Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where Have I Been?

Puerto Rico!  Miami to my grandmother's condo for a few days first, then off to San Juan and paradise.

We spent a relaxing few days in Old San Juan and El Yunque, then took a little 8 person, petrifying plane flight to the island of Vieques, off it's coast.  Still part of Puerto Rico, the little island of about 9,000 residents won our hearts and stole the show, so to speak, of the vacation.  San Juan was beautiful and historic and charming and full of spirit, but Vieques, this teeny speck of an island full of pristine beaches, water in shades of blue that rival Monterosso, and smiling people full of slow paced island charm, was amazing.  Wild horses run free, a bumpy, long, deserted road through a forest leads to a beach you will have to yourself all day.  Stops at food trucks on the side of the road offer a mixture of island and hispanic cuisine, making picnics on yet another deserted, breathtaking beach.  The pictures we took are the screensavers on computers and phones.  We are both totally enchanted.

Miami, Diamond Beach, by my Gram's old condo

Old San Juan

Streets of Old San Juan

San Juan, view from the fort overlooking the cemetery and La Perla

Trip to El Yunque Rainforest...can you spot Manuel in the waterfall?

View from fort San Cristobal over the city

Our little tiny plane to our little tiny island of Vieques

Playa Caracas (Red Beach)

Sun Bay at sunset - totally unaltered picture

Farmer's market!

Green beach, Playa Punta Arenas

Orchid Beach, Playa La Plata

The pier in Esperanza

Playa Grande

Playa Caracas, right before a little shower

Hiding from some raindrops for a few minutes

Playa Media Luna

Can you see why?  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Home is where the food is

I haven't been writing much because I haven't exactly had that much to be writing about.  I'm in the United States, at my parents, eating, watching TV and wandering around New York while all my friends and family are at work.

Some vacation.

But, seriously, it is great to be home, even when it gets conflicting exactly where "home" is, and even more so when my family dynamic has changed dramatically this year with the passing of loved ones, selling houses full of memories, and moving my life across an ocean in the middle of it.  Sometimes, in all honesty, it feels a little bit confusing.

Confusion and all sorts of ails can be healed through food, fortunately, and this is one area my family excels at.  We had a party (theme: generic family party to celebrate being together) today that reminded me again that no matter where my carta d'identit√† or drivers license say I live, the same flavors find me with the familiar sensation of being at home.

Polpettone, normale - at least as normale as one can get made by an American gal in NJ
Polpettone, gluten free!
My mom's oven fried chicken with roasted potatoes and artichokes was the main course, which might have leaned towards the American side of the global food spectrum, but the antipasto - slivers of salumi, paper thin provolone, hard, spicy soppressata and bowls of little pickled vegetables and olives - teetered the dinner towards Italy.  To put the balance back towards the middle, I made a salad of quinoa and vegetables with a Lebanese dressing and roasted beets with feta and dill over arugula.  For a side with the fried chicken, we brought Monterosso al Mare to New Jersey, making polpettone, a traditional Ligurian dish made with cooked vegetables (potato, green beans, some dark leafy greens, carrots and so forth) mixed with egg and cheese, then blended and flattened out on a pan and topped with bread crumbs and drizzled with oil and baked until lightly brown.  The way Manuel's gram makes it uses more potato, sometimes meat, less "dark greens" (in this case, kale) and is normally not adapted for those who cannot eat the gluten in bread.  Keeping in mind the sort of "don't worry if you don't have 'x' just throw more of 'y' or find some 'z' " attitude of Italian cooking, I figured I had some wiggle room and took some artistic license with my polpettone.  I think it came out wonderfully, and even more so when I got to share a little of what I eat in my other home with my family in this one.

For dessert, crostate filled with homemade marmalade (plum and apricot) from Tuscany and everyone's-favorite-and-oft-mentioned Uncle Uccio.  I made one with an American crust, thinner and less sweet, and one with my Italian recipe, measuring out my grams until my significantly higher and sweeter apricot crostata came steaming out of the oven.

"Italian" crostata in the front, with apricot jam, and "American" plum in the back

Vegetarian nightmare.
I didn't realize the strange little pun of blending my foods from there and my foods from here today until we were cleaning up, and I was folding the crisp white deli paper holding the remaining wisps of prosciutto and putting it back in the fridge, where it will only last until someone's midnight snack.  Cooking alongside my mom in the morning like I always did with her and my Gram, preparing a dish I learned across the ocean by cooking alongside someone else's Grandmother, explaining it to me patiently in a mixture of dialect and Italian.  Cleaning up with my dad (or, now, watching Manuel help him clean up, but I was there for moral support), I'm reminded again how the act and tradition of preparing a meal and eating it together is just as important as what one eats.  It just helps when what one eats is fresh, milky mozzarella and soft, charred red peppers, falling apart in ribbons in olive oil, and when the company at the dinner table is always a big family, laughing and passing plates, happy to be together - in any language.