Invitations and apple donuts

Sometimes I think, “Gosh, I haven’t seen so-and-so in a long time.”  And I catch myself wondering, when was the last time we saw each other?  I wonder how she’s doing.  And then I remember that everyone—myself included—is busy and if I want to see someone, maybe I just ought to invite them out or over. More often than not, the invitation—or even just reaching out with a “hey, I haven’t seen you in some time,”— is met with a, “you’ve been on my mind! Let’s get together.”

Most of us think about our friends often. Well, except those with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies but I’ll leave that for the professionals.

Similar to not seeing friends is not going to restaurants/cafés/bars that we love. I was in PG the other day and realized I hadn’t been to Pavel’s in a while, although it might not seem that way to you, dear reader, since my last column was Ode to a Chocolate Croissant, from there. I digress, anyways. I popped into Pavel’s for lunch and Paul, the owner, saw me. He came out from the back and said, “Remember that story you wrote about the apple donuts? You had gone somewhere.”

“Yes yes!” I said. “Apple Hill. Apple Cider donuts.” I was touched that he had remembered something I’d written. And from October!

“I’m going to be making something similar on Saturday for the celebration across the street at Grove Market. You should come try them,” he said.

Well, I don’t need to be told twice to try apple donuts so I added the event to my calendar and on Saturday made my way over to Grove Market for apple donuts. And…they were out. I asked the cashier about them and she said, “Oh…those were apple? They were so good! I thought they tasted fruity!”

Drat. I thought.

I ran across the street to Pavel’s. There were only 5 loaves of bread left and nothing else. It was 2pm on a Saturday, after all.  I saw Paul and waved with a huge smile on my face.

“They’re all out of the apple donuts you were telling me about across the street,” I explained.

“Oh. Hang on just a minute.” He turned around and went to the back.

I waited patiently. OK…not so patiently.  He came back with a small box of four donuts.

“Oh my God,” I said, “thank you!”

“They’re still warm,” he told me as he folded the box over itself to seal it.

“No, no. I’m having one now.” I told him. How could I not have a still-warm apple donut that I drove all the way over there for?

I took a bite and as you can imagine it was pure bliss. Yes, it was still warm and it tasted like it had macerated apples in it and the most delicate—still soft—glaze. My eyes rolled to the back of my head and I crouched down ever so slightly into my knees. “This is amazing!” I told Paul, shamelessly speaking with food in my mouth.

His smile beamed. As someone who cooks myself, I know how special it is when someone likes one of your creations. I thanked him 800 more times and walked out eating the still-warm donut.

On the drive home, I called a friend and told him I had fresh donuts for him and he might want to put a pot of coffee on. He—a fellow food lover—was thrilled and I could hear him pouring water into the kettle. By the time I got over to his apartment there was piping hot coffee to go along with our still-warm donuts.

The moral of my story is, if someone invites you for freshly made apple donuts, always oblige. But really, invite your friends over and connect with people you haven’t seen in some time, this is why we live. We’re on this earth for an indeterminate amount of time so make everyday worthwhile. Share what you have and check up on your friends.

Look at the glaze on that donut!

Laguna San Ignacio, Baja, Mexico

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Hola de Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California, Mexico. I am fortunate enough to have fun-loving, adventurous friends. I guess it’s true what they say, birds of a feather flock together. But anyhow, some friends of mine asked if I would be interested and available to join them in flying down to Baja California in their little Cessnas. I checked my work calendar and managed my schedule such that I could take some time off to fly to Mexico and camp on the beach.

The friend of my friends—Dave—has been flying down to this one little beach in Baja for about 30 years. He has a deal worked out with the guys who run the fishing and camping village on the Sea of Cortez where he leaves his RV and flies back a couple times a year to camp, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors. He often invites anyone who is willing and able to fly down because it’s pretty remote but does have a landing strip. I was fortunate enough to get invited down and…you know me…I’ll seize any opportunity for adventure.

