Long Island Road Trip

 

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I’ve been a road tripper for literally as long as I can remember. Literally, because the first memories that I can specifically tie to a date and time are from a road trip my parents took me on from Atlanta to LA and back about a month after I turned 3. The colors of the Painted Desert, the scenery, prairie dogs outside the tent one morning,  big horn sheep crossing the highway at dusk, wet-suited surfers and the cold of the Pacific (one foot in and I ran screaming- some things never change). My first conception of scale that was much bigger than I had known before- my mom saying “see the big hole, Christine?” from the windy observation deck at the meteor crater in New Mexico, my scanning the landscape for a hole such that you might plant a tomato in and then realizing that the landscape dipping vastly in front of me was “the big hole.” Road tripping the US from end to end and top to bottom and zig-zagging in between has continued to open my eyes to new things.

We celebrated out wedding anniversary this weekend. My ankle and my continuing inability to walk very far or very well caused a last-minute change of plans. We rented a car and drove out to the east end of Long Island for a couple of days. At its eastern end, the island forks around a wide bay and several islands. The South Fork, home to The Hamptons and Montauk, is the better known of the two, while the North Fork has been an agricultural area with a growing wine industry. Quieter, less glitzy, the North Fork reminded me of the more laid back Sonoma County wine country in California where you were less likely to find yourself in a limo traffic jam than in neighboring Napa Valley.

Silver Sands Motel, Greenport, NY

Silver Sands Motel, Greenport, NY

We stayed at The Silver Sands just outside Greenport, NY,  a retro shabby (but very comfortable) U-shaped motel and a sprinkling of cottages beside a curl of gold beach. When we checked in, Elle magazine was doing a photo shoot in front of our cottage, a model in a glittery dress on a spit of rocks that reached into the clear, smooth bay. Oysters washed up into the shallows from the oyster farm next door, “so you know the water is perfect, because they have to test every week,” said the hotel manager. It felt incredible that we had driven through midtown Manhattan on our way here just an hour or two before.

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Our plan was to relax, try to eat as much seafood as we could, do some unhurried driving through the scenery, and taste some locally brewed beer and wine.

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After driving up to the tip of the North Fork where Orient Point slices the Atlantic from Long Island Sound and watching the Cross Sound car ferry dock, we had dinner at a nice restaurant in Greenport, known for its locally sourced seafood and produce. I’ll confess, the downside to being me is that I not infrequently have the frustration of being underwhelemed by the food that restaurants serve me. I dislike paying a lot for food that I have made (better) at home. This was my experience: nothing I disliked or found objectionable, but I wished the food had been a little more memorable. The highlight of the meal was a pair of locally brewed beers that the restaurant had on draught: Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s Harbor Ale and Montauk Brewing’s Driftwood Ale. We noticed something that we had been discussing-the distinct regionality of beer.

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I really started learning and appreciating beer on the west coast. The dry climate, cool nights, the hops with their intense resinous flavor, the grapefruit and apricot and  pine, all worked for me. I loved hoppy intense beers. After moving to Hoboken, I continued to look for similar styles but found that even the hoppier beer brewed around here (like Ithaca Flower Power for example) had a subtle shift in accent from what I was accustomed to in California. And when I started paying attention to the subtle variations, I began to appreciate and even look for beer that was a good east coast version of those types. I like the subtle hints of English hops that tended to be overwhelmed by the boldness of California styles, the subtle uptick in the flavor of malts; the flavor and body of the good beer I was finding here was working for me in the climate in a new way. Beer that I had not enjoyed as much when I tasted it in other parts of the world was becoming more what I craved.

I started thinking about beer in terms of accents (as in “how y’all dewin’?” and “fuhgeddaboudit” accents). The subtle shifts in accent from city to city, region to region, the shift in vernacular and colloquialism is one of the things I love about travel and living all over the country. It adds a richness to discourse, the subtle hints and clues to be gathered about where someone (and their ancestors) came from. And I am beginning to find the same to be true in food and drink. The whole accent of the beer changes (as it should) based on the region in which it is made and drunk. Maybe less specifically about the earth or terrior than wine, the flavor “accent” of the brewer should come through, even if it is as subtle as my accent usually is.

