The napkin.

I had lunch at a tiny little restaurant just steps from my hotel in Paris. It was called Le Timbre.

Only 11 tables. A lovely young woman and her husband own the restaurant — it has been open for about five years. He’s the Chef. From my observation, she managed the restaurant.

Husband and wife were both stylish, handsome, and in total synch in presenting their food. I was quite taken by them and their little restaurant.

It took me several days to get a seat because they were always booked. I finally scored a reservation for lunch on Saturday. The menu was transcendent. As was the food.

First though – there was this evocative moment. The napkin ring.

It immediately transported me to the VSOE. Oh, that it were one of those Harry Potter portkeys and could have literally transported me to the Orient Express. At dinner, the cameriere would play this game. He would hold the ring and have me pull out the napkin. Lovely evocative memory.

Anyway – back to my lunch at Le Timbre.

I picked the mini prix-fixe: starter and main.

White Tuna and Watermelon

Great starter. Cubes of white tuna lightly marinated with equal size cubes of watermelon. The dressing was green, had a slight kick to it: composed of parsley, chervil, coriander, lemon and some of its zest, and olive oil. The “kick” might have been a little touch of chile though it was not hot. It was fabulous.

Red Snapper with Braised Baby Leeks

The snapper was perfectly seared. Served on braised leeks. The golden rectangle of potato was crispy on top with layers and layers of deliciousness below. The purée on the plate was celery root.

Chef did something quite interesting with the dish. The spices were lightly sprinkled in discreet sections. A few sprigs of thyme about 3 o’clock. Some ground cumin with a couple of seeds at 10. Thin thin thin slices of pork belly laid on top of the leeks. There was one shallot in the dish that added another level of flavor. And a few nicoise olives were scattered about.

If in Paris and you get a chance – make a reservation at Le Timbre. It’s on the tiny little Rue Sainte-Beuve.

First night in Paris at the Quartiere Vavni in Arrondissement 6.

I’ve got a bad case of VSOE withdrawal. Going from complete service on the Orient Express to fending for myself in Paris.

As it happened, I found myself at a cafe on a corner in Luxembourg for some epic people watching.

A couple in their late thirties. Both professionals. He arrived at the table first, ordered himself a glass of rosé and lit up a cigarette. 15 minutes later, a chic looking woman joined him. He then ordered a carafe of rosé and a little glass bucket with ice. She is talking – French – sounds like she had a bad day. Oh but wait – they’re flirting. I think they’ve just started dating. Why? Because he’s actually listening to her.

Unless that’s what French men do.

Behind me – I haven’t stared yet, give me a second. It’s two men in their twenties who are working in fashion. Bitching about being assistants to someone who doesn’t appreciate them. Beautiful. African I think. They seem to be a couple. With them an Asian woman who they chided should order in English if she wanted to. Odd, I thought. But, she did.

All the while I am luxuriating in sloppily eating Petites Sardines á l’huile d’Olive. Slathering the butter that came with my order on what to them is probably some mundane bread (and to me is a little piece of heaven).

Digging the little Basque fish out of the can – and strategically laying it over the buttered bread. Squeezing some lemon and trying to maneuver it into my mouth without oil dripping down the corner of my mouth and onto my chin.

Not sure I succeeded, but man it was soooo good!!

Ha! The waiter just came and took all the goodies away. No “are you finished, Madam.” By that point I had progressed to squeezing the lemon into the oil left in the can with tiny bits of fish. And just dipping the bread into it. I guess I’m done.

Over my left shoulder – as I discreetly tried to take on the scene – sits a bohemian looking woman with white hair. She was nursing her one cup of coffee and madly scribbling away on a small pad. She seems oblivious to the “scene” around her.

Oh did I mention – everyone’s smoking.

A superb perch for people watching. An elderly couple crossing the street – he has a cane – she a baquette.

A woman sitting at a table with her two dogs. I suspect this is HER table. She was sitting in an alleyway that had bins of books, a restaurant and a theatre. At least one was a stage theatre – I might go see their Macbeth (The Notes) just for the experience. And though I didn’t see where the movie theatre was located – I did see posters for movies.