It was my first time in a small plane and let me tell you, I could get used to this! We flew from Monterey to San Diego where we fueled up and had lunch and continued on to San Felipe, an official port of entry for us to clear Mexican customs. But no true adventure is complete without a hiccup or two and we were told we couldn’t make it where we were going before dark. The FAA gentleman told us to relax, we would have to spend the night in San Felipe. He called a cab—his dad—who picked us all up and took us to a hotel in town and the next morning he picked us up again, brought us to the airport and we were able to fly to our destination of Punta San Francisquito where we buzzed the beach and found Dave and his 88-year-old mother and some of his friends waiting for us. I just learned that “buzzing” in airplane speak is flying low to get someone to see you. So fun!

One day of this whirlwind adventure was slotted for whale watching. So we loaded up the three little planes with the twelve of us and flew to San Ignacio so we could get into boats and head out on the lagoon towards the Pacific Ocean to see the grey whales before they migrate north. It was such a magical experience, being in a small boat close to so many whales. And the calves are so curious, they would come up to the boat and nudge it and let us touch them.

After a lovely and turbulent boat ride we stepped into the restaurant for lunch and based on all the shells we passed on the drive in, I knew I was to order scallops, grilled and served with garlic. With of course, piping hot, paper thin tortillas and a killer margarita. It was just the perfect thing, making my own little tacos with the scallops on the hot tortillas and drinking the cold margarita in good company.

I have to say, this is a beautiful life we live and I urge you to seize any opportunity that comes your way. Or make adventure right here in PG…grab a friend—or take yourself!—and head to Peppers for Mexican food if this article has got you craving Mexican food. Or, did you know the new Poppy Hall on Lighthouse offers $1 oysters on Monday evenings? Along with a cava (Spanish sparkling wine) special. Regardless, there is no shortage for adventure opportunities in our little PG. It’s a matter of making magic.

scallops and garlic, rice, and my margarita

Stammtisch German Restaurant

“The true enjoyments must be spontaneous and compulsive and look to no remoter end.”

–C.S. Lewis

We are incredibly lucky to live where we live. For many reasons but one because we don’t have to travel far to find good food. One such gem in our area is Stammtisch German Restaurant in Seaside.

I picked up my friend Maryann who lives in Seaside the other day in search of Mexican food for lunch. As we drove down Fremont, yacking away, she asked if I felt like having German food. I know German cuisine is not anywhere near Mexican cuisine but I am always open to spontaneity. “I’ve always wanted to go there!” I said. So, we wove our way back from the end of Fremont to Echo Ave. and found Stammtisch.

We walked in and were greeted by Erwin, dressed in traditional Austrian embroidered white shirt and a vest. He seated us and asked if we would like to have a beer. We both said no thank you but looked at one another. “Come on,” he said with a smile in his charming Austrian accent. “OK, fine,” we both said. The table where we were seated was in the middle of the main dining room, next to the pot of the umbrella plant that is growing perfectly out of control around the room with one branch supported by yellow yarn on the ceiling. I commented on the beautiful plant and Erwin told me about once a month he wipes the leaves down with a mixture of water and beer, just like his mother taught him. “That way it’s always drunk!” he proclaimed.

Two slices of rye bread along with butter appeared in a gold-rimmed black basket lined with a napkin and then two steins of German pilsner beer from the tap. Next, we were each brought a bowl of the daily soup, cream of asparagus. We chatted with Erwin, who was very hospitable and charming, and we found out is married to the chef and owner, Claudia who is from Berlin. We ordered our lunch, Maryann, the special of the day—the cabbage stew with slow-cooked pork on top—and me, the currywurst.

