Sweet summer lovin’

I’ve hated summer my whole life, dreading its arrival each year and distrusting everything about it, but over the last couple of years, be it cause I’m getting older and wiser or just having better summers, I’ve started to change my tune.

While I still hate, hate, haaaate the heat, the rest of summer isn’t so bad anymore. I like the energy and vibrancy, the feeling of something fun always being just around the corner, the spontaneity in the air, the relief of a cold drink, impromptu picnics, last minute rooftop gatherings, new friends, new loves, new opportunities.

I was walking down east Houston in the Lower East Side, mid conversation with a visiting friend, when we passed Russ & Daughters and a sign in the window that caught my eye: babka ice cream sandwiches! We were on our way to lunch somewhere else but just like that, something new had been thrown into the afternoon’s plans, and after a late lunch a few blocks away, we doubled back for dessert on the bench outside the iconic shop.

Babka and ice cream are having a summer fling and I love it.

Babka and ice cream are having a summer fling and I love it.

A friend introduced me to babka a few years ago and I’ve been a fan of the traditionally jewish loaf-like cake ever since. Sometimes cinnamon, sometimes chocolate, I love the flavored ribbons swirled throughout, making it delicious and fun to pull apart and gobble. And ice cream? Well, ours is a life long love affair.

Russ & Daughters not only used the babka, cut into circular pieces, as the top and bottom of this dessert sandwich, but also in the creamy, cinnamoney ice cream in between. Wrapped up in the same wax paper used for smoked salmon or pickled herring, the babka ice cream sandwich had all the old school charm of this famed NYC institution and a fun, new take on a classic treat.

Like so much of summer it seems, it was unexpected and sweet, a welcome break from the heat, and another fond memory stored away.

Left my heart at the bottom of an empty margarita glass

We’ll just accept that somewhere along the way I became terrible at maintaining a blog, ok? That way I can spare you the excuses and spare myself the guilt of feeling like a slacker.

Now, that we’ve gotten that cleared up, I’ll make it up to you with talk about Texas.

Avocados, will they ever stop proving their awesomeness?

Avocados, will they ever stop proving their awesomeness?

Yes, Texas. Or really to be exact, Austin (since everyone’s been quick to point out that they’re two very different things). I went there last week and it was awesome. Really great food and drinks, sunshine for days, warm, friendly people and just all around goodness in every direction.

I didn’t eat or drink a single thing I didn’t love but my favorite was definitely the avocado margarita at Curra’s Grill. That’s right, let that soak in: avo-freakin’-cado margarita.

After a day spent floating down Austin’s Comal River, baking under the relentless Texas sun, a thick, cold creamy avocado was basically a pat on the back from God himself. “Good job, kid,  you’re livin’ this life right.”

Best tasting nachos ever... and total lookers too!

Best tasting nachos ever… and total lookers too!

And because I’m also a firm believer that you can never have too much of a good thing, I also had some of the best nachos of my life when I ordered the house special with pulled pork in mole sauce. Not only were they gorgeous (Just look at those colors, that composition! Perfection!) they were absolutely delicious. Each big, crunchy corn tortilla chip was loaded up with sweet pulled pork in a smoky, rich mole sauce, creamy black refried beans, tangy, juicy pickled beets and a sprinkle of crumbly queso fresco, all around some of the sweetest, softest fried plantains and insanely hot, roasted green peppers.

I mean, it doesn’t get better than all of that. Add a couple of friends to the mix, a bit of shade from the sun, and you’re looking at a pretty perfect afternoon. Austin, consider me a fan.

Dal bhat power 24 hour

My diet during the two weeks I spent volunteering at an orphanage in Pokhara, Nepal can best be summed up by something I saw on a t-shirt at a local souvenir shop: Dal bhat power 24 hour.

Dal bhat, you see, a combination of lentils and veggies (that’s the dal) and steamed rice (the bhat), is pretty much THE staple dish of the nepalese diet. And no kidding, they eat it 24 hours. What’s for breakfast? Dal bhat. How bout lunch? Dal bhat. And dinner? Yup, more dal bhat.

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All day, every day

Sure, there are lots of variations on the traditional dal bhat plate, and in cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, which have seen a large influx of international travelers over the last few decades, you can certainly find other things to eat, but generally speaking, dal bhat is the national culinary star. At a self sustaining rural orphanage that grows and provides all of its own food this was certainly the case.

I should pause here for a moment to say that in no way am I complaining about my dal bhat heavy diet, nor did I complain at the time when I was eating it twice a day. The women who ran the orphanage and prepared the food were pros and worked magic with herbs and spices. Simple lentils, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes and other things grown right behind the orphanage turned into rich, delicious, saucy, curried meals that left kids and volunteers alike scraping their plates and going back for seconds.

My fondest memories of my time volunteering in Pokhara will always be those when we huddled around picnic tables outside in the January chill with a group of giggling, goofy, squawking kids, pouring rich lentil soup over fluffy white rice, mixing in chunky, comforting curried veggies over it all. Makes me kind of wish I had bought that t-shirt.

 

Where it all comes from

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Delicious, fresh picked carrots

These days, there’s a lot of talk about knowing where your food comes from. It’s why people join CSAs and shop at farmers markets, why some people won’t eat meat unless they know the animal was treated well and had a good life.

I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never been super concerned. I kind of just trust that my food’s not coming from a terrible place, that my fish weren’t caught from a river next to a nuclear waste plant or that my veggies didn’t get their water from the likes of Flint, Michigan.

But during the two weeks I spent volunteering at an orphanage in rural Pokhara, Nepal, I not only saw where every veggie and grain of rice I consumed came from and petted the cows that provided our milk, but I met the people who planted, cared for, picked, cleaned and prepared everything I ate. And I have to say, it was nice.

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Learning what’s what from the kids

I have a hard time keeping houseplants alive (RIP orchid I got for Christmas and small cactus in my kitchen) so to see a group of about 30 kids, ages ranging from two to 17, and a handful of women, run a self sustaining orphanage that feeds everyone several times a day, and feeds them well, was impressive and humbling. (And made me feel slightly incompetent for