the wandering homebody


Messy, Unphotogenic Perfection
04/20/2012, 12:59 am
Filed under: food, recipes, travel

I could write a book about the food we’ve eaten since leaving for our travels last July. For the most part, it would be a bland, grease-spattered book full of descriptions of oversalted (yet still somehow tasteless) sauces, salads made with wilting, brown-edged iceberg lettuce, way too many Milanos while we were in the States, and it would end with a 45-page rant about how I have started to absolutely loathe going to restaurants. There would be the occasional chapter about food surprises, mostly all after leaving for our overseas travels. There would definitely be a few paragraphs devoted to all of the buttery croissants and pain au chocolats I ate in Paris; the cao lau from Hoi An which I’m still dreaming about, six weeks later; the earthy, unfiltered sake we had in a tiny mountain town in Japan.

For the most part, though, the last year has not been great, food-wise. One of my favourite parts of travelling is discovering local cuisine, but I have to admit that at this point, I am so completely over eating out. We’ve been in very few places with kitchens, and when we do have one, I will basically do almost anything to avoid restaurant food. When we do have the good fortune to have access to a kitchen, I don’t want anything too fussy or overly complicated. I want flavours that are familiar and comforting to me. This often means eggs, or pasta, perhaps something as stupidly simple as a grilled cheese sandwich. I don’t get too adventurous when we’re cooking on the road, since if a dish goes awry we don’t have a pantry full of back-up ingredients.

This past week we were in Bruges (where we watched the fantastic namesake movie) and we were very, very happy to be in an apartment for the whole week. This was such a treat; you have no idea. For seven whole days we nested and had the luxury of two separate rooms (three if you count the bathroom!). Our apartment was a five-minute walk from the main square, a walk that took us down cobblestone streets and past canals with swans floating in them. It was almost like a way, way, way less awful Disneyland.

We didn’t have even one dinner out, and this made me happier than I can say. We made a lot of good meals while we were in Bruges, but the standout one for me (and one I repeated two more times since I am totally a creature of habit) was a slightly crazy egg dish inspired by my love of yogurt, İskender kebab, and this fantastic sausage we found at the local grocery store.

This is a very loose recipe, and I’m sure that there are a number of ways it could be tweaked and improved to suit your taste buds. For me, though, this was messy, unphotogenic perfection.

Faux-Turkish Eggs and Tomato Sauce with Meatballs and Brown Butter

For the tomato sauce:

In a medium-sized pot, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil. While the oil is heating, remove the casing from one or two sausages and pinch the meat into small balls (heh, heh — but seriously, they should be around 3 cm in diameter), then add them to the pot and cook until brown on all sides. Throw in a couple of finely minced garlic cloves, fry for about a minute, then add one zucchini, cut into quartered slices. Fry everything together until zucchini starts to go transparent, then add a jar of your favourite tomato sauce, and a glug of whatever wine you most assuredly have on hand if you’re a lush like me. Bring to almost a boil, then turn it down to simmer while you finish the rest, adjusting for seasonings.

For the brown butter and egg:

On medium to medium-high heat, melt a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter in a small saucepan (preferably metal so you can see the colour of the butter change). The butter will melt, then foam a bit, and eventually start to turn a light amber colour. Also, it will smell like heaven and you will want to drink it with a spoon, but DON’T DO IT. Take the pan off the heat just after the butter turns light brown; the colour will deepen even after removed from heat and then you won’t risk burning it.

If you really want to gild the lily here, you can pour the brown butter into a jar, leaving just a tiny bit in the pan, then fry your egg in the browned butter remnants. This is probably a good idea. In any case, fry an egg any way you like it and remove from heat.

Assembling:

Ladle a good amount of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a bowl (this must be eaten from a bowl. You are a monster if you think otherwise), followed by a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt. Slide the fried egg on top, then pour the brown butter over the egg and watch it drip down into the sauce. Serve with buttered toast, some dark Belgian beer, and a deep sense of satisfaction at cooking your 27-year-old self a meal.



Here We Go
04/07/2012, 12:42 pm
Filed under: everyday life, travel

So. Somehow I went nine and a half months without writing. There are many reasons for this, but since I have no one to be accountable to, I won’t delve into them. Mostly, we were travelling. Actually, that seems like a reason to write more, but we used our other blog for recounting travel details, and then every time I thought about writing here, I felt overwhelmed and empty-handed. I kept holding off, waiting until I had something important and hopefully insightful to say, letting days and months go by, almost (but not quite) forgetting about this space. The truth is that I still don’t know what to say or where to begin, but the other truth is that no one is really looking at this but me, so I have nothing to lose by writing whatever I’m currently interested in or thinking about.

The last week has been especially rough for both Mark and me. Homesickness combined with the flu combined with just a general sense of ambivalence about travelling versus settling again has made it a long, weary few days, and to be honest, I’ve been throwing a pretty impressive pity party for myself. We spent a week in Paris, and despite the fact that the weather was stunning, and the cheese plentiful and cheap, and we had the perfect (tiny) apartment in Montmartre, I spent a lot of time brooding over what I wanted to be different. I know that it’s not possible to love something all the time, even if that thing is travelling and it’s what we’ve wanted to do for years. At the same time, this is the one chance we get at this life. I’ve been thinking about this continuously for the last 48 hours, since I found out that my 19-year-old cousin in Wales died suddenly from an inflammation of a previously-unknown cyst in his brain. I didn’t know him well, though I’ve met him a few times, but from all accounts, he was funny, sweet, loved Tupac and soccer, and was happy. I wish I had gotten to know him as an adult. His mother is one of my favourite relatives, someone who has welcomed me into her home many times and still one of my main sources for book recommendations. She and my uncle have a relationship that I’ve observed and tried to emulate (though perhaps this week I haven’t been so successful). In fact, she was one of the only relatives who contacted me after my dad died. I expected emails from so many other, seemingly “closer” relatives, but never heard from many of them. She remembered me, and I’ve always remembered that.

Wait, there’s that pity party again. What I want to say, what I’m trying to say in a really roundabout way, is that this is it. This is my life. I want to remember it and appreciate it and even on the really crappy, rough days, experience it. I guess I want this space to be something of a digital notebook (ugh, what a terribly obnoxious phrase). I need to stop overanalyzing and just start writing. Here we go.