The décor and vibe felt so German. The wooden tables and chairs, the wall clocks, and the Underberg: the iconic German herbal digestif. Traditional German music played in the background and it was raining outside. When our main dish was served, Claudia came out and we introduced ourselves. She gave me a stiff handshake and welcomed us. The food was presented so beautifully and we immediately dug in. Claudia’s goal is to serve traditional German food, old-fashioned home cooking. “I have achieved my goal if someone says this is how my mom or grandma cooked,” she told me. Now I don’t have a German mother or grandmother whose cooking I can compare to but I do know that even for me, a non-German, it was comfort food and I certainly felt comfortable.

After the meal—which we each took half home for the next day—we ordered two desserts to share, the lemon dessert and the apple crumble along with two cups of strong German coffee. The desserts were delicious and with the rain pitter-pattering on the roof, I sat back drinking my coffee contemplating my happy, full belly and how content I was with our spontaneous decision. I encourage you to check out Stammtisch, spontaneously—if you find yourself in Seaside, or if not…plan a trip. 

Cream of asparagus soup
Currywurst, potatoes, and sauerkraut
Apple crisp and coffee

Porta Bella, Carmel

This past Friday night I went out to dinner at Porta Bella in Carmel with my friend Father Dominic and our deacon friend John. We sat in their quaint, heated back patio that is painted Tuscan clay red and has plants creeping on the walls. One of the co-owners of the restaurant, Faisal, who is also a friend of Father Dominic’s joined us.

One thing I always do when I go out to eat—after looking over the menu and picking one or two things that sound good—is ask the waitress what her favorite item on the menu is. The response is one of two things: without skipping a beat she tells me her favorite item or she says, “that’s a tough one!” and lists a few items she likes or are popular among diners. If what she recommends lines up with what I was looking at, I definitely know what I’m ordering. If not, well it depends on if it was her favorite item in which case I’ll consider ordering it. This time I had the luxury of asking one of the restaurant owners. One of his three favorites, the Lamb Ossobuco, was one of the items I was considering so I knew I’d be having that for dinner.

But of course, it was Friday night and Father Dominic and John, like myself, are epicures so we started with soup and appetizers. I had the roasted corn and crab bisque and it was spectacular: rich, warm, and creamy on a cold rainy night. I appreciate a slow meal and this was just that. We talked and caught up on life and for those of us who were not already friends, we got to know each other a little more. Next, we shared the skewered grilled jumbo prawns served with a lemon aioli, the lobster ravioli, and the beef tenderloin carpaccio. I love beef carpaccio—a raw dish of thinly sliced meat typically served with lemon, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and truffle oil. Porta Bella’s also adds arugula and capers and they’re perfect accompaniments to the raw meat. Interestingly enough, the dish was invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice for countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo when he heard that her doctors had recommended she eat raw meat. The name—carpaccio—comes from the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio whose work is characterized by red and white tones, reminiscent of raw meat.

The main course, the Lamb Ossobuco, was served with a potato gratin and vegetables while the lamb itself was cooked with red wine and white raisins. The meat was spectacularly tender and the flavors were perfect. We enjoyed a local cabernet with the meal and it was the perfect complement.

As the evening and meal went on, more people joined or replaced others and our table was buzzing with people and lively conversation; as the plates were cleared, a backgammon board appeared and a game was started. You see Faisal comes from a big family and network of restaurateurs in Carmel and as some got off work they would come to check out Porta Bella…seeing the owner seated for a change inspired people to come chat, pull up a chair, and join us. And even more so after learning that we had a priest at the table.