Earlier, I saw a Parisian woman confident and striding across the street. She was sporting the quintessential Breton-striped shirt. She was tastefully braless, and wearing baggy denims that had a high hem. And unpretentiously and unconsciously stylish.

Welcome to Paris.

Ohhhh! THAT is how you get a whole-grain roll.

My time in Vienna is drawing to a close – and I have finally learned the proper way of getting whole wheat bread on the table.

Ask for BLACK bread!!

I’d had no luck with asking for “whole wheat” “organic” “brown” or even “dark”. At breakfast – fewer than 48 hours from my departure, I saw a man eating the roll that I wanted.

Kornspitz at the Cafe Eiles

It is apparently called a Kornspitz. I did what we uninformed often do: I pointed to it and asked the waiter “What is that, please? Bitte. I want one of those, please. How do I order it, please?”

Black bread.

Now you know.

Vienna, Day Three

I ventured out to spend the morning at the Imperial Apartments. Afterwards, I walked about 15 minutes away to the Naschmarkt. Rick Steves calls it the “nibbles” market. In all due respect Rick — it’s NOSH market.

Think Pike Place Market. Only bigger. And more exotic.

I had lunch at an Israeli joint called Neni. Figured I should give THEIR hummus a try. Pretty damn awesome. Maybe on par with mine. Okay, I just took another taste: as good as mine. Just different.

I suspect they don’t use olive oil, garlic or lemon. That is likely the proper way to make it.

But it was the visit to a stand of Mideast goods. I am guessing Turkish but maybe not. Spices. Teas. And, some unusual nuts and snacks. I asked for a little bit — A LITTLE BIT!! – of the cashews banana — seemed to be cashews glazed with some sort of caramelized banana treatment.

Same with these Wasabinuss. That is probably translated as Wasabi nuts though they are not strictly nuts. More like a crunchy carb thing surrounding probably a peanut. “A little bit,” I pleaded. I repeated.

The sack of wasabinuss must weigh a pound.

When I spotted the walnut-stuffed dates, I specifically said – and signaled: 3 – that’s three – 3 dates!

Three became six.

I am pretty sure the word “sucker” was tattooed on my forehead. However – don’t misunderstand. I. Am. Delighted with the snacks. But this guy was playing me like a dope. At the very least, I wanted him to know that I knew that he was scamming me.

Coulda been worse: it could’ve been a pickpocket. At least I ended up with nuts in bags in a bag.

I have this thing where I romanticize the “different tastes” from other countries when I travel. Whether it be “eggs” in every Dutch dish I ate when I first visited in the 90’s.

Or the “acqua con gas” I drank in Rome from a company called Claudius. It was my go-to bottled water. Likely because I imagined it was drawn from the ancient wells of “I, C-C-Claudius”.

My first night in Vienna this summer of 2019, I ate at a Greek restaurant. The meal was fabulous. Beef tasted like real beef. Tomatoes: real (you get the picture).

The water was labeled “prickelnd“.

Though I’d never seen the word before, I could divine the water was sparkling.

Onomatopoetic.

I had this view that the water was naturally extracted from some bubbling spring in the Vienna Woods NOT that it was a bloody Coca Cola product. I mean, where’s the romance in that? I bet those bubbles aren’t even natural.

Bastards.

And corn and zucchini and Kirby cukes and tomatoes and melon and blueberries.

Ahhhh – summer fruits!!

To be clear – the Pope and the Date Lady were only together in my day. Not literally.

I spent an October Wednesday morning at the Papal Audience with Papa Francesco. And a couple thousand other souls. It’s a Happening. It took a long bus ride and about 30 minutes – maybe more – to get through security and into the public pens.

And then, you’re in.

It’s very exciting. Everyone is buzzing. It is a cacophony of tongues. Nuns, priests of course. Families. Large groups of Catholic school teens with their banners. Coveys of seniors following the ubiquitous guys with flags on sticks: tours of tourists who I suspect don’t know that the tickets are gratuito!

The veterans know to sit anywhere around the periphery next to the barriers. Picture thousands of people squeezed around the edges, and hundreds of empty chairs in the center.

You look up at the Jumbotrons, and see his white garb. A Popemobile eye’s view as he climbs aboard. The buzzing gets louder. People craning their necks as they see on the screen that Il Papa is moving.