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So back to the North Fork and our beer: we tasted two beers at dinner that night, same type of ale, different brewers. They were both hoppy, but with different hops emphasized. The Montauk had a little more of a caramel flavor to balance the hops. But the interesting thing to us was that they tasted like beer that belonged here. The briny air, the humidity, the hint of the winter cold to come, the beer had a far eastern Long Island accent.

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With this on our minds, we visited a biodynamic winery that a friend in the wine business had recommended. I was curious about Long Island wine, especially one with a reputation for being very carefully crafted like that at Shinn Estate Vineyard. Again, my familiarity with wine was cultivated in Northern California but working with wine in the New york area with a heavy emphasis on wine from Europe as well as its own reemerging wine culture has tremendously broadened my palate.

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We visited Shinn Estate Vineyard on a quiet afternoon during the beginning of their harvest. A tractor towing loaded bins of Sauvignon Blanc grapes shuttled back and forth from the crusher beside the tasting room to the south block of grapes that were being picked. We split a 6 wine tasting: a steel aged chardonnay and an oak-aged white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay, then a Merlot blended and a 100% Merlot, then and a Cabernet Sauvignon  and an unusual 100% Petit Verdot (usually used to add structure to a blend). Tasting the succession of wines gave me the spectrum of the aesthetic of the winemaker; interesting, restrained, sophisticated.

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Again, the thing that struck me, especially with the Merlot, was the dramatic difference between the grapes grown and wine made in California and what we were tasting. Wine has more of a reputation for reflecting its terroir, so while the differences between grapes were less of a revelation that my observations about beer, the difference between the Merlot we tasted and many of the Merlot we had in California was incredible. I have tended to avoid Merlot, often finding it very flabby and dense, like a down comforter for your tongue. This Merlot, while still lush with the fragrance of fruit, had a little crackle of herbs and structure and a burr of tannin that lifted the wine from stodgy to vibrant and thought-provoking. My take away: don’t dismiss a grape varietal because the way it is grown and treated in one region displeases you; give it a second and third chance from other regions. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was. I bought two bottles to take home!

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Back to the beer. We were able to visit the tasting rooms for both of the local breweries over the next two days. Tasting a flight of beer by a brewery is a great way to get the same sense of the brewer we got from our wine tasting. One of Greenport’s brewers just happens to be a local hops farmer, so their beer was more aggressively hopped than many I’ve tasted in the north-east but still with a distinctive bass note of toastier malts that I think of as having English beer roots than a comparably hopped west coast beer. They don’t bottle their beer yet, so we had to forgo bringing any home with us but Montauk Driftwood Ale was for sale in the  7-11 so we got a six-pack to bring home.

The thing about road tripping is all the stuff in-between where you start and where you end up the add the tones and highlights and shading to the big picture. Flying from one big city in America to another is great but I’ve picked up so much of those little bits of accents, the subtle variations that tell you you’ve entered a new place. I remember my last cross-country drive, getting out of the car to switch drivers, taking a breath, and realizing I wasn’t in the West anymore. I love when I run across a favorite beer or bottle of wine from back in California, but I’m also loving that I’m starting to pick up on the accent of the things I’m tasting here too.

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My Berkshire Break

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Purple coneflower and a honey bee at Natural Roots, a horse-powered farm in Conway, MA

I spent most of August house sitting in western Massachusetts. I happened to discover that the aunt of a good friend would be travelling and needed someone to stay in her sweet 200 year-old cottage in the Berkshires and take care of her cat. And as anyone who lives in The City knows, August is the time of year when the air starts to reek of hot garbage and humidity, so anyone with half a chance to be elsewhere decamp to more balmy climes. I spent the months before planning my time in the country, looking forward to hiking, biking on the rail trails in the Pioneer Valley, canoeing and swimming in the clear cold rivers, visiting farmers markets, cooking from the garden.

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Pausing for a photo over the Connecticut River, Northampton, MA

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I took Amtrak’s Vermonter up from Penn Station to Springfield, Massachusetts on a Thursday evening. The first thing I did the next morning was go for an 18 mile bike ride from Easthampton, through Northampton, across the Connecticut River into Hadley and back.

