Monday, June 28, 2010

The land of white nights

Light pouring beneath our stateroom curtains invites us to look out on an exquisite sunrise after only 2 hours of semi-darkness.

It is 2:30 in the morning on the Baltic Sea. We are aboard a gorgeous cruise ship, the Celebrity Eclipse on a round-trip voyage from England to Russia, and are now entering the Swedish archipelagos leading to Stockholm.

Lush green islands passing by are magnificent—like a giant’s stepping stones from the open sea to the capital city of Sweden. We are captivated for hours by lighthouses, boat marinas, large estates and modest summer homes.

Stockholm, 48 hours before its royal wedding, is shimmering with beauty.Ashore, we board a bus for an all-day tour through the capital to a ferry and then to two islands of the archipelago and pristine countryside. Swedes are friendly and welcoming everywhere we stop to enjoy the views and to shop.

We bask in the warm summer day, such a rarity so far north, and in the beauty of the landscape and the warmth and friendliness of such attractive and wholesome people.

One little town has a Porcelain museum, and at a shop nearby I delight in buying a lovely, inexpensive lace scarf for a souvenir.

After a second ferry ride we arrive at a charming farmhouse for a typical and very delicious lunch---a giant meatball imbedded in buttery mashed potatoes, accompanied by freshly shelled peas and luscious crimson lingonberries.

Shops on this island offer a large variety of homegrown vegetables , fruit preserves, dried herbs and designer textiles.

Late in the afternoon we return to our temporary home—one of the most beautiful cruise ships we’ve ever experienced.

We arrive just in time for dinner at our elegant window table for two. Because we wish to eat lightly we are grateful there are always perfect consommés and tasty fruit soups on the menu.

Later, we linger on our verandah amazed at the sun still high in the sky.

In the land of the midnight sun we are loving the longest day of our lives.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Dream of Rome and Tomatoes

Have you ever tasted a dish in your travels that lives in your memory for years?

I’ve dreamed of juicy fat tomatoes stuffed and baked with warm garlicky risotto since Paul, our daughter Lexi and I strolled the Via Veneto in Rome and came across the sidewalk cafĂ© at Harry’s Bar. That charming restaurant gained international fame when it was featured in director Federico Fellini's classic 1960 film La Dolce Vita.

In one of the glass cases we spied what would become my most lasting food obsession. Served slightly warm, they were soooo delicious we returned the next day to have the very same lunch. At home we tried over and over to duplicate them. No matter what we did, we never got it quite right.

Then, recently, Molly, the author of one of my favorite food blogs, Orangette, raved about a delightful new publication titled Canal House Cooking in which two talented women, Christopher Hirsheimer & Melissa Hamilton Irsheimer anShirpresent seasonal food. Inside their Volume No 1 on summer cooking I found a recipe that sounded promising. It turned out to be similar and very close, and now I after several test runs and some tweaking, these turned out today to be as succulent and delicious as I remember--the real deal.

Finding just the perfect fat and flavorful organic tomatoes are a challenge. I’ve lucked out twice—once at our local Saturday farmer’s market, and again at Mother’s, our local health food store.

Now Ted and I are so inspired we are doing something adventurous. After years of just talking about growing tomatoes, we bought a really cool and compact hydroponics system and, as you see, it seems to be working.

Here is our secret! Go to

Buy a Garden patch Growbox. We have 3. Each box grows 2 tomato plants. Use the recommended planting soil. Each Growbox will hold a 1.5 cu ft bag of E. B. Stone Organic Azalia, Camellia, and Gardenia Planting Mix. They suggest another brand but our nursery says customers have preferred this mix. We agree it's doing the job well.

You will need a Growbox Staking Kit from the same website for each Growbox. Just follow the directions and it goes together easily.

I'll show you my first big fat tomatoes and some tiny cherry ones when I harvest my first crop.

The poet Pablo Neruda shares our passion for tomatoes:

. . . the tomato,

star of earth, recurrent

and fertile



its convolutions,

its canals,

its remarkable amplitude

and abundance,

no pit,

no husk,

no leaves or thorns,

the tomato offers

its gift

of fiery color

and cool completeness.

And so does Dr. Oz, who tells us tomatos contain lycopene which has been shown to fight cancer. “But you can't just put a few slices in your salad to reap the effect. The tomato needs to be cooked in order to provide the most nutrients.” So, here they are at last. This way of cooking makes them simply sublime.

It may take years and years, but dreams do come true!


6 medium large tomatoes

3/8 cup Arborio or other short-grained rice

Handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon to drizzle over the tops

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove stems carefully from tomatoes taking care not to pierce holes in the flesh.

Slice off the bottom quarter of each tomato (that is, the end opposite from the stem) and set those 6 pieces aside.

Working over a large measuring cup to catch all the seeds and juices use a serrated grapefruit spoon or other small spoon to carefully scoop out the interior pulp without piercing the walls of the tomatoes. Arrange them, cut side up, in a basking dish just large enough for the to fit snugly.

Lift out the large pieces of tomato pulp from the measuring cup and chop finely. Return the chopped pulp to the cup. You will have approximately 1 ½ cups of juice and pulp.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the rice and stir until it begins to turn slightly golden. Add the parsley and garlic and stir briefly, then add the reserved tomato juice and pulp. Cook for a few minutes to reduce the liquid slightly, and if you had more than 1 1/2 cups, cook a few minutes longer to reduce the liquid. Season well with salt and pepper.

Fill each tomato with the mixture to just below the rim. Place one of the reserved tomato bottoms on top each filled tomato. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the tomatoes.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes until the rice is tender and the tomatoes are tender. Cool to room temperature. For the most succulent flavor, warm them a bit before serving.

To prepare in advance: These keep beautifully for days in the refrigerator! But do warm them before serving.