And then. Then. Arriva! Arriva! He’s here! We all rush to our spots, elbowing the aggressive few, backpacks in our faces, banners in front of our lenses. To Get The Shot.

SNAP SNAP SNAP

At that point, major denouement time. Mind you – he hasn’t even started talking yet. It’s not a mass. Francis welcomes us in Italian. The message is repeated in many languages: French, German, Spanish, English (which oddly covered everywhere from the Dominican Republic to Japan), several others.

The day’s Homily played off the scripture on divorce and “let no man tear asunder…” it was more about integrity of love and commitment – than you damn well better stay married.

First delivered by the Pope – then summarized by the foreign speakers.

At the end – (as forecast and promised) he blesses the crowd. Plus, all of the religious objects we carried. My bag was bulging with wooden crosses, medals and one stunning rosary. Gifts for the folks back home.

THE DATE LADY

The Date Lady

She’s a recurring figure in my stories of Rome. For seventeen years, I have been buying big, succulent Medjool dates from the stand where she works at the Campo dei Fiori. She’s got just a few teeth. And, she’s friendly enough. Date, date, signora.

I held my breath this year that she would still be there. She was. What a delight. Until this one moment:

The Date Lady Turns

Some hapless tourist fails to see the sign on her mushrooms that boldly states DO NOT TOUCH. And she turns!

Date Lady goes full-on funghi fierce.

What a moment.

What a day!

I am smitten with the idea of the life of the person or people behind that window across the rear courtyard here in Roma.

It caught my attention because of the candle. Plus, everything else I could see in the space below was inanimate. This promised a story.

The table was simply, but elegantly, set. It didn’t have the quotidian feel of just another dinner.

I first saw a youngish woman setting something down – maybe she had just finished setting the table. Then a man – her partner, roommate, friend? (Probably not just friend – the candlelight after all) – sat a pan down with something sizzling. Maybe it was veal scallopini – but more likely chicken breasts (unlike Jimmy Stewart – I had no binoculars plus hey!! I wasn’t spying or anything).

I had just finished washing my day’s undergarment- and hanging it out to dry on the little clothesline outside my kitchen window – in time to catch them eating their meal together. He seemed rapt with attention, pouring her sake – and I imagined her elusive. Like maybe they were just courting.

That’s it. I walked away from the window. Watched 007 (Sean Connery) in Italian. Then went to bed.

In the early morning hours, I peeked to see what I could see. I saw shutters. In the awake time of the day, a laptop and papers on the table.

Though it struck me that I had invaded their privacy by looking, I also considered that they could be staring at my window. And seeing my Hanky Panky® on the clothesline.

Just one day in Rome – and I managed to pack in two helpings of gelati, cacio e pepe, countful glasses of vino – and a new word.

Grandini. But that comes later.

My flight from JFK to FCO was, as they say, uneventful. It started a little disappointing but quickly sequed into an unexpected treat. I booked Finnair – hadn’t paid that much attention because I did it months ago and on Expedia. One thing I could never figure out how to do was pick my seat. Until the last day when they wanted to charge me about $150 to choose. Which pretty much negates getting a great deal now doesn’t it!?

I ended up in a middle seat in the third row from the back. I reacted with a groan. The flight attendant heard me and pointed out that the entire row in front of me was open. I quickly moved to the aisle seat. And three hours later when it was time to sleep – I stretched out over four seats and entered into the Land of Nod. Made a big difference for this traveler who doesn’t take altering substances to sleep on overnight flight.

We landed 90 minutes early and within an hour I was settling into my Casa Piccola. The woman who rented to me – the lovely Clotilde who has been renting me a place to lie my head for years here in Rome – described her other place as a “small house” on Via Urbana. First, she meant small apartment. Secondly, it is about the size of a medium-sized Manhattan apartment. It is lovely – with the miniature clothes line out the kitchen window, pots and pans stored in the living room, and the sounds and cooking smells of people living all around me.

Oh – and two flights of f’ing treacherous unevenly-spaced stairs.