The second thing I did was break my ankle. I was walking up a slick slab of  rock beside the South River up in the mountains. I had gone up to the house to get the “tour” before my friends left for their flight, and while checking out a secluded local swimming hole with my friends’s aunt, felt my ankle just go from beneath me. I went down on my hands and knees feeling like a roaring black cloud had just bowled me over. My brain wasn’t allowing for a lot of pain, just a survival rush that almost blacked me out. How was I going to get up the trail and to the car? I steeled myself, trying to still my mind enough to figure out a way out. When the fog began to clear, the roar of blood in my ears receded so that I could hear the waterfall beside me and I found a limb to lean on up the trail to the car, I tried to decide what to do next.

Two things were going through my mind: my belief that if I was able to walk at all, it must be a sprain and not a break and might heal quickly, and my determination to enjoy this time away from the city. I was alone in an unfamiliar area with an unfamiliar injury so I decided to grit my teeth through a trip to the grocery store and hole up at the house with lots of ice and ibuprofen for the next few days to see if this were a short-lived problem. As it turned out, it wasn’t, but despite the swelling, insistent pain, the massive bruising, I hobbled around for the next 3 weeks until I got home and my orthopedic doc, grimacing and shaking her head, told me that the reason I had been so uncomfortable was that I had been walking on a broken fibula.

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The South River, Conway MA

It’s almost 6 weeks from the break now and I’m healing well. I just transitioned from a massive knee-high Velcro boot to a smaller brace and a prescription for physical therapy. I should be able to walk around more easily with the smaller brace, which is a relief; being car-free is really difficult when one of your legs is out of commission. The bone had already begun to knit together and did not need to be re-set. It’s more of a dull ache and an inability to move my foot at this point. Despite it all, I actually did have a good time in the Berkshires.

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Amherst Farmers Market, Amherst MA

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Smokey Bro’s BBQ, Shelburne Falls, MA

The first week I was alone, I explored in the car, turning down any lane that looked interesting, driving through pretty New England hill town. I visited a great horse-powered farm with a CSA and farm store for produce. I sat on the deck in the sun and read, foot in a bucket of ice or perched on a pile of cushions on a chair. I sketched in the art studio in the house, watched the river, cooked. After Scott arrived the next Friday I was able to do a little more with his help; we went to farmers markets and found some good breweries, restaurants, and roadside stands. We cooked together and drove out to Stockbridge to the Norman Rockwell Museum and up to Williamstown and back across the beautiful Mohawk Trail. It was beautiful and peaceful in spite of my pain.

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Tasty Top Dairy Bar, Easthampton, MA

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I feel a little queasy thinking about what I did, walking in the grass, in the river, through the grocery store on a broken fibula for 3 weeks, but I’m glad I was able to spend time up there. It’s one of those places that combines the serenity of natural beauty with the culture of university towns, some notable art museums, and a really strong emphasis on good, well-made food and drink. While I wasn’t able to write the posts I had hoped to while I was there, I did put together a Google map of places we visited, restaurants, farmers markets, as well as some practical stops like grocery stores. I’d like to go back and get a little more of an active experience next time, visit more restaurants, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, so I’ll probably update this map over time. There is a lot still to be explored in the Berkshires.

My Berkshire Break Map:

Eats, Drinks, Drives, Views, Shops

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Deerfield River, Shelburne Falls, MA

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Warm Summer Green Bean Salad

Here’s another  vacation-conjuring dish, one we had during our trip to Italy last year.

This salad is an example of one of those simple dishes that, when each element is full of flavor, needs no embellishments to sparkle on the taste buds.

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During our stay at La Tavola Marche last year, the farm had just passed its tipping point from summer to fall. The inn was close to the end of its season, the yard-thick stone walls too expensive to heat for guests through the Appenine winter. Jason and Ashley were stripping their gardens of the last of the summery produce, stacking crates of tomatoes to can, drying the stalks of onions and garlic. The days in the valley were warm in late September, but frost was closing in.

Our meals were shoulder-season fare too- warm braised and roasted meats and pastas interspersed with fresh vegetables and salads. Our last evening, Jason pulled the last of the green beans from the vines and made us a delicious warm salad.

As soon as we got settled in our apartment in Siena and found the market, I recreated his lovely combination of crisp, sweet, and piquant so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve made it  lots of time since then, and I can say unequivocally that getting the best tomatoes, green beans, and red sweet peppers is the key to its success. Gardeners, you’re way ahead of the game here.