The discussion grew philosophical and Father Dominic was questioned on issues of morality which he answered in stride…as a Catholic priest, this is what he does for a living. It became a regular occurrence for someone seated at the table to apologize to him after saying something off-colored. Which brings me back to my initial point, “how you do anything is how you do everything.” I don’t believe that we ought to alter our behavior or our self in the presence of a Catholic priest or anyone for that matter. Sure, there is discretion and professional behavior but who we are ought to be who we are always. I find the idea of behavior-altering more troublesome than the off-colored comment, in other words, I appreciate integrity of the self. If I say something and feel I must apologize for it, maybe I oughtn’t have said it. Don’t get me wrong, I have said my fair share of things that I shouldn’t have said and will probably do so many times over in my life but, in an effort to grow and constantly improve myself I like to remind myself that how I do anything is how I do everything, to be intentional with each little thing because the culmination of all of those little things is me and my character. So here’s to being true to oneself when nobody is looking or even in the highest profile of company.

roasted corn and crab bisque
skewered grilled jumbo prawns with lemon aioli

Chocolate Stout Cake for a friend’s birthday

This past weekend was my dear friend Shandy’s birthday. The week prior she had asked me if I would make her birthday cake. It has become a tradition that I make this chocolate stout cake for a couple friends’ birthdays, including Shandy, and she swears it’s her favorite cake in the world. A week later her husband also sent me a text asking if I would make her favorite cake. What an honor because I simply have to follow a recipe and it can mean so much to a friend.

I first discovered this recipe in Gourmet magazine when I was in college. I was captivated by the photo of the big slice of chocolate cake sitting alongside a chilly glass of stout. Being in college and just beginning my relationship with beer—my relationship with chocolate has been lifelong—my curiosity was piqued. I was living in Del Mar at the time and working at a gourmet chocolate shop where we carried—and paired to chocolate—several beers by the local Stone Brewery. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore and expand my understand of chocolate and beer pairings. I lived in what my roommate and I called the beach shack, it was one block from the beach, we never locked the door and the house always seemed to be buzzing with people, the only two constants being my roommate Diana and myself. Our other semi-permanent roommate Kate was a Biochemistry post-doc at UCSD and we transformed the back of the house into a crash pad for post-docs, surfers, friends, etc. I often cooked big pots of curry or baked something and left it out for whoever was around to eat. I made this cake regularly and we always had beer in the fridge to go along. It seemed to be the perfect post-surf or post-run snack for us twenty-somethings who could never get enough to eat and always had room for a cold beer.

A word of warning, this cake is heavy so it is not for the faint of eater or heart. Also, the original recipe suggested you eat it alongside a stout beer. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will become the favorite of someone in your life’s.

Chocolate Stout Cake

  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp. sugar (for 2 separate things)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 14 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup stout, I use Boatswain chocolate stout from Trader Joes
  • 2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled to room temperature

Frosting

  • 1 lb bittersweet chocolate, I use Trader Joe’s 70% pound plus chocolate
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder, optional

Heat oven to 350˚F. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate.

Butter two round nine-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, butter and flour the parchment paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a standup mixer beat the butter and 1 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy and pale yellow, about two minutes. Add yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lukewarm chocolate and mix until well-incorporated. Next add the coffee and stout and mix until incorporated. Beat in flour mixture in two additions until it is just incorporated.

Using clean, dry beaters, in a separate bowl beat the egg whites and remaining three tablespoons of sugar until they form stiff peaks. Fold one-third of the whites into the cake to lighten it. Then fold the remaining egg whites in in two additions. Pour batter distributing evenly in the two cake pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 20 minutes, then invert on a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.

For frosting:

Chop the chocolate and place in a medium, heatproof bowl. Set aside. In a saucepan over low heat, heat the whipping cream with the instant espresso, if you so choose. Bring the cream to a simmer stirring occasionally. Once it’s reached a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let it sit for two minutes then whisk until all of the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Chill until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about two hours. But not much longer because otherwise you can’t spread it.

I use all of the frosting to stuff and frost the cake. Serve with coffee or stout or a coffee stout and enjoy!

Generosity and Apple Pie

I think the original saying is “motherhood and apple pie.” Which is meant to mean something wholesome. What does that mean, wholesome? Like the love of a mother and the deliciousness of an apple pie? Well I’m going to go with that and in my experience and understanding, motherhood is about generosity because moms (most, at least) give a lot of themselves to their children. Thank you, mommas.

