Musing with Max

Musing with Max

October 16, 2014

Best meal you've ever had

I've been receiving Conde Nast Traveler lately. I'm not subscribed to it just all of a sudden started receiving it, that along with Lucky which I leaf through and then give it to the 23 year old that sits next to me at the office. I'm also receiving Vanity Fair out of the blue, not really my cup of tea, a tad pretentious for my taste. Traveler I do enjoy even though most of the places they recommend are the most expensive places on the planet but at least it gives you ideas and it has pretty pictures. The most recent issue was "The food issue", something about the greatest places to eat around the world. One of the first articles was a fun little excerpt where they ask people, not just ordinary people;moneyed and important people; what and where was the best meal they have ever eaten. All the answers contained some terribly expensive over the top restaurant in some exotic locale, usually in the Far East and consisting of some equally exotic foodstuffs. This immediately brought to mind an essay I had read many years ago by my favorite food writer, MFK Fisher, in that wonderful compilation of her essays The Art of Eating. The writing encompasses range of years of her food writing of which quite a bit was during WWII when food was scarce. I can't remember which particular essay it was where she writes about "the best meal you've ever had". In it she points out that it doesn't need to be the most expensive or at the most posh restaurant in the most exciting city in the world, etc, etc. Think of the total experience, the setting, the company, the circumstance, and yes of course, the food. I forget her description of hers but I do remember it was a very simple meal and I started to think about this,on her terms. At this point in my life I have two that come vividly to mind. I'll start with number two because I have pictures for this one :)

Frank and I had gone to Mendoza, Argentina, which is wine country.

We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast - vineyard in a town called Chacras de Coria.

One of the many activities that they offered other than lying around the pool drinking wine was a "cabalgata" with a barbecue included. A cabalgata is basically a horse ride, which we knew would be out in the countryside in the beautiful wine region so we booked it. The next day we were picked up in a van by our two guides, rode out into the country to a somewhat lopsided farmhouse with a stable, climbed on our big horses and set off following a scrappy dog named Juan through very rustic trails 8000 feet up into the beautiful snow peaked Andes.

We then rode back down to the farmhouse where Juan collapsed (apparently he did this every time), and we were invited inside the lopsided house for our barbecue. The woman who owned the house was the cook, her husband was a partner to our two guides which is why the horses were at their stables. We walked inside this house that her husband had built himself out of trees that he had cut down. Everything was made of logs including the furniture. In the kitchen there was a very large dining table made out of a tree along with the chairs. We all sat down, the two guides, Frank and I and she started to pull platters of roasted meats out of the oven, the platters were all carved out of trees, as were the serving utensils. She served three different types of meats, roasted eggplant, roasted tomatoes, onions, bread and a green salad. And since we were in Argentinian wine country, bottles of Malbec. Since Frank and I speak fluent Spanish and watch a lot of Argentinian movies and shows the conversation turned to that, she joined us at dinner and we ate and drank and laughed and talked and talked and fed Juan some meat and played with her children and talked and laughed until it was time to go. Was the food good? Yes. What made it so memorable though was the entire experience, all the ingredients MFK Fisher talks about were there, and I'll add one more, it was unexpected.

And number one? I have no pictures and I'll make it short. We were visiting San Francisco and the Bay area, went to Napa Valley one day and stopped in at the general store in St. Helena and bought pates, fresh figs, bread, took it all back to our hotel. The next day we drove down to San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle, never got in due to the extremely long lines and a much coveted dinner reservation in San Francisco. Drove back on the Pacific coast Highway, all the while in awe of the incredible beauty of the ocean at the bottom of those cliffs, found a spot to pull off of, sat under a big wide tree, pulled out our pates and figs and bread and wine coolers we had bought in San Simeon, sat there in silence staring at one of the most beautiful sights ever as we ate our lunch, just the two of us.
Best meal I've ever had.

(Max just for the heck of it)

September 20, 2014

Two towns in Provence - Avignon

Once we had rearranged our trip and included a two and a half day stay in Marseilles we started to do a little Provence planning. Frank came up with a day in Avignon which would include one of our "musts" any time we go to Europe --- a train ride. We booked a trip through EuropeRail on the Avignon TVG,

which is the high speed train, it goes 185 miles an hour and gets you to Avignon in 30 minutes where the regular train takes a couple of hours. (Paul Theroux hates these trains because the scenery becomes a blur (until you eyes adjust) but he's a travel writer and has all the time in the world, we don't). Another "must", if possible, in Europe is riding the Metro. So this was a double whammy because we had to take the Metro from our hotel in Marseilles to the stunningly beautiful Gare St. Charles, where the views of Marseilles were magnificent.