Market basket: Siena Tuscany Italy

Market basket: Siena Tuscany Italy

If you’re like me and suffer from garden envy, my tip for finding good tomatoes and peppers elsewhere is to sniff them. Color and texture can be misleading, but a good tomato actually has a fragrance. Green beans are easier, just look for slim, bright pods without discoloration, no lumps from seeds forming inside (these will be too tough for this quickly cooked salad). Although they can be expensive, the little French haricot verts are usually very toothsome and tender.

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We had this salad at the end of the season but it is just as, if not more delicious now at the beginning of green bean season.

Warm Summer Green Bean Salad

1 pound slim green beans, stems removed

1 red bell pepper

1 ripe tomato

1/4-1/2 sweet red onion (depending on the size)

red wine vinegar

olive oil

salt

fresh ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil

Meanwhile, slice the pepper and onion into slivers about the same thickness as the green beans. Cut the tomato into thick wedges. Toss together in a serving bowl.

Once the water has reached a boil, plunge the green beans into the water and return to the boil. Cook the beans briefly, for about 1 minute after the water boils. Remove the pot from the heat and quickly drain the beans in a colander. Allow them to cool enough to handle.

Pour the green beans over the peppers, onion, and tomato and gently toss them all together with your hands. The heat from the beans will slightly warm the other vegetables. Drizzle with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of glugs of olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss to coat everything in the dressing. Serve at room temperature.

Anyone ever feel like your vacations don’t last long enough?

I do.

This is how I made my vacation last into the weekend (at least on my plate).

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That octopus dish I had at the shore was preying on my mind, haunting me with memories of lemony deliciousness. I was combing the web for recipes and techniques for cooking octopus, thinking about how to recreate a similar dish at home. The octopus info was quite frankly, a little daunting. Then Saturday morning, I noticed a new seafood vendor at the Uptown Hoboken Farmers Market. He had lovely fresh calamari from Long Island, and I thought “hey, they’re both Cephalopods, I can cook calamari!” and grabbed a pound. Cooked with lemon butter, a shaved fennel and parsley salad tumbled on top, and juicy fried lemon on the side and I’m right back, salty breeze in my hair, sand between my toes.

What I ended up with was more a reminder than a faithful recreation of the octopus dish. That’s the point- re-entering real life is inevitable but the reminder of a fun relaxing trip can make even a mundane workweek in the kitchen feel more celebratory.

What’s a memory of a great trip or a great meal you can tug out and use to make your daily grind a little more like a day at the beach?

Shore Break

IMG_2652We rode the train about 50 miles south of Hoboken to spend a couple of days in a pair of New Jersey’s shore towns: Ocean Grove, a quaint, quiet Victorian town founded and owned by the Methodist Church as a permanent camp meeting location, and its neighbor across Wesley Lake, Asbury Park with its mixture of mid century, Beaux Arts, and Victorian buildings, its famous music scene, and its year-round culture.

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We sat on the beach and read during the day, walked up the boardwalk in the evening to dinner, sat on the porch watching the ocean and the stars at night. I had to be reminded to slow my pace when I walked. The boardwalk is for leisurely promenading, not for barreling down like a mack truck. I appreciate the contrast between the pretty towns along the shore and the energetic urban life a short drive north. It’s good to get out and slow the heart rate occasionally.

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There was damage on the boardwalk and in Ocean Grove and some of the ocean front buildings on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, but both towns were relatively unscathed by Sandy.

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One of my regular customers had stopped in the store last week on her way home from the shore and recommended several places for us to have dinner in Asbury Park. Tuesday, we walked over to Brickwall Tavern and Dining Room on Cookman Avenue. They had a huge wall of chalk boards behind the bar with the current “On Tap” list, as good a list as I’ve seen anywhere in NJ. Our waitress was also especially knowledgable about their craft beer menu and when I commented, she told us she was working to become a certified cicerone ( the craft beer equivalent of a sommelier). We tried a few tastes before getting a couple West Coast beers: Bear Republic Crazy Ivan and Stone Cali-Belgique. The food was tavern comfort food with a Southern influence, biscuit of the day, fried catfish, deviled eggs and their parmesan grits were surprisingly good!

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Porta Pizza is in what looks like an old garage with glass garage doors beside the bar that are rolled up in the summer weather to open to an outdoor garden and bocce court. The interior is industrial in it’s structure but very warm in its decor and atmosphere- large communal tables, mismatched chairs, really beautiful bronzed pendant lights around the bar, a white and turquoise tiled bank of pizza ovens along the back wall. Their Wednesday night special is a fresh stretched mozzarella first course, and there was a young man behind a counter by the door making fresh ovelini.