It’s pretty cool, now that I’m an adult learning things on my own in America, I am learning American culture. While I was raised here, my parents were the main influencers of my life as a child and so I learned the world through their cultural lens. We speak Arabic to one another and so sayings and proverbs are obviously in Arabic and while many overlap in meaning, the references reflect the unique cultural nuances.

Anyhow, the purpose of this post is to express how sweet some people are and that they make life beautiful. And of course, an apple pie was involved.

A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s house and his wife pulled out this cool kitchen contraption that cores, peels, and slices apples all at once. It was so cool! I had never seen anything like it and I was fascinated. Fast forward to a few weeks later and one of the friends that was at our mutual friend’s house sends me a text message to say he has something for me. He wanted to meet up so he could give it to me. When we met up this is what was waiting for me:

WOW!!

I was blown away! I love gift wrapping. I understand that it is strictly ephemeral, that is, lasting only a short while but I think it’s important to appreciate things in their due time. A life lasts years, decades, but when it comes to an end, it ought to be celebrated and not clung onto. A gift is wrapped with the intention of being beautiful and enjoyed by the receiver but then it is meant to be ripped open and the contents enjoyed. While the wrapping is so beautiful and delicate it was done with the intention of a short-lived enjoyment.

Inside was the apple corer, peeler, and slicer. What a sweet gift! It totally made my day.

Naturally, I needed to make an apple pie. One to try out my new toy but two as a thank you for the gift. My friend later told me the gift was a boomerang gift, that he was benefiting from the gift himself in receiving apple pies.

 

Apple Pie

This was the first time I had made an apple pie! A two-crusted cinnamony, sweet apple pie. I actually don’t know how it turned out because I gave it away whole but it was eaten within the day so I take that as it was at least edible :).

You gotta love how kind people can be. It’s so easy to make someone’s day. I mean it’s one thing to buy someone a birthday present but a present just because you thought of them…now that’s just so sweet!

Friends

The past few days have been all about friends for me. I don’t know if our friends define us but they certainly enrich our lives.

It started the other day, one of my closest, dearest friends called me. She wanted to chat. We live only 100 or so miles from one another but we hardly get the chance to see one another. She has a newborn baby and owns a home with her husband. I work a full-time job and I am putting a lot of energy into my freelance writing. Anyhow in addition to wanting to just talk, she wanted to tell me how much our friendship meant to her. It is not often that people get raw with one another like this. I make an effort to talk about my feelings and express myself to my loved ones but sometimes it catches us off guard. After we got off the phone I was overwhelmed by love. I was so thankful to have this friend and to have received that phone call.

That same night another friend who I have known since I was a child sent me a message: “am I ever going to see you?”

I hadn’t seen her in ages. We would make plans and cancel, life would get in the way, travel, sick family members, etc. She said, “I have the next three nights available. I’m taking you to dinner, my treat.”

Luckily, I had the following night (Friday) free. She told me when and where to be and she made a reservation. We sat down and didn’t stop talking for three hours. But it was like no time had passed. She told stories about her life and of course I knew all of the characters. And same for me with her. It was endearing and again I was so thankful that someone in my life would tell me, “when are you free, I’m taking you to dinner.” I made a note in my mental notebook that I would do this in the future, when I was able and there was a friend I wanted to see and couldn’t make it happen.

Also on Friday, a friend asked if her niece could stay with me. She had never met her adult niece and had invited her to volunteer at the Jazz Festival with her. Hotels were either not available or silly expensive and I offered my place for her niece to crash. She showed up with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Prosecco. I was again overwhelmed by joy. But the flowers and the sparkling wine were dwarfed by the human connection I had with her. We sat and talked for hours, sharing stories about our pasts, our dreams, and our families.

Last week a friend and I were going to get pedicures. While driving to the nail salon she told me she had spent a good part of the morning crying.

“Why?” I asked and before she could answer “Why didn’t you call me?”

