Eating Local in Phoenix

October 3, 2011, 1:23 am
Filed under: asides, dinner, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I lived in a city where the flowers magically changed every two weeks. There were palm trees and willow trees, pansies and roses. For months, I marveled at the power of the seasons, then I discovered the midnight workers who brought the plants in and out by the truck load. Brightly colored flowers in fall, low-lying ground cover in winter, whispy trees in spring. Even after the magic was gone, the city surprised me.

There was a green equestrian monument in the town square, a cathedral with mass only in the summer, weekly strikes.

It was in this city that I learned about cold, about determination, about friendship and about love. I learned how to stand on my own two feet, how to fight for myself, how to be poor but happy.

It was by the river that I discovered that no matter how far from home you go, it stays with you. When you leave, it never leaves you.

I only lived in Orléans, France for eight months. It seemed like a lifetime and a dream all at once. Every day was a challenge, nothing was easy. Days were weeks, weeks were months, months were years. I fought losing battles, celebrated victories, and kissed windows in moments of joy.

And I grew up.

Two years ago today I set foot in a classroom as a teacher for the first time. I was unprepared. My lesson consisted of answering questions and talking too fast. I wrote in my blog that I wasn’t nervous. I lied.

Two years ago today I came home hungry and cold. Even though I lived next to a supermarché, I had been eating sandwiches, backpacking food, spaghetti with butter – anything cheap. I was happy beyond belief but I was also terrified.

I called home.

I’m pretty sure I cried. And from my mom, who was worried, I inherited the recipe for scalloped potatoes. It was a turning point.

I cooked myself a real dinner for the first time in two weeks. I ate the whole pan of bubbling potatoes. And finally, I felt strong. This experience – all the ups and downs – wasn’t just happening to me, I was living it.

And I was happy.

Scalloped Potatoes

This is an easy dish to make local no matter where you are. The trick here is to make a roux first. This isn’t a particularly French preparation but, for me, this is France.

1 batch roux (2 tbsp butter and flour, add milk slowly until the sauce is thick yet smooth)
6 potatoes
3 big handfuls emmental cheese, or any mild white cheese
2 slices ham, diced
1 small onion, diced

Preheat the oven to 375. Begin my making the roux. Melt the butter, once bubbling add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Slowly add in the milk, one splash at a time – whisking continuously. The sauce will thicken into a paste. Keeping slowly adding the milk until it begins to resemble a thick cream sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Microwave the peeled potatoes for 5 minutes on high. While the potatoes cook, dice the onion and ham.

Once the potatoes are cool to touch, slice them thinly. It’s important to keep the slices even in thickness.

In a casserole dish, spread a little sauce in the bottom, then layer the potato slices in the pan – don’t overlap them. Add enough cheese to loosely cover the potatoes, then sprinkle on a third of the ham and onions. Keep building layers with roux, cheese, ham and onions until you run out of potatoes. For the top layer, pour on the remaining roux and sprinkle generously with cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until a knife can be inserted with little resistance.


August 22, 2011, 12:37 am
Filed under: drinks, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Published March 21, 2011
Torre a Mare, ItalyApril 13, 2010 found me in southern Italy, sipping homemade limoncello, oblivious to the imminent doom of Eyjafjallajökull. I could not know in that blissful moment that our flight home to France for the final two weeks of our English teaching stint was about to be canceled. I couldn’t know of the multiple trips to the airport, roadside conversation with the Carabinieri, the train trip that almost saw us abandoned somewhere in Italy or what can only be known as the bus ride from hell.

No, in that moment all I knew was the slightly sweet, full lemon flavor of the perfect post dinner digestive.

Lemon zestI had previously considered limoncello to be an overly sweet, highly alcoholic drink that I consistently avoided. Following that first sip, I was converted.

But my subsequent attempts to relive that moment left me sorely disappointed. I consistently found sugar-laden, neon yellow knockoffs that left the mouth dry and the palette overwhelmed. There was nothing of the refreshing drink I had enjoyed in the waning sun, the waves of the Adriatic Sea lapping in the distance.

Making limoncelloSo when I came into 16 lemons last week, conveniently left on a break room table, I knew it was time to recreate my Italian memories in a bottle.

It turns out there are as many recipes for limoncello as there are dialects in Italy (and probably more). Not wanting to disappoint myself, I did a little experimenting and – most importantly – contacted my Italian friend and creator of the magical liqueur. The following recipe, I’m delighted to report, comes pretty close to recreating that first sip. All I need now is an ocean breeze.


Recipe thanks to my friend Valerio (all inaccuracies in recipe are mine)

zest10 lemons
75 cl EverClear or, if not available in your state, a high proof Vodka
75 cl water
2 cups sugar, more or less as desired

1 large glass container, about 1 gallon, with a secure lid.
Several #4 coffee filters
2 75 cl glass bottles with replaceable lid
Wooden spoon

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons in long strips being careful to avoid the white pith. Using a paring knife, scrap the pieces of zest to remove all remaining pith. (See image above right, you want the zest to look like the piece on the right.)

Add the zest to the glass jar. Cover with the EverClear and water. Add the sugar directly into the jar. Using a wooden spoon, gently stir the mixture until the sugar is swirling off the bottom.

Cover the jar with a piece of plastic wrap and lid. Keep the jar in a dark location and stir the contents once a day, until the sugar swirls off the bottom. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, the batch is done. This takes anywhere from 3 days to a week, depending on the temperature.

Using the coffee filters, strain the mixture into the glass bottles, discarding the peels. Place the bottles in the freezer where the mixture will continue to mature for another several days. Store in the freezer. Enjoy!

Eating Local in Ireland – Traveling in Co. Donegal
January 21, 2011, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sunset; Greencastle, Co. DonegalIt’s the tourist’s dream: a popular area, talked about the world over, empty, quiet, with no rush. Just you and the landscape. No hustle, no impatience, no noise. That’s Greencastle, Co. Donegal in the winter. But that’s not why I fell in love. Sure, having it all to ourselves helped, but it wasn’t the landscape or even the history, no, it was the sense of contentment.

There is little doubt that we were tourists – in a one street town, we still walked past the same grocery store four times, much to the amusement of the owner, Greencastle, Co. Donegaltrying to find the Shore Walk path to Moville – but we didn’t feel unwelcome or even out of place.

No, this was a holiday and not a vacation. A difference in word, but a difference in feel too. Vacation has always involved a schedule or even forced relaxation (although, I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced a vacation designed just for relaxation) combined with a sense of purpose. We are here to see this. A holiday, I discovered – or at least as I decided to repurpose the commonly used word – is when you go somewhere and feel it, but don’t exactly see much of anything.

And that’s what this was. A lot of walking the landscape and feeling the cold through the mittens, scarves and hats. There was a sense of being helpless in the Moville, Co. Donegal from Shore Walkface of dusk on an unfamiliar path and a sense of being powerful standing in front of the lit fire, kindling of wood in hand.

But more than the long walks, the pints of beer in wood-paneled pubs and the fresh seafood dinner, Greencastle is where I finally fell in love with Ireland as a place. Boyfriend, heritage and lore aside, I experienced Ireland on its own terms – and even in a rugged, sea swept environment, it was calming.

Looking out to Lough Foyle, Greencastle, Co. DonegalIt’s a funny feeling to love a place, because, as Ernest Hemingway said about Paris, “for wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I’ve loved many places, including Paris, and they do stay with you and shape you. I’m glad to have Ireland as one of those places.