Via Urbana is in Monti — known as Suburra in Ancient Rome. It was the red-light district – and home to both the lower class workers, and Julius Caesar. Never really spent that much time here. Lots to explore. It’s a pretty happening strada. Where I got my first helping of cacio e pepe. And gelato at a place that trumpeted some gorgeous macarons (follow nyproducer on Instagram for some of this). And hours later some celestial gelato next to a charming little piazza. I had “avocado, lime and vino bianco” and “apple, almonds and cinnamon”. Uh-maze-ing. think I shall return and try pumpkins with its seeds and cranberry. And call it Thanksgiving in Rome.

Grandini is the Italian word for hail. Not as in “Hail, Caesar” but as in holy shit who knew it was going to storm tonight!?! While finishing my second glass of Primitivo and my little bowl of cheese and salami, a dramatic boom of thunder cracked the night. And the downpour began. First pelting rain. Then grandini. I, of course, had no choice but to order another glass of vino and switched to misto verdure. A dish of caponata, dried tomatoes perfectly softened in olive oil and some treatment of zucchini I am going to have to figure out before I leave.

I made it home, had the veg with my eggs the next morning. And must simply meet who was playing Volare at 4 this morning.

My first 24 hours in Roma.

It is my tradition to share my list of foods from the Fair: what I ate and at the very least: my favorite “new” Fair Food. From the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

Without further ado:

Favorite: The First Kiss®. The most delicious, juicy, and unforgettable APPLE. Yes – a fruit.

Then – what else?

  • Frozen key lime pie on a stick
  • Pronto Pup
  • Smoked ice cream with bourbon cherries
  • Sausage medley
  • Wood-grilled elote (Mexican corn on the cob)
  • Mojito beergarita
  • Flight of dark beer
  • Apple!!!
  • Blueberry rhubarb cobbler with corn meal polenta and yogurt
  • Minneapple pie with vanilla ice cream
  • Minnepumpkin pie with cinnamon ice cream
  • Walleye Cakes
  • Turducken sausage on a bun

Fair Husband and I at the Fair

The annual event of pigs, crop art and food-on-a-stick calls me once again.  It was a remarkable day of endless walking, sights and sounds as only a fair delivers (particularly redolent as experienced from the Sky Ride overhead), and two highlights in particular (food to come in a moment).

Raptor Show: a little bit of environmental awareness, falconry and, yes, even patriotism.  An hour at the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) building watching up close, owls, hawks, falcons and the grand finale: the American Bald Eagle (nice way to stir up the emotions and get the crowd to donate to the predator bird demonstration).  Which I gladly did.  It was wonderful.

Miracle 0f Birth Center: as it sounds.  A building dedicated to the actual births of farm animals: from rabbits to pigs to cows, goats, and other ruminants.  Pretty much every year, by the time my fair buddy Steve (see above: Paul Bunyan) arrive at the pavilion, we have missed the LIVE births, left to just watch the videotape version of the ‘miracle of birth.’  I thought there would be a repeat of that this year, when I spotted 30-minute old piglets (‘oh, you just missed it!).  Until we saw the crowds gathering five deep around the cow pen.

We watched a calf born.  Cow in labor (and eating while doing it, btw) – baby dropped to the hay.  While little children and families and young couples and urban folks, too – all gathered around to watch this Miracle of Birth.  It was — don’t use this word lightly — awesome.

After that, we wandered to take in the rest of the fair and check off some items from the “new foods” list.

So — drum roll please: here is what we ate on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair (not necessarily in order – the carbs killed some brain cells along the way, methinks).

FOODS I ATE AT THE FAIR

  • Slow-Roasted Pork Mole Tamale
  • Ear of roasted corn
  • Bowl O’ Dough
  • Chicago mix of popcorn: kettle, cheese, caramel
  • Pronto Pup ®
  • Honey Vanilla Bean Swirl Ice Cream
  • Beer
  • Vanilla Milkshake
  • Land o’ Lakes Cheese sample
  • Brown Ale and Onion-Gouda Tipsy Pie
  • Walleye Cakes
  • Duck Bacon Wontons

My goodness, I must be slipping — is that really ALL we ate at the fair?  There could be some updates to come, once the carbohydrate hangover passes.

 

Now this is a rare experience. I shall travel in the height of summer heat: to two nations I’ve not visited: Hungary (Budapest) and Austria (Vienna – and its Woods). 

Even rarer, I have no clue what I will be eating. Other than paprika, coffee, and a Sacher Torte. 