She explained that she was moving the following week and her fiancé was scheduled to come help her move but his work wouldn’t give him the time off and—in addition to her being upset by not getting the chance to see him—now she had to pack all by herself.

I looked at her and said “I will help you!”

She went on to say I don’t want to inconvenience you and I responded by saying life isn’t always convenient but that’s why we have friends. Friends aren’t just there to take us out and have dinner with but they’re also there when things don’t go our way or as planned, they are there to help and give a hand.

“You would do that?” She asked.

Of course! The number of times I’ve had to move and someone helped me or gave me a ride somewhere or let me stay in the guest bedroom is countless. Despite how the news portrays our society, there are many more kind and helpful people than there are bad people.

As I swept pine needles on the roof of my parents’ house, I pondered all of these friendships, and many more and was thankful for them. I thought about how friendships need to be nurtured but also friends understand when life gets busy or in the way, they tell you I want to see you and I will do anything in my ability to make that happen. Friends can come to you from anywhere and what a joy it is when you meet someone you click with.

Moss hanging from the big pine tree above my parents house. Thanks to it, there are pine needles everywhere.

I know people who care about me give me a hard time for being “too nice” or “too giving.” Too giving of my time, of my things, of my heart. But I would rather go through life giving more than keeping to myself and missing out on the wonderful experiences brought to us by friends. I encourage you to stop by and see a friend you have not enjoyed the company of in a while.  Share a little time and laughs.

 

Mags’s wedding in Sonoma & brunch at the Girl and the Fig

Sonoma in late summer/fall is amazing. While we anxiously anticipate Indian Summer in Pacific Grove, it’s nice to know we can drive northeast for three hours and be in (another form of) paradise.

I went to Sonoma this past weekend for a friend’s wedding. My friend Magda and I met while we were studying abroad in college. I was at UCSD and she was at Davis and we both chose the same “language and culture” program the fall semester of our junior year to spend in Córdoba, in the south of Spain. Back then, Mags was a tomboy and incredibly athletic (she still is very athletic). She was opinionated and a ball of energy. She concluded after orientation that she didn’t like me because I was too happy. Last I checked this was no reason to dislike someone but nobody ever asked a 20-year old to rationally justify their feelings. At the time, we all lived with old Spanish ladies. They were responsible for housing us and feeding us three meals a day. My señora got me snacks to take with me to school, like little individually packaged chocolate-stuffed croissants. I didn’t care for them so I would always bring them to school and share with my classmates, namely Mags who, much to her disappointment sat next to me in the front row of Spanish class. We were both overachievers.

Every day I showed up, happy to be in Spain, happy to be in class, excited about something I had seen or learned, and to sit next to Mags who had her arms folded over her chest and was slouched in her chair. She would roll her eyes at me when my hand would dart up at the
“what is something you learned that you would like to share with the class” prompt. But every day at break I would lean over and ask her how she was getting by and if she wanted some snacks. Mags was a bottomless pit and always wanted my snacks but she was always leery of my sharing them.

When we eventually became friends, which was not long after orientation day, she confessed that she hated my optimism and didn’t understand why I shared my food with her when I could eat it all myself. I was dumbfounded. I remember telling her that food tastes better when shared with other people and I couldn’t eat in front of someone else and not offer what I was eating, it wasn’t how I was brought up. Over the next four months we traveled together to Lisbon, Paris, Zurich, and several towns in both Spain and Morocco. We ran a miserable marathon in San Sebastian and went sky diving over the Alps in Switzerland. By the end of our adventure we were sad to part and promised each other we would have a lifelong friendship. My attendance at her wedding this past weekend is a testament to this wonderful friendship.

