Once, under the Tuscan sun…

I am in an almost perennial state of longing for Italy. Hubby has Italy on his mind as well. The fervor is fueled constantly as we watch our current favorite Italian TV series.  Una pallottola nel cuoro—the English title,  Bulletproof Heart. We watch Euro TV almost every night, thanks to MHZ Choice, which we began streaming several years ago. Every time we do, we are transported. In the case of Bulletproof Heart, it’s to Rome. Tonight, however, I’m recalling a trip from Florence through the Tuscan countryside. And if you haven’t read Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, please do. It’s a delight—and SO much better than the movie!

In praise of celery

The approach of fall always makes me want to cook. For one thing, it’s the high point of the harvest. For another, temperatures drop to a more reasonable, less humid level. What follows is the first of my fall culinary musings.

We have a friend in Virginia who is a very fine cook. She gives traditional Southern fare, like Brunswick stew, her own little twist, often lightening up the dish to suit more health-conscious diners but never sacrificing flavor or texture. I once asked her how she did it. Her reply was immediate and to the point.

“Celery,” she said, in her elegant Southern drawl. “It’s highly underrated.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Celery has long held a certain eminence in fine cuisine, irrespective of its welcome crunch in a Waldorf, potato, or chicken salad. The mirepoix, that French staple, is a fine dice of celery, carrots, and onion—a combination also used in the construction of many Italian soups and sauces. The Cajun cooking staple known as the Holy Trinity—a term I learned from Emeril Lagasse in the early days of the Food Network—is a fine dice of celery, onion, and green pepper. Spain and Germany have their own versions, which you can read about in a fascinating post by Lindsey Howald Patton on the Serious Eats blog. You’ll note that some of these combinations substitute celery root or use leek instead of onion. One could also easily trade the onion for shallots, for a more elegant flavor.

What set off this rather unlikely post was an article I found in my inbox not long ago, from the online magazine TASTE. It was all about celery, and it was surprisingly interesting. It made me want to head to an antique shop in search of a celery vase. Read the article here.

Celery and olives, sometimes with carrots, and at Thanksgiving and Christmas with raw fennel, were always on my parents’ table for special occasion dinners. Celery is in just about every soup that I make. Celery as a vegetable—as opposed to a base ingredient or crudité—is given much more respect in French cuisine. Any vintage cookbook will provide recipes. And, of course, so will our darling Julia Child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple treasures: The best BLT ever

For a very brief time, Hubby and I owned a home in the triangle area of North Carolina. Although our plans to relocate there changed, we like to visit now and then. When we do, the one stop that’s always de rigeur is Merritt’s Store and Grill in Chapel Hill.

Apart from the fact that Merritt’s is a delightful, welcoming place, where both staff and customers always greet you with a smile, the truth is that it’s the home of the best darn BLT in the USA. Honest. With all the fancy restaurants in Chapel Hill, the only one that calls to us, every time, is Merritt’s.

I’m not sure what they do to make the BLTs so good, so remarkable; but I can tell you that you won’t be disappointed if you try one. They are brimful  with bright green leaf lettuce, a generous serving of perfectly crisped bacon, and big, beautiful tomato slices that taste great even when tomatoes aren’t in season. I’m not sure how they manage that.

And, of course, there’s mayo, and, yes, it’s probably Duke’s, which is a veritable institution down south.

The bread, made fresh daily at The Bread Shop is nearby Pittsboro, is great, too. My preference, sunflower, is another North Carolina institution. There are other possibilities, including a gluten-free option. You can add on to your BLT if you prefer—that Southern invention, pimiento cheese, or avocado, for example. In my humble opinion, however, adding anything to a Merritt’s BLT is gilding the lily.

And here’s another reason to visit Merritt’s. If you time it just right, you can enjoy some fantastic old-time fiddlin’, pickin’, and singin’. Check Merritt’s website—link above—or Facebook page to find out what’s going on.

merritts

Nothing fancy—just good things to eat.

merritts crew

The gang you can thank for those BLTs.

I dream of Italy

When the weekend approaches, I often find myself daydreaming about all the wonderful places we’ve been. I’ve got Italy on my mind today, perhaps because it’s so warm and sunny here, perhaps because there are beautiful fresh tomatoes on the counter and basil thriving in the backyard, perhaps because there’s a field of sunflowers nearby, perhaps because I never really get Italy (or France, for that matter) entirely out of my head…

So today I’m sharing a few photos of our daydream-worthy visit to the remarkable, enchanting Cinque Terre. I’ve shown you photos of some of the food we enjoyed in this magical region in a previous post, but this time it’s all about the views. Do enjoy, and do visit if you’re lucky enough to be in Italy.

 

Cover photo: “Modern” recreational vessels punctuate an ancient seascape in Monterosso al Mare. Each of these photos is my own work.

Mystic-ism

I’d wanted to visit Mystic Seaport in Connecticut for years by the time we finally got there on a misty (sorry—I couldn’t resist) day a few summers ago. Mystic is a delightful trip back in time if you appreciate the American Colonial period, and a great history lesson for kids. It’s easier to enjoy in spring or fall, when the tourist volume is lower. Earlier today, I was going through my photos and thought you might enjoy these.

Mystic schooner

 

 

O Canada!

Next to France and Italy, which for me is a toss-up, I love Québec best. I won’t speak for Hubby, but I believe he feels pretty much the same way. Therefore, in honor of Canada Day, and all things Canadian, here are just a few photos from past summer trips. In the cityscape cover photo, you can see almost all of the walled Vieux Ville, the old city, with the Château Frontenac at its heart on the right, overlooking the St. Lawrence. It is all so lovely. If I could just wish myself there, right now…

 

Dutch country ‘Roots’

Even when you’re not completely #retired, there’s more time for spur-of-the-moment adventures.

Finding ourselves with an obligation-less day, on Tuesday we set out for the legendary Root’s Market in Pennsylvania Dutch country. There were other possibilities, of course, but Root’s is open ONLY on Tuesdays, and we knew it would be an easy ride that wouldn’t consumer the entire day.

Farmers’ markets are ubiquitous in this part of the world. Central Pennsylvania, once you get out of its small cities, is still replete with farmland even though much of it, sadly, has been sold off for development. In the summer months, we never buy fruit or vegetables in the supermarket—we go right to the source. There’s a farm market not too far away that has been in the same family for more than a century. More about that one on another day as it deserves its own post!

People have been telling us about the wonders of Root’s for years. Even though the best of the summer bounty is still a few weeks away, we thought that it might have something unique to offer.

And, in a way, it did: a cast of thousands. Shoppers, that is, purchasing everything from $1 boxes of assorted school supplies to fruits and vegetables to locally smoked meats  to flowering plants… and then some. Although disbursed through several buildings and the outdoor areas between them, the crowd was thick and slow-moving. And it was hot.

I made a few discoveries:

One is that even the Amish have discovered the selling power of designer coffee.

Another is that if you have a grandchild who likes matchbox vehicles, you can find them there, “at a good price.”

The third is that the larger the market, the larger the crowd, the more overwhelming the display, the less inclined we are to buy anything. Hubby and I are very much alike in that respect.

And so, we’ve done Root’s. Our next fruit-and-veggie buy will be at one of our local farm stands. And our next spontaneous day trip will probably be to a rose garden.