping someone would notice me. Finally a gentleman caught me staring and stood next to me pointing at the purple fruit, half split open. He said “akebi.” I repeated, “akebi” and smiled. He nodded. I nodded. I reached for my wallet and moved to pick up a fruit, hoping he would indicate how much it cost. He just laughed and shook his head and shook his finger at me. I smiled. He shook his head again. I walked away, hoping I would see the fruit elsewhere. After 30 minutes of wandering, I returned to the stall, and smiled at my friend. Pointed at the fruit. Smiled again. He picked up one and handed it to me. I again reached for my wallet, but he shook his head. I shrugged my shoulders and scrunched up my eyebrows. He smiled and indicated I should eat it by scooping the seeds out with a finger. I smiled and walked away. Apparently, the akebi season lasts only 2 weeks. My timing was great.

Grating wasabi behind the restaurant.

My sushi chefs. It’s a lot easier to eat in Japan if you carry with you at all times a laminated list of kosher fish in Japanese (I found the list on the Jewish Community of Japan website). This, along with a subway map, made up my Tokyo survival kit.

After having sushi made from fish so fresh it was still warm, I pretty much stuck to noodles for the remainder my trip.


And udon.

You’re supposed to slurp.


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I was struggling to tell this story for weeks on end. Until a good friend reminded me of the beauty of intense brevity with what some may call Hemingway’s best short story: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment…





… and then share my second day in Panama with you. You can fill in the details.

Fruit never before seen. Not tasted.

Chef rescue. Try fruit. Make friend.

New Year. Re-taste fruit. Shehecheyanu. Blessed.

Hemingway I am not.

But, as the (Jewish) holiday season draws to a close, I wanted to share with you my wish for a year of new experience, fabulous adventure, and friends to share it with.

On that note, in just a few days, I am heading to Tokyo (and Paris) for work for two weeks. And a few days of adventure.

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This is my second installment of virtual vacationing in Panama. You joined me two months ago for breakfast (where did the summer go?) — now let’s check out dinner.

When two single women arrive in Panama, they can expect to be wined and dined every single evening. Without even making an effort. And when there are enough kosher restaurants to rival those in New York, you can bet that these two single girls were happy to oblige. Every night, gentleman would arrive at our door to sweep us away to a different restaurant. We met Panamanians, Argentinians, and Chileans. Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Religious and non-religious. Unfortunately, none of these gentlemen was memorable enough.

But the food was.

My favorite dish, the one that had me return to the same restaurant and request a meeting with the chef, was ceviche. I remember first trying ceviche in medical school when my Venezuelan classmate wanted to share with us some of her favorite foods. I was fascinated by the idea of cooking fish in the acid of citrus juice and since then, I have many variations with salmon and tuna. But the ceviche at Darna was the closest to my first taste of the specialty. I was determined to meet the chef to get the recipe, and on the morning of our flight home, I was able to do so. More on that adventure and the flight we almost missed later, but her is the recipe.

Panamanian Ceviche

In Panama, this ceviche is made from corvina – a white, firm fleshed saltwater fish that Darna Chef, Ayelet, said can be replaced with grouper, seabass, halibut, or red snapper. Not finding any of these today, I chose talapia. Ayelet gave me the recipe as she makes it in her restaurants – in batches big enough for 10 with 5 pounds of fish and 20 limes (about 1 L of lime juice). She explained that Panamanian ceviche differs from other South American ceviches in using more onion. I’ve adapted the recipe to serve 2-3 with a little extra poblano heat and replacing the celery with jicama.


– 1/2 pound white fish per person

– 2 limes  per person

– 1/4 large onion chopped per person

– 1/4-1/2 habanero pepper per person (the smaller the pepper, the hotter)

– 1/4 C chopped celery per person

– salt, pepper

My version:

– 1.25 pounds talapia

– 4 limes

– 1 small red onion

– 1 large habanero pepper

– salt, pepper

– 1 small jicama

Dice fish into ~1/2-inch cubes and place in a glass on other non-reactive bowl. Add the lime juice and salt and mix. Chop the onion very fine and add to the fish. Wear gloves to chop the pepper very fine. Gently toss with fish and refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving.

The fish is ready when it firms up and turns opaque white.

Dice jicama into ~1/4-inch cubes and soak in a little bit of lime juice and salt. Refrigerate.

Add jicama to fish and toss. Serve over romaine leaves.

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tastes like home

In high school, I spent a summer as an exchange student in France living with a family in the Loire Valley. Mireille, her husband, and their two children welcomed me into their home and lives and even took me on vacation with them. Even though I flooded the upstairs bathroom on my first evening when I couldn’t figure out how to use the hand-held shower. Even though I asked that they not add butter to my chicken because I kept kosher (no butter? a heresy!). Even though I was shocked at being invited to drink wine with dinner. Even though I was shy with my French and spent the first few days virtually in silence. (Yes, me, silent.)

Quickly I grew to love the rhythms, smells, and tastes of small town life. First in Mont près Chambord visiting châteaux most weeks and the corner bakery to pick up a baguette or a pain de campagne every morning.  Then on vacation in Sables-d’Olonne in the Vendée at the  grandparents’ rustic house where we picked our meals largely from the robust garden.