The day after the wedding a (different) friend and I went to have brunch just off the Sonoma Plaza at the Girl and the Fig, a Sonoma tradition. Due to the restaurant’s popularity, we sat at the bar and enjoyed an amazing brunch, sans-mimosas on account of our needing to drive home to Monterey. The little old lady sitting next to me ordered the Quiche Lorraine (ham and Swiss cheese)–which was an enormous slice of quiche that looked more like a soufflé than anything–and she said it was the best thing she had had in her life. Well already by the look and smell of it I was leaning towards ordering it but with that recommendation, I had to. It came with both a small salad and shoe string fries and it was indeed, delicious. The sides were seared so after cutting the slice of soufflé from the pie dish the chefs must sear each side, adding a caramelized, slightly crisp and charred taste to the already amazing egg flavor. The shoe string fries were good although fries aren’t my favorite but they did make an excellent vehicle for gobs of the garlic aioli, which was amazing. The salad was nice: frisée, baby chard, quinoa, marcona almonds, and cranberries with a light vinaigrette. But the quiche was the star of the show.

Next time you find yourself in Sonoma, be sure to check out the Girl and the Fig.  Heads up, you are better off with a reservation ahead of time to avoid the wait, especially on the weekend.

Quiche Lorraine at the Girl and the Fig

**a shorter version of this story appeared in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 14 September 2018

A Day in Tunis

I was to meet Wafa at the Monoprix Menzah 6 (6 in French, seese), she instructed me to take a cab.  I wove my way out of the streets of the medina and out to the main street by the government buildings and the Kasbah.  It was sweltering and all of the makeup I had put on (I had only put it on for its SPF qualities) had been sweat off.  I could not flag a cab and I can’t standing still so I kept walking up the street, thinking I would increase my likelihood of finding a taxi…no.

I stopped a man and asked him where the best place was to take a taxi and he pointed me in the direction I was walking and asked me where I was going, I told him Monoprix Menzah seese in my best French accent.  He said “we’ll drive you to a place where you can find a cab.”

“OK, thank you so much,” and thought in my head I can’t tell mom & dad about this, as I climbed in the back seat of the two door car.

The two men introduced themselves to me and asked for my name, I told them and they asked where I was from, my Arabic is clearly not Tunisian.  I told them I was chamiya (a woman from Damascus) and my friend, Abu-Hasan, told me a saying they have in Tunisian that translates to “he who marries a chamiya, dies without worry.”  As if I didn’t already have enough Damascene pride!!  His friend, who was driving, chimed in, in formal Arabic (as proverbs are recited) “And he who makes you his friend, dies an idiot.”  We laughed and Abu-Hasan pulled out a packet of thin, light cigarettes, offering me one first.  Then he offered me a cold bottle of water from the same messenger bag.  And then a thermos of coffee.  I declined but asked if he had ice cream in there, because I would like that.  They delivered me faithfully to Monoprix Menzah seese and we went our separate ways.

I was early so I stepped in the Monoprix (a supermarket) to have a look around, despite looking like a Western supermarket with isles and boxed items piled high on the shelves, a refrigerated section, etc. it was still fawda (chaotic) with water on the floor (why not clean while the customers are shopping?), and little respect for a single file, take your turn line.

Please do not take my observations as criticism.  They are mere critical observations and I do this EVERYWHERE.  I am a social critic, not a hater.  

I bought Wafa and myself a bottle of water each and headed out to our pre-determined meeting spot. We found one another and went to do her bridal dress fitting.  After that chore was done, we were to have lunch at her mom’s friend’s house, so we called her to tell her that we were done and on our way.  She said, “OK, great we will go for a little swim first.”

Huh.  I thought, I didn’t bring a bathing suit.  Well, go along for the ride.

We bought flowers from a street-side florist and tried to hail a cab, again to no avail but now the temperature was 48˚C (118˚F) which is hot if you’re wondering.  We called the “aunt” again and told her our predicament and she sent her niece to fetch us.

The house was big, it was a bonafide house with a yard, not a flat.  We went up the outside stairs and as we turned the corner in to the backyard, found about 8 women, our mothers’ ages, swimming in the pool, talking, laughing, and splashing one another.  “Welcome to our pool party!!” Wafa’s aunt yelled.

