Ah, Venice

ImageAfter a particularly harrowing journey from Paris on RyanAir, we arrived in the amazing city of Venice. We checked in on the third day of torrential rain (thus the petrifying journey) and shopkeepers were still mucking out, knee-deep in floodwater. They seemed all too familiar with this, which gives a foreboding nature about the future of Venice.


Venice itself was fantastical and entirely lived up to its hype. Neither of us had been there prior, and we were dazzled at every turn. As is the cliché, every corner you get lost in is another cute little alley leading to another little canal, and in that canal another cute Italian boater. It was serene and strange and misty and heavenly.


By and large the food left something to be desired, though we did have a couple of great meals. It wasn’t easy avoiding the tourist traps, and we really had to weave through the town and find little crevices with no signage or people around, and finally some Italian-speakers to alert us to the fact that there might be authentic food near. (For a city in Italy, the amount of Italian spoken is comically lacking.)

One of these gems was a wine bar where we stopped for some tapas-style lunch, which in Italy are called “cicchetti”.IMG_5328

IMG_5322The barkeep was very considerate in preparing two plates for us. He fixed a vegetarian plate for me full of beautiful pieces of cheese, arancini, some peppery things, some unidentified spreads, and the most flavorful artichoke heart I’ve ever had. Ev got cured meats and little fishes and a mini-octopus.

We did some pastry experimenting, and found that Italian pastries really are vastly different from French pastries! The dough has a much tougher, flakier texture that explodes when you bite it. It’s chewier and sweeter. We had a beautiful cream puff, and an Italian sweet cream treat in a horn-like shell that we could smell being baked from several canals over.IMG_5259 2

IMG_5454Of course we experimented with the Italian classics: pizza, bruschetta, pastas. Not at all tricky to survive as a vegetarian in this town. We drank lots of wine and binged on gelato. All your standards.



931235_10101506538341890_1346720821_n**I shouldn’t admit to this, and I’m clearly biased, but a New York slice of pizza really can compete.**

More than anything, just enjoying an espresso standing outside by the canals was the most agreeable away to spend a warm afternoon.IMG_5383

IMG_5386Venice was a dream. There were moments unreal that haunt me with joy and nostalgia.IMG_5494


Venice, I beg you: please don’t sink.

The Dangers of MSG

Felix Lulu and Me, circa 1996

I have a poignantly relevant story to share with you about nutritious food. It involves the time in which my father drove his wife, daughter, and three cats into a pond.

When I was 12, somewhere in the vicinity of the mid ‘90s, my parents thought a weekend out of the city would be nice, and schlepped me from New York City to a house in Connecticut in a fire-engine-red Volvo station wagon named Felix Lulu.

My dad has a tendency to over-pack, so you can imagine our Volv crammed with L.L. Bean tote bags smooshed to the brim with books on libraries of the Northeast, museums of New England, and guides on how to track appropriate animal poop.  Also something on birds.  Not to mention a leftover chicken (mostly carcass), a carton of milk stapled shut, toilet paper, shampoo, and a lifetime supply of Total Whole Grain cereal. Somewhere in there was my backpack and possibly my mother’s purse.

On the way, we found a place to stop for pizza and stretch our legs. I remember ordering the “Salad Pizza” distinctly, because I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why a 12-year-old would choose the slice of pizza that was topped with iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, and black olives. But therein lies the mystery of our blog. The pizza was dynamite, though we haven’t been back since.

Soon after the old man had begun driving again I curled up in the back seat and fell asleep on Johnson’s cat box (Johnson got his own box due to his size, while Claire and Fred were forced to share. I was lucky enough to be stashed between the three of them). My mom settled in for a nice nap in the front. And not long after, my dad at the wheel, decided to join in the snoozing. The three of us awoke about the time the nose of Felix Lulu was headed directly into a shallow body of water, at which point my dad swerved. (Good instincts, Pop.) So the passenger’s side of the car was several feet in water, sinking slowly, while the driver’s side managed to bank somewhat off the pond.

For what seemed like a few minutes the three of us stared at water splashing on the windshield not discussing said events – maybe enjoying country life: tweeting birds overhead, blubbering bass passing by our right-side windows – before a tiny voice in the backseat suggested, “Shouldn’t we get out of the car?”

My folks seemed to think this was a good enough idea and my dad and I clambered out the left side of the car and shut our doors. Leaving my mother descending with Felix Lulu.

And my mom, being of strong will and enjoying the occasional farce, managed to crawl over the seats to let herself out all on her own. An Amazon, that one.  Then, as seemed to be our demeanor, we all stood on the bank watching the car sink slowly down into the muck.

Whereupon the 12-year-old chimed in again: “Shouldn’t we get the cats?”

So we all climbed back in the sinking car to retrieve three fat fuzzy animals who really hate the water and would not have appreciated a swim.

Eventually the local fire department showed up and addressed our complete lack of injuries and the comedy of three New Yorkers standing on a country road with several cats and more than a few boxes of Total cereal. My dad likes to tell me that one of the firemen politely offered to throw my backpack back into the pond for $10, whereupon I retorted: “Hell, for $10 I’ll throw it in myself.” But this is a complete fabrication. Possibly water poisoning hallucinations.

We survived to tell the tale, but this promptly ended my love affair with the countryside.

Oh, and how is this relevant to food, you might ask?  Dad insists there was MSG in the pizza which put him to sleep. MSG in pizza. Really bad news. Beware.

The Eight-Legged Vegetable

Sometimes an obscure vegetable can pop up in your CSA share.  Take, for example, the purple kohlrabi.

Purple Kholrabi

What does one do with a purple kohlrabi?

My parents once made a deal that if my pop would do the food shopping, my mum would cook anything he brought home for a month. Taking this as a challenge (not a compromise), the old man got more and more creative with what she came home to. On the day she opened the fridge and found an entire octopus, she surrendered, and they’ve been sharing the shopping responsibilities since. Finding a purple kohlrabi felt a lot like finding an octopus.

The best way we’ve found to negotiate the less common is to blindly jump in and Sauteed Vegetablesfirst taste it raw, then cooked, then hope to high hell you match it with the proper ingredients. We paired our purple kohlrabi with bok choy and peppers in some olive oil, while making a curry sauce separately. For the curry we Tofu Currysauteed onion, garlic, and scallions. We added some fresh ginger, curry powder, and turmeric. Then covered it in coconut milk and a bit of soy sauce, and simmered. Then we chucked in some tofu, the sauteed vegetables, poured it all over rice, and dinner was concocted.

The kohlrabi reminded us vaguely of turnip, although it had been described to us as tasting like broccoli stalk. Raw it was subtle and crunchy. We found that the longer it cooked, the sweeter and more flavorful it became.  The occasional (accidental) crispier kohlrabi slices, ended up being the best part of our curry.

Kholrabi and Tofu Stirfry

Given the chance, even an octopus can surprise you.