Saturday, March 29, 2008

boston, you're my home!

Seven hour flight last night Boston to SF? Gotta love those head winds! They weighed my bags but not me, thank God. Few pounds heavier due to non-stop eating in Boston. Damn... I took my camera out to take a shot at Galleria Umberto on Hanover Street in the North End and wouldn't you know it, my battery was dead. I love that place. It's a gymnasium of Formica and hammered metal that can only be topped by the all marble Antica Focacceria in Palermo, Sicily! I wanted to show you the arancini (humongous deep fried rice ball filled with beef and creamy cheese) and the waxed-paper cups of gutsy red vino. Same guy working there serving up thick slabs of pizza, panzarotti and arancini (truly the size of a large orange) since I lived in Boston in the late 70's. He looked exactly the same, only a few extra slabs of pizza under his belt. Who am I to talk? For eight bucks, three of us had the best nostalgic lunch! You've gotta go! No photo but you've got the map!

Friday, March 7, 2008

a boy named suvir

So who was my tour guide as I wondered around India with Gary? Let me tell you a little bit about Suvir... Born in New Delhi to a diplomatic Dad and academic historian Mom, I don't think he's ever done a stitch of housework, driven a car or mailed a letter in his life. He's lived with servants his whole life. Suvir is gay, so outwardly gay that he's accepted in India. As he puts it, "In India, if you are honest, you are accepted. One's choices are accepted as one's destiny in a country where karma reigns supreme." There is always their next life, he says with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. He is extremely bright, very quick and extraordinarily funny. You know me, I've always loved gay men so it's an easy wing to be under. Suvir Saran came to America in 1991 to study. While in college, his parents made him get a job 3 days a week to learn "American ways." He worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a clerk in the MET Shop. On the third day of his new job and life in America, he waited on Bill Clinton. To Suvir, Bill Clinton represented everything he aspired to. They got along famously and as soon as Bill left the store, Suvir was promoted to buyer. Already he was living the American dream! Today, he is is the owner of Devi, a top Indian restaurant in Manhattan and a fantastic cookbook writer. Definitely one of the "boys club of chefs" in NY along with Jean Georges, Mario, Eric, Cesare, Daniel... Suvir is the Indian version. And I'm lucky to be seeing India through those Indian eyes.

buy my postcards

The India saga continues in an historical direction at the Red Fort in Old Delhi... We had about 50 yards between getting off the bus and the entrance gate of the Red Fort, the primary residence for the raj dating from 1632 and at one time, an opulent palace. Mobs of Indians, mostly men and boys, were hanging around the entrance. I tried to wade through the crowd heading towards the gate. A little boy, probably seven years old, catches my eye and my gait. He's got a stack of postcards and he's shuffling them in my face for attention. "Madam, Madam, buy my postcards!". I don't look at him. I'm no dummy, I've read the travel books. "Madam, Madam, good quality!". What does this little seven year old kid know about quality postcards? He's never stepped foot outside Old Delhi. Chances are he's never stepped foot outside this one square block. He runs at my side. He has to work quickly, we are halfway to the gate and he knows once we go through the gate to the other side, his pitch is over, the sale has to be made. I'll be inside and he'll always be on the outside. "Madam, buy my postcards, pleeease." I know that my rupee might be the difference between eating today or not. "Careful!" he says, as he helps me up the curb. "Careful, Madam" as he helps me down the other side. He has just a few steps to go to close the deal. "Madam, please, oh pleeeeease! When you come back, I be here, pleeeeeease." I glance quickly into his warm brown eyes. So much comes up in my heart. "Madam, buy my postcards when you come out." One step away from the gate. A final plea,"Madam, PROMISE!? Look in my eyes. Look in my eyes! Promise me?!" My head is reeling. We are torn apart at the gate. I paid the entrance fee and I was inside. I turned around and he was there, his brown little fingers wrapped around the chain-link fence, his big brown eyes pleading with mine. He pleads one last ime, "Pleeeease!". As I walked around Red Fort, I thought about that little boy again and again-- his eyes and those little fingers clutching. How did he get into my soul? Gary and I walked and talked and toured the Red Fort for more than an hour. Heading towards the exit and the chain-link fence and gate, I couldn't help but look for my little postcard salesman. Outside and on the street again, I looked around but all the little boys looked alike-- plaid frayed shirts, dusty baggy pants held up by one button, barefeet, scruffy hair, dirty hands and feet. And then I spotted him, shuffling through his postcards saying to a women with a camera slung across her shoulder, "Madam, look in my eyes. PROMISE!?" I had some rupees in my hand and he didn't even see me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

truffles in march?

It's not truffle season but I'll tell you how you can get pretty close! There's nothing like white truffles shaved onto a plate of homemade tajarin in October in the Piedmonte. And what about the baked eggs with truffles and cream at Osteria del'Arco in Alba. Oh, and they also make an unbelievable roasted onion filled with the creamiest fonduta. At the last minute, they shave a bunch of white truffle onto the top! Yup, I like fresh truffles a lot. One year I even went truffle hunting with Martino and his two dogs but that's a whole other story. I remember a few years ago my friend, Judy Francini, arrived from Florence bearing a small jar of truffle flour. The way she handed it to me, I knew it was special. I added a few tablespoons to fresh homemade pasta and tossed it with wild mushrooms and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano. I liked the truffle flour but I have to tell you, I am lost on truffle "products" like dried pasta flavored with truffles, truffle oil, truffle butter, cheese scented with truffles. Usually I just wait to have fresh truffles in Ocotber in the Piedmont! Last weekend was a big surprise... I went to visit some good friends and students of mine, John and Sandy, at Calistoga Ranch. It was a stormy, grey day, a perfect day for lunch inside by the fire. We started with an earthy mushroom soup accompanied by a wreath of the crustiest bread, a tub of Strauss Family Creamery organic sweet butter and some Dean And DeLuca truffle salt. I took the top off the salt and was blown away by it's full, heady aroma and I realized that I was about as close as I was going to get on a March day in Napa Valley to a Piedmonte truffle. I tore off a piece of bread, loaded it with creamy butter and sprinkled the lot with trufffle salt. Honest to God, it was over the top washed it down with a glass of Duckhorn Paraduxx red. And it's only March!