“Come come, get in the water,”  She told us.

“We don’t have bathing suits.”

She called for her niece to loan us bathing suits.  After several minutes of back and forth, no it’s ok, really we can just sit and enjoy.  No, no you must.  Wafa said “ok, come with me Sally,” and we went and changed into the loaned bathing suits.

I must say, the water felt very nice.  We swam and played in the water until it was time for lunch, at which point we sat outside and ate a lovely meal of fish, chicken, meat, rice, salad, french fries.  After lunch we enjoyed tea and fruit and sweets and some ladies got back in the pool.

Know Thyself

I remember studying—both in highschool and when I was in Greece a few years back—the Greek aphorism, “know thyself.”  I always thought this was an interesting concept.  I figured everybody knew him/herself.

This evening at dinner (which was a lovely gathering of people I just adore, my Aunt Chris, my dear friend Laura, and my friends Pavitar and Aanmol, a couple I met at a local bar a few years ago and we have been friends every since.  Actually, it’s a really sweet story, I will save that for another time.)  We were talking about being true to oneself and I was passionately going off about always being true to oneself and Aanmol, who is a psychologist, calmly stated simply that some people don’t know themselves.  I was baffled.  It hadn’t occurred to me that people could not know themselves.

I guess people go through life behaving as they think they ought to.  As religion or their parents or society or Cosmo or the Real Housewives of whatever prescribes but they never actually know who they are, what makes their heart beat, what they are passionate about.  I felt so sad for these people.  I also don’t take ownership for their decisions but how sad that they not have the courage to seek out their own happiness.

Fun story of how I met Pavitar and Aanmol!! So I was at the bar, Post No Bills for a friend’s birthday party.  I was with this guy I was sort of dating at the time, Josh, but he was chatting with other people and I was mingling, myself.  The thing at Post No Bills is that they don’t serve food but they allow you to bring food from home/take out/etc.  I was wandering around chatting with people I saw 2 couples sitting at a table (not guests of the birthday party) and they had a big pot with ceramic bowls and real flatware.  If you know me, you know I love food and specifically home made food.  I went over to their table, “Hi, I’m Sally, what have you got in the pot?” I’m sure I said it more politely and charmingly but you get the gist.  They introduced themselves, we starting talking about what they all did professionally, what I did professionally, and of course, the contents of the pot, biriani.  If you are not familiar with this rice dish, you must try it.  I was so excited and I told them that one of my best friends from college’s mom made me biriani all the time and I loved it.  They invited me to joint them for dinner.  They asked if I was with someone (a guy) and I said I had come to the party with someone.  They insisted I invite him over for food.  I went and fetched Josh.  He was mortified that we would be eating these people’s food and that I had spoken to strangers.  (He didn’t last long.)  They served us both food and we had a lovely conversation.  They invited us over for dinner on Sunday evening at their house and we actually went.  They cooked us a lovely Indian meal (they are Indian) and Pavitar and I enjoyed rum-spiked fruit smoothies (Josh was DD).  Josh didn’t last long after that date but Pavi and Aanmol did, they are dear friends that I just so cherish.

I started off this post wanting to talk about knowing one’s self.  And then it morphed into how I met these friends of mine.  I guess the two converge at some point.  I know that I can make friends with good people who like good food.  After dinner, as Laura, Chris and I were doing dishes, Laura commented that I was a magnet for good people.  I thought that was sweet but I don’t quite think it’s a compliment.  My dad always says life is a mirror, and you get back what you put out there.  At the expense of sounding self-serving and conceited, I will say that I do seek out people who like good food.  Not good in the 3 Michelin star rated restaurants but the, cooked in a banged up pot using the recipe your mom told you over the phone for the 42nd time, kind of good food.  Because it’s in those little things that you can tell a lot about people.