Every other day or so, we went to the outdoor marché to buy only the freshest produce from vendors who has raised the fruits and vegetables themselves. The tomatoes were redder, the haricots verts greener and skinnier than anything I saw in our supermarket back home. And the cheese.

The cheese. It deserves its own paragraph. The stinkier, the better. The fattier, the better. As a girl who had been dancing for years and subject to scrutiny in front of the mirror, this was mind altering. I tried creamy cheeses. Nutty cheeses. Blue cheeses (still not a fan). Rind cheeses. Goat cheeses. I discovered I loved Bucheron, Gruyère and its French cousin Comté, Saint Marcellin, and of course Camembert. We kept le fromage out of le frigo at room temperature in a special cheese cupboard. I could could keep going. But this post isn’t about the cheese.

I had packed in my luggage a bag of chocolate chips and a recipe so I could bake for my French family an American classic that I often made with my mom. Gathering the rest of the ingredients and converting the recipe without measuring cups was a bit of a challenge. We got held up looking for baking soda in the grocery store. Until a bit of creative sleuthing (a halting conversation between me and the  baguette baker) led me to the pharmacy for bicarbonate de soude.

My French famille loved the cookies. So much, in fact, that we made several more batches even after the chocolate chips were gone, and not being able to find pépites de chocolat, bought big blocks of chocolate and chopped them into coupeaux de chocolat. And the grand-mère took to calling them “crokies.” The name stuck.

Chocolate Chip “Crokies”

Makes more than 5 dozen small cookies

I have lost the recipe that I brought with me to France, but this one is pretty close, adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The rice krispies are an homage to my mom who always threw them in our cookies and I love the crunch they add. These cookies are on the softer side, so if you like them flatter and crispier, add 1-2T water with the wet ingredients.

– 1/2 C softened butter or margarine

– 3/4 C white sugar

– 3/4 C brown sugar

– 2 eggs

– 2C flour

– 1/2 t baking soda

– 1/2 t salt

– 1 t vanilla

– 1 C chocolate chips

– 2 C rice krispies

– 1-2 T water (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix. Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until well blended. Add 1-2 T water if desired. Mix flour with baking soda and salt, then add it to the liquid ingredients and mix by hand. Fold in chocolate chips and rice krispies.

Bake. Drop cookies by scant tablespoonfuls onto a silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes until lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes before removing from silpat/parchment and transfer to a rack.

I keep my cookies in the freezer and think they are best eaten cold.

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I told you I’d be doing a little bit of virtual vacationing, so here is my first installment.

Almost a year ago, I went to Panama with my good friend Elvera. We stayed in Panama City for about half of our vacation, relying on the hospitality of my business school classmate, Joe, and his family, including his wife and son, and his parents. Everyone seemed happy to welcome two single girls to Panama, but more on that later.

The best part of my mornings was waking up early with little Jack and sneaking him out to the porch with a bottle to give his mom a few extra moments of sleep. We would lounge on the hammock lazily lapping up the few rays of sun slowly peeking out above the horizon.

After our early-morning nap, I was sometimes greeted by a glass of fruit juice. Not ordinary orange or grapefruit juice. No, this is Panama. One morning it was papaya juice, the next watermelon blended with ice and served in a frosty glass.

When Elvera and did venture out to Bocas del Toro, our AM breakfasts always included the same fruit salad – a mix of papaya, watermelon, and pineapple. And a lot of coffee. So, when I returned to my home, with neither hammock nor little Jackito nor the coordination to make a frosty fruit beverage, I recreated my tropical mornings with the same salad from Bocas.

Panama Fruit Salad

Choose the ripest papaya, watermelon, and pineapple you can find. Scoop seeds out of papaya and cut flesh into bite-sized chunks. Cut watermelon flesh into bite-sized chunks. Cut pineapple into bite-sized chunks (leaving out the stringy core). Add a few splashes of lime juice. Mix. Eat in the sunshine.

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Some of you have commented about the dwindling frequency of my posts. And the past few days, I’ve been in the office after midnight. So, I’ve decided to go on some trips. No, I don’t think I have enough vacation time to go anywhere fabulous in the near future, so I’m going to go through some of my recent and less recent travels and bring you along for a little food fun.

Of course my most recent trip was less about the food and more about the outdoors. I know, me? Yes, me! It was refreshing to pack a bag with barely a moment’s notice and throw it in the car, driving north to a land where the latest restaurants close at 10. That foreign land…New Hampshire. We did manage to find a fabulous coffee place that is worth the trip before a big hike…

…or a drive half-way up a mountain. (Mount Washington is known not just as the tallest peak in the Northeast but as having notoriously erratic weather.) We were warned at the field house that winds get so high at the mid-point plateau that we had to hold onto our car doors when opening to avoid having them ripped off. When we got to this point, as far as we were allowed to drive, I of course had to exit the car to see what this was all about. Luckily I did hold on to the door because as we walked just a few steps from the road, the wind threatened to knock me over.

We did finally make it up a shorter slope, one filled with running streams and leafy trees.  With my still healing knee, we had to keep a leisurely pace, allowing me to take in the scenery that I might otherwise rush past.

When we got to the top, we sat at the peak with a clear view of the surrounding mountains and valley. Scooping garlicky hummus into our mouths with crackers was the best meal of the weekend.

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