Let us go on this journey of culinary discovery together, shall we?

Now, I guess I should pack. 

You would have expected the Romans to spend their Buona Pasqua at home, eating chocolate and Easter bread, and roasting lamb for dinner. After attending morning mass at one of the 900+ churches in la bella città. 

Well –

Certainly that is a bit of a cliche, but I did think I would find few establishments open – and rather empty streets.  Not so.  It was a stunning sunny day – in the 70’s – and thousands of people, Italians – not just tourists – were out and about. In the historic center anyway. 

But I thought this scene on a small side street of the Monti neighborhood was rather touching.  A family held their Easter dinner outside on a wooden table – here just a few members of their group were wrapping up their meal. 

Carina. Sweet. 

So, I set out for a lake adventure on this sunny Spring day in Italy – getting an “open ticket” on the ferry, allowing me to stop in one of six towns on Lake Como, including Bellagio. 

I realize once I am on the boat that wherever I start – I would have about a two-hour wait until the next ferry departure because it was lunchtime. That’s okay – I am going to need something to eat anyway. 

I make my first visit at Lenno – walk along the waterfront. See a few tourist places – and head up the hill to find the center (il centro) of the tiny little town. And a restaurant not for tourists – which, of course, I don’t regard myself as — but a place to eat for the townsfolk. 

I stop at a post office and buy some stamps (francobolli) for my postcards (cartoline). I ask the dude behind the counter – in Italian (of course: hey, I’m no stinkin’ tourist!!!) (which is ridiculous because I am. But I digress). 

Where can I find a restaurant, I inquire. Oh, we have hundreds of restaurants, tanti (many). 10 kilometri. 

I know enough to know I am not walking 10 kilometers to find a non-tourist restaurant. Pizza would be fine. At this point. Tic toc – lunchtime is almost over. My ferry departure is closer. AND I needed a toilette!

I return to the restaurant I’d  rejected. Order a nice salad and a glass of vino bianco and ask the waitress. Scusi. Dov’è il centro?  Oh madame, she answers: here! This is il centro!!

Ha! Serves me right. 

Lunch was perfect, by the way. 

It comes to the table – steam, redolent of garlic, warmly wafting from the plate. 

A mosaic of buckwheat pasta, melted cheese and green vegetables.  Where to start?  With a bite of potato? Or some kind of perfectly cooked green vegetable: the leaf of a romanesco cauliflower, a slice of – I don’t know – perhaps fennel. Subtle little greens – maybe broccoli – maybe spring vegetables. 

And that pasta! Humor me as I wax poetic over this pasto di pasta. A thick, not wide, noodle – with that hearty bite of buckwheat, delicately covered with sauce. 

It may triumph over Cacio e Pepe.

Maybe.  I haven’t spent any real time in Roma, yet. 

My very first pizzocchere. Accent on the second syllable: pea-ZOCK-uhree. 

Oh – did I mention dessert: la meringa con fragole?
Soft and crunchy. Meringue. With strawberry sauce and a kinda squishy, gelato-like layer. 

Burp!

Janet Eats, indeed. Better head out for una passeggiata up and down those steep and narrow hilly streets called contrada.

Italy awaits and I am venturing out of la bella città di Roma for the Lake District. A little village described as “if you want to do nothing, go there.”

Oh boy!

I am very excited to try this dish called pizzocchere – though it kinda sounds pizza-like – it is not. It is buckwheat pasta with melted cheese, potatoes and greens.

Yum!

I will be sure to report in.  More foods to explore, paths to walk, people to meet. More anon! 

 

 

Minnesota State Fair 2016

Every year, my trek to the Great Minnesota Get-Together is both the same.  And, absolutely different than years past.  But, always, consistently, fun and memorable.

Steve & I at the Fair

I always go to Day One of the Fair in Saint Paul with my “fair husband” Steve. We are particularly compatible as a fair couple because we like the same things, yes, but are also open to the choices of the other person. Plus, we share the food.

iron range meat

Iron Range Meat & Potatoes

So without further ado (because I know you are dying to find out) here is what we ate at the Fair:

  • Iron Range Meat & Potatoes
  • Pronto Pup®
  • Honey Sunflower Ice Cream, Honey Lemonade, Honey Lemon Sorbet (can you tell I am a big fan of the honey wing of the Horticulture Building)
  • waffle fries
  • birch beer
  • vanilla milkshake (only 2 spoonfuls; too creamy. Me, I like icey shakes)
  • blue cheese & corn fritz
  • candied bacon donut sliders
  • cup of coffee, flight of dark beer, Clown Shoes chocolate porter, lots of water
  • roasted corn
  • cinnamon banana dark chocolate Jonny Pop.

