Thursday, January 28, 2010

Savoring Santorini

How shall we warm our hearts in the cold of winter?

I noticed day after day of dreary gray was dampening my spirit.

Seeking an attitude adjustment, I try foraging through pantry shelves for something that will brighten my outlook.

Aha! A jar of thyme-flavored honey Ted and I toted home from the romantic Greek island of Santorini. I am, in a flash, transported to sun-splashed patios, whitewashed houses, and more than three hundred blue-domed churches.

Santorini in October—the perfect month to visit—has very few tourists and temperatures in the low 70s. As our ship, the Celebrity Solstice, entered the bay formed by the crater of an ancient volcano, the C-shaped arc of the island came into view. How fortunate to be there, and how excited we were to see, at long last, one of the top destinations on my bucket list.

Disembarking, we headed straight to the tiny town of Oia, the heart of the tourist trade, perched atop a 1000-foot peak on the northwest tip.

Bright bursts of color greeted us as we climbed cobblestone streets,

and friendly vendors crowded close to offer samples of sesame-coated roasted peanuts. So addictive!

Cliffside tavernas beckoned us to order traditional Greek dishes for lunch.

Every single step upward offered postcard vistas in every direction. No wonder Santorini is the most photographed of all the Greek Islands!

Jewelers, using good-natured banter and heaps of flattery, tried luring us into their shops, but our hearts were so full of the natural beauty surrounding us that no golden adornments could possibly compare. (Though I did linger a while in this shop called Woman’s Paradise.)

Around every corner, colorful shops tempted us with an array of natural sponges, pottery, olive oils and local honeys.

Hours later, before returning to the ship, we remembered we had a promise to keep. Our best friends at home insisted we taste an island specialty—tangy Greek yogurt drizzled with local honey and walnuts, Yum--what a combination!

Honey always tastes of the sun, don’t you think?

This local honey I carried home is made by bees who collect the nectar of wild thyme flowers, and will taste terrific with not only yogurt, but with all kinds of sharp cheeses.

As the sun began to set, Ted and I joined the long line leading into the entrance to the suspended cable cars that transport passengers all the way down along the steep cliff to the ship. Just being part of the line itself was a happening for the hundreds who saw the sky change to a thousand colors. We watched the whole island and its lighted shops and homes begin to glow like candles.

Such pure beauty made everyone giddy.

Now in my kitchen, spooning this delectable tangy/sweet combination into my mouth I marvel at how sensuous such memories can be.

Surely, the most enduring benefit of travel is bringing home not only photographs, but a myriad of jars, bags of treats, and spice blends.

What a gift, in wintertime, to revisit sun-drenched tastes of places we’ve been.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Savoring Winter

Is every January like this?

I'd been feeling a little dull, slightly chilled, a bit letdown after all the festivities—as if my lights were dimmed.

Noticing that a few neighbors still have their outdoor holiday lights up, I imagined they must, like me, be missing all the jolly busy-ness, all the excuses to connect with friends and rush around.

Today, though, I am sensing it is time to pause, to tune into January's offering, its gift of winter dormancy.

I remind myself that a field must lay fallow. I will be wise to retreat to a quiet space, in which to cultivate renewal and receptivity.

What shall I do to warm my heart? I ask my inner wise woman.

The answer comes quickly: Prepare an egg white omelette for lunch with all your favorite flavors. It will be light and healthy and fill you with energy. Stir in blessings. Appreciate having fresh rosemary flowers to sprinkle on top. Bring that captivating camellia indoors to be your company at the table. Give thanks for your warm kitchen, the sizzle of sautéing shallots, and for having someone very dear to cook for—yourself.

Wrap all these pleasures around you like a warm cloak.

Because there is so little to do, enjoy the pause.

I sprinkled minced shallots and a little fresh tarragon (still stubbornly growing in my herb garden) into a non-stick skillet and sautéed in olive oil . . .

then stirred in lightly beaten egg whites and some halved grape tomatoes,

. . . sprinkled with crumbled goat cheese, folded, and . . .

Join me as I savor love on a plate.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Once in a blue moon . . .

Don’t you love how newness can show up when we decide to break out of old patterns?

In the past, Ted and I cozied in at home for New Year’s Eve, cooked up some favorite comfort food and toasted each other and our future with Champagne. We watched the ball drop in Times Square pretending it was midnight here in California. Year after year, this felt safe and familiar.

Maybe because this new decade was starting off with a blue moon, a rare second full moon in a single calendar month, we were up for something different. And, when we heard that our favorite local restaurant, Lucca Café in Irvine, would be serving their regular dinner menu, we just had to make a reservation.

Word was that star chef Cathy Pavlos, with her flair for flavor and reverence for great ingredients, was pacing her kitchen concerned that the fishermen in Greece might be tempted to take the week off and not bring in the Branzinos (Mediterranean sea bass) she was determined to add to the menu that night. We wanted to experience this dish that was so important to her, and when I mentioned our plans to close friends, they asked to join us.

As soon as we arrived, Cathy brought a serving of the exotic sea bass she was delivering to another table to show how she had stuffed it with lemon slices and fresh parsley and thyme and baked it in a thick crust of rock salt. Using a chisel, she cracked the crust open and returned to her kitchen to fillet the bass. On her second pass-by, she showed us the finished dish--drizzled with a lemon/olive oil/garlic/herb mixture she served with roasted potatoes and spinach. Three out of six of us ordered the Branzino.

Meanwhile, we all dug into a Lucca cheese platter (gorgeous, as you see!) and the conversation began.

Because all my friends know how I feel about small talk, they encouraged me to choose a theme.

Hmmm. How about What is appearing on your horizon in 2010?

I was excited to declare my resolution for “Twenty Ten” is to learn a new poem by heart every week (as opposed to memorizing). And, beyond that, to begin sharing my passion for poetry in schools, and develop a poetry program that might be perpetuated.

In response to their nudging, I recited a few from memory, such as Derek Wolcott’s Love After Love, that seemed appropriate . . .

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart. . .

The words wove themselves into our theme seamlessly. Then, just for fun, in honor of the evening’s moon, so did a few lines from the 13th century poet Rumi ‘s poem Deep Listening (translated by Coleman Barks):

There's a moon inside every human being.

Learn to be companions with it. Give

more of your life to this listening. . .

Around our table, as each guest dove into the inquiry of what 2010 can become, there was a spirit of uncovering new meaning in our lives sparked by the depth and beauty of poetic imagery. And, as always, the sharing of personal feelings deepened our connection and appreciation for each other.

Cathy reappeared, and her preparation of sea bass was by far the best I’ve ever tasted! She generously told us how to recreate it at home. (See below)

Perfection on a plate! I can’t wait to serve the sauce on all kinds of fish—and to see what appears in this New Decade.

May yours be filled with food, fun, friends and new adventures.



“Clean a whole fish then stuff with lemon slices and fresh herbs-parsley and thyme. Mix up some cage free egg whites and kosher salt. Then completely encase the fish in the salt mixture on a sheet pan and roast it for 15 minutes at 375 degrees (to an internal temperature of 130 degrees). Then crack the crust, dust the salt off and fillet the fish.

“Make the sauce earlier by pouring olive oil from Costco—their regular stuff, not extra virgin—in a skillet over low heat. Add a little butter, some more fresh parsley and thyme, garlic, whole peppercorns, and fresh lemons cut in half. Let all this simmer and steep for an hour or so.”

Click here for Chef Cathy's newsletter and her opinions on affordable olive oils