We got a carafe of house red and the octopus and fennel salad and a hot sopresatta pizza (the “14 1/2”). The octopus was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while, crisp and tender with a lemony buttery sauce, subtle capers and a fresh parsley, chervil, and fennel salad. The pizza was topped really well with enough  heat from the Calabrian peppers to satisfy my hot tooth. There were a couple of other pizzas I would love to try, like the “Cecelia” with artichokes, fried lemon, and crescenza cheese, or the “Lardo”, and there was an intriguing salad called “Three Trees” that looked like it would be sharp and balanced and interesting.

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As we were getting ready to bay our bill, a couple was seated across from us at our end of the table. When I looked up, who should be sitting across from me but Dan, the owner of a really great pizza restaurant in Jersey City, Razza on Grove Street, who we had just been talking about while analyzing the pizza crust. His pizza crust, by the way, is exceptional. He and I have talked bread baking on Twitter for a long time and it was fun to run into him.

We’re back in Hoboken. It was a nice little catch-your-breath break, a chance to see the stars, relax, walk slowly, and eat nice food. Over too soon. But not so far away that we can’t get back down there again soon.

PS: I took all the pictures with my phone; they aren’t at my usual standard. and yes, that is my finger in that picture…

Italian Inspiration: Farro Arugula Salad

No one is going to be surprised to hear that our trip to Italy last September was inspirational to my cooking. After living in the city for a couple of years, we opted to go country to start our vacation way off the beaten path. We drove from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport up through Umbria on the back roads and across the spine of the Appenines into Le Marche, to Piobbico specifically, down a dusty road through the hills to La Tavola Marche, an agritourismo owned by hosts extraordinaire Ashley and Jason Bartner.

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Driving in, we passed a few cars parked in the grass on the sides of the road, saw a man disappearing into the trees with a stick and a basket: mushroom hunters! With the cooler weather and fall rain, the mushrooms were starting to pop up on the hillsides. Ashley and a friend of the farm, a local cardiologist and mycologist took a few guests on a mushroom hunt one afternoon. We were lucky to find a couple basketfuls of mushrooms during our scramble through the trees and underbrush.

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Our visit being during the shoulder season (not dissimilar to the cool wet Spring we’re having here this year), dinners were a mix of the last of the garden produce and heartier cool weather fare. Everything Jason cooked was incredibly delicious, simple but beautiful ingredients prepared in interesting ways, unpretentious but as good as any white tablecloth meal I’ve ever tasted. We ended up eating every dinner there, unable to resist the nightly feasts.

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I love the intimacy with which Italians (born and adopted) dealt with their food: the mushroom hunts, the seat in the sun with a glass of beer to clean each mushroom by hand, the well-attended weekly markets in each town, the cheerful and lengthy discussions about gelato flavors, the long family lunches we saw on the Adriatic in Fano, the resourcefulness of “eating up the garden” before the weather turned. It’s a characteristic of that culture that places a high value on the fellowship of the table as well as the food that is placed on it, a congenial community feel to the act of eating.

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This was a salad we were served as part of a prima course, but so immensely satisfying that I’ve adapted it to be a really delicious main course salad. A couple of the ingredients, farro and porcini, might be a little exotic, but are two of my favorite pantry staples. Farro is the grain that fueled the Roman’s armies, an ancient grain that is similar to spelt. It is chewy but not sticky with a hearty flavor ( a bit like wild rice). Porcini – I very occasionally see fresh porcini for sale, but they are usually pretty expensive and a bit battered and bruised so I use dried porcini instead. Porcini (which means “little pigs”, isn’t that awesome!) have a rich earthy meaty flavor that I love. I use them crumbled in my meatballs and meat sauces and to flavor risottos. I’ve also added fresh crimini mushrooms to this recipe for substance, flavor and texture in lieu of foraged mushrooms. The nuts and arugula add crunch and a peppery bite and the salty tangy pecorino cheese rounds out the flavor chord.

I’ve adapted this recipe from my memory of the meal we had in Italy and have posted it with the Bartner’s permission.