For more pictures and narrative, I invite you to check me out on Instagram @nyproducer

 

 

Quickie post to say that I am in serious training for the Great Minnesota Get-Together.  Yes, you can count on coming back here in just a little over 24 hours – to get the full list of what I and my “fair-husband” will have eaten, shared, and delighted over.

Time was (just look back at lists past) – that I could barely get all the items consumed on one page.  Now, really — who has the stomach to eat that much.  Ha!

In training means: not too much eating beforehand.  Taking good care of myself.  Making room.  And studying the list of the new foods.

This is at the top of my list:  Candied Bacon Donut Slider!  It IS a donut hole – so don’t go judgin’.  I’ll report back!candied_bacon_slider_lb

AIN’T LIFE GRAND!!!

 

Oh – late addition: how did I miss this one?

Candied Bacon BLT (sensing a theme here!)  I’ll let the fair description take it from here:candied_bacon_blt_lb

Crispy, thick candied bacon, rancher’s slaw and green tomato spread on a sweet egg bun.

YUMMY!

My favorite new veggie du stagione (that’s season in Italian, of course) is winter squash.  We’re talking much more than pumpkin.

I guess, like many others – I have a love affair with pumpkin through the fall season.  Yes, I know it is popular to trash pumpkin because it has become so darn ubiquitous (you know it’s a problem when Starbucks makes a latte out of it).

But, as a squash: pumpkin and its much more succulent cousins: delicata, Hubbard, kabocha, Blue Hubbard, butternut — it is a ubiquitous cold weather treat.

Easy as hell to prepare: half it (or, if really large: section it) and pop it in the oven to roast.  Lots of techniques on the sectioning part — because attacking any of these tough-skinned vegetables can be perilous.  Guy on the farmers market told me, hold it in your hands – at about waist height – and take it down to the ground/floor.  It cracks into cookable pieces.  I have found best to wrap it in a towel — the splunk can send seeds and stringy goo all over your kitchen.

My brilliant friend Victoria Granof, food style and cook extraordinaire, follows the advice of some television cook whose name I forget, who says put the whole squash in the over for 15 minutes at some degrees — probably 400-ish.  It doesn’t cook, but becomes super easy to cut.

What can you do:

eat it roasted as is, puree it and make recipes requiring pumpkin:

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal: 1/2 c. pumpkin puree, 3/4 c almond milk, 1/c oatmeal, cinnamon/pumpkin pie spice/dash salt/vanilla. I use a couple drops of the real-deal stevia and 2 t. brown sugar.  Cook for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, top with 1 T sliced almonds & 1 t. brown sugar – and cook another 10 minutes.  One serving.  And for those who are counting 7 WeightWatchers® points.

Squash soup.  Veggie boullion cube, 2 cups water, shallots & onions, some roasted kabocha (2 cups maybe?), a 1/2 c unsweetened applesauce – cook it up a bit – and have at it with a cook’s best friend: the immersion blender.  Zero WW® points.

And, the list goes on – use your imagination.

Oh by the way, the beautiful lady with the delicata is Signora Maria, straight from Bagnacavallo near Bologna — created by Italian artist Anna Tazzari – a beautiful woman in every way – and extraordinarily talented.

S Maria and Squash

 

 

This little apple faces extinction in Bagnacavallo – the small Italian town not far from Bologna. It is called a Florina. It tastes like the essence of appleness: crisp when bitten, juicy but not slurpy, the perfect combination of sweet/tart. Like an apple, only better. 

I met Florina while visiting the home of Anna Tazzari – the creator of Signora Maria. Her husband Massimo explained to me that you could not buy this apple in a store – you could only pick it off a tree or buy it at a farm stand. 

Sad, this little Florina – I hope she makes it in the world of Honeycrisps.