Avignon is a walled city

and what I always imagined a town in Provence would look like. (except for one of the first things we encountered, an Irish pub)

There are beautiful cobblestone streets and passageways

and charming shops selling Provencal linens (where I went nuts but didn't take pictures) and soaps and herbs de Provence (nuts again).

Gardens and flowers,

yummy window displays,

and the Palais de Papes, where popes lived before the Vatican even existed,

where we climbed all the way to the top and took in the views of Avignon.

We had dinner in one of their very charming restaurants where we practiced this motto.

Then took the train back to Marseilles where the next morning at 5:30 AM we raced to the airport in a terrifying taxi ride that made driving through the Corsican mountains a leisure drive, boarded our plane to Amsterdam, where our 3 hour and 55 minute layover wasn't long enough to take the shuttle into the city but was long enough to buy some tulip bulbs from the tulip capital of the world and go through the most strenuous security check ever, fly home to Newark and go through the most excruciating customs line ever (1 and a half hours, ugh) which meant we had to wait until the next day to get this,

which was the only reason I wanted to get home.

Vacation over :(

September 18, 2014

Two towns in Provence * - Marseilles

We first planned our trip to Corsica sometime in February, bought the plane tickets, reserved our hotel and pretty much put it aside. A couple of months later we received an email from Expedia saying that our itinerary had changed; I very excitedly looked at it hoping that our trip had become more direct. No such luck, all the hops skips and jumps were still there. Again I put it aside. Once we started to really get into our trip planning I pulled the itinerary out  and studied it carefully; to my horror I found that our return trip went something like this: Saturday September 6th Bastia 6:25 PM, arrive Marseilles 7:20 PM - Sunday September 7th Marseilles 7:05 AM, arrive Amsterdam 9:35 AM - Amsterdam 12:55 PM, arrive Newark 3:55 PM. Whaaaaaaat!? We have to spend the night at the airport in Marseilles? I immediately started to lose sleep over this, what the heck were we supposed to do at an airport all night long? I started to devise a plan, we'll go out to dinner in Marseilles and maybe hang around late and then come back where we wouldn't have to be there too long, maybe we can go dancing until the wee hours after dinner ---- maybe we can think of something else. After my initial shock and ensuing panic my brain started to work again and I came up with this doozy: we would switch our return; leave Corsica on Thursday evening rather than Saturday and spend two days in Marseilles since we had never been there. Brilliant, if I may say so myself! So off we go and call Expedia and Air France, that nightmare is a whole other post. I will say this; we wound up buying an additional brand new flight on Air Corsica. So on that Thursday evening we drove back to Bastia for our next adventure. We arrived in Marseilles around 7:15 PM or so, it is a very short flight, and soon went into culture shock. For one Marseilles is huge, we were staying in the old town and it took 45 minutes of high speed highway driving (in a taxi) to get there from the airport. Next, Marseilles is a port town in the south of France which means sailors from all over coming in and out, some of them staying, which makes it a melting pot. (That shouldn't be a culture shock for me, after all I practically live in New York, but I had just come from Corsica) Parts of old town are like northern Africa: Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, there are tons of Arabs, the smell of spices is pungent. Years ago it had a very seedy reputation, things have changed a bit in that respect, but some seediness still abounds, which makes for a very interesting place.

Being a port town, it has a stunner of a harbor and marina, which just happened to be across the street from our hotel in the Vieux Port.

The fishing boats come in daily bringing their catch for sale in the market.

which also happens to be across the street from our hotel, and under the Vieux Port pavilion, a stainless steel canopy that lends itself to fun picture taking.

That's me in the center looking up and photographing my reflection, Frank is in the pink shirt,

and there's the reflection above of all those walking in the promenade, lots of smiling going on here!

The market on the promenade also has flowers

and in old town behind our hotel, a fun bazaar

where my favorite thing was this

and as much as I stared at it I couldn't figure out how I was going to get it on the plane.

The food revolves around seafood, for obvious reasons, like this delicious aioli

which Frank is digging into

and a yummy saumon fume risotto which I can still taste.

The signs for "moules" made a million different ways are everywhere, but we didn't bite.

The Italian food is quite good too.

Traffic is heavy so the preferred mode of transportation is small.

* I borrowed my title from a book by M.F..Fisher when she lived in France many many years ago. The two towns she refers to are Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence, we have one in common, the other one is for another post.

a bientot!