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Farro Arugula Salad

the farro method:

1 cup whole grain farro

4 cups water

¼ cup dried porcini pieces, crumbled

sea or Kosher salt

Rinse the farro under running water to remove any dust or husks. Add the dried porcini, cover the grain with the water and let it soak for a couple of hours or overnight in the fridge.

Add salt as if you were salting pasta water. Cook the grain in the soaking water for 20-25 minutes until the farro is chewy but not mushy. Drain thoroughly in a sieve to remove any remaining cooking liquid.

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the salad:

1 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

olive oil

1 sprig fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

sea salt

1/3 cup raw walnuts, pecans, or almonds, coarsely chopped or broken into pieces
fresh ground black pepper

12 ounces arugula

pecorino romano cheese

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until they become bronzed and golden. Add a pinch of salt and the rosemary, lower the heat and stir in the chopped nuts, Stir together over medium heat until the nuts are lightly toasted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the farro. Toss in the arugula and another drizzle of olive oil, allowing the arugula to wilt a bit in the residual heat. Serve at room temperature with pecorino romano shaved over the top.

A note about dried porcini: you may notice that your dried porcini look very unprocessed, maybe some bits of straw or grit on them. If so, give them a toss in s bowl of water before adding them to a recipe. Some producers sell a very clean product but others are a little rawer and earthier. It’s simple to clean them so don’t worry if yours look a little dirty

Long Weekend- Charleston SC

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We had the serendipitous combination of a friend’s wedding in Hilton Head, South Carolina and a business trip to Charleston last week which we combined for a very long weekend trip to warmer climes. I hadn’t been to Charleston in such a long time, and having read so much over the last few years about the tremendous resurgence of its food culture, with chefs, food writers, and restaurants getting awards and rave reviews, I was really excited to visit again.

After a beautiful beach wedding weekend, time with my family (especially my fabulous 1-year-old niece!!!) we drove Hwy 17 through the Low country from Hilton Head to Charleston. I think I’ve mentioned before, there are few things as compelling to me as a hand painted roadside sign advertising “Boiled P-nuts” and after a crushing disappointment on the way from the airport (“Closed”) at the roadside stand we passed, salty peanut satisfaction was finally mine! A plastic baggy full of hot drippy boiled peanuts is the ultimate road trip food (possibly only improved upon by the addition of a bag of chicharrone).

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 The bad news is that there is no way you can physically eat everywhere you want to during a weekend in Charleston. In order not to waste time, we stopped for brunch on our way into town at Hominy Grill. Hominy Grill is in an old house, its high ceilings and light interiors evoking the house my mother and grandmother grew up in Alabama. The food is Southern, but the type that I know, garden fresh vegetables, meat accented by tangy pickles and slaws, prepared flavorfully and simply, deep-fried being an anomaly rather than a staple. We had a fried green tomato BLT with vinegar slaw and a pickled okra, and a pork belly sandwich with pickled cabbage and a side of grits. They did a Tequila Sundrop and a Cheerwine Negroni that were killer!
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Fried green tomato BLT with vinegar slaw, pickled okra, Tequila Sundrop, Fried pork belly sandwich with pickled cabbage, egg and cheese, grits, pickled okra, and Cheerwine Negroni

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After checking in at The  Indigo Inn we went for a walk through the historic downtown to the waterfront. The weather in late April was cool enough to be pleasant and warm enough for the fragrance of the jasmine and tea olives to perfume the air. I prefer a sort of “self-guided” approach to wandering through historic districts and Charleston lends itself to the leisurely amble, but there are lots of tours available. The economy of the area is very tourist driven, but unless you are in the old market area, you don’t feel crowded and jostled.

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With this trip being last-minute, I wasn’t able to get a reservation at Husk, one of the better known newer restaurants in the area but our hotel told us that the restaurant’s porch was first come so we went and got a locally brewed beer at the bar and waited for a porch table.  We went with the local Westbrook White Thai witbier with our Kentuckyaki pig ear lettuce wrap, fried chicken skin with pimento cheese and pickled green tomato, and cornmeal dusted catfish with tiny brussel sprouts and tomato gravy. My favorite was the lettuce wrap, S’s was the catfish.

Coffee break : City Lights Coffee 141 Market St, Charleston, SC 29401

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On my own the next day, I wanted to go back to Hominy Grill for their lunch specials. Besides being a very comfortable, quiet, pretty hotel, The Indigo Inn is the kind of place that when the front desk couldn’t get a cab to the restaurant for me within about 5 minutes of my request, one of them offered to drive me to the restaurant and gave me a guided tour of the area on the way.

I got the 4 Vegetables and cornbread lunch plate, an amuse bouche of boiled peanuts and the restaurant’s cookbook.

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tomato pudding cornbread, mustard greens, squash casserole, and fried eggplant

Walking back to the hotel, I walked through the Westside, Cannonborough, and Radcliffborough neighborhoods which provides and much more diverse and varied perspective of the city after the grandeur of the historic downtown. Students and professionals are eating and drinking coffee in the restaurants and cafes, a little trendier and hipper than the statelier downtown. It was a nice walk in cool weather but if you visit when it’s hot, cabs are flat rate $6 on the peninsula and restaurants and hotels will happily call a car for you.

Coffee break: Coffee: Black Tap Coffee

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Back in the French Quarter that afternoon were two of my favorite spots on the trip: Goat. Sheep. Cow.  a gem of an artisan cheese, wine, charcuterie shop with local baguettes, goat milk caramels and chocolates. Its owners Trudi and Patty love Charleston and are happy to talk cheese, restaurants, food, bakeries. This cheesemonger spent a very happy hour or so there, talking shop and getting the local lowdown and where to eat and drink. It’s the perfect place to put together a picnic to enjoy in one of the waterfront parks.

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They told me about the very newly opened  Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap House, and since it was close by and raining, we ducked in for some local craft beer and very well made bar meal: catfish fingers and chips and a really great burger.

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The next day, I headed back north to the Cannonborough to a filling station converted into Xiao Bao Biscuit, an Asian restaurant with a local vibe.

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I had the Som Tum with chicken, a black bean paste encrusted chicken with rice and spicy papaya salad and a Howling Wolf Hefeweizen

Coffee break: Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer

Another little gem in the French Quarter was Charleston Beer Exchange, one of the best little beer shops I’ve ever visited, educated and  happy to share their love for great craft beer with customers. They are friends with the ladies at goat. sheep.cow and do beer and cheese events with them as well. I talked to Brandon, their Cicerone certified manager about the little beer department I’m trying to build here and he gave me some good beer and cheese pairing ideas.

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For our last night, we drove out to Bowens Island Restaurant, a fish camp on the tip of Bowens Island overlooking the beautiful low country marshes.

It’s basically a big screened porch on stilts that serves big plastic trays of oysters with a knife and a towel (shuck your own!) fried seafood on paper plates, hushpuppies and slaw and cold beer. the plywood walls are covered with the graffiti of visitors, the kind of place that you bring your kids or a group of friends and stay for a while. I love these undesigned places, ate my first oyster at just such a raw bar in the Florida panhandle and was sorry to see that it had gotten decorated and remade after  hurricane George. Something in the organic rough and ready personality of these places appeals to me.  It was recommended to me by Amy Evans, Oral Historian with the Southern Foodways Alliance. It was the perfect place to fulfill our yearly deep-fried fresh seafood and shuck your own oysters craving. It was also the perfect place to watch the sunset from the porch and then make a running leap into the car as soon as the sun went down- next time, bring bug spray!

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Tray of oysters

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Big ol’ fried shrimp

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Fried fish and Westbrook White Thai

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SFA did a great little short documentary film on Bowens Island Restaurant: http://southernfoodways.org/documentary/film/bowens-island.html

Places I want to go next time-

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SNOB

Carolinas

27 State Street B&B

Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Closed For Business

Tips:

Taxis are $6 flat rate on the Peninsula

There is a free shuttle bus marked “King/ Meeting” the 2 main shopping streets that I didn’t use, but would next time.

Bring bug spray to Bowens Island

Porch seating at Husk is first come if you don’t have a reservation.

I made a map of the places I mentioned in the post:

http://goo.gl/maps/6b1qe

Can you guess where I am?

This panorama was from the wall of Volterra, Tuscany. Just below was an excavated Roman theater.

We are visiting Italy for the first time. When I get home, I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Until then, a few pictures of our adventures.

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Cosi e vongole at Trattoria la Quinta in Fano, Le Marche

The dining room at La Tavola Marche, Piobbico, Le Marche

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Shopping for produce at the street market in Siena. Tuscany

View of Via la Citta’ from our apartment in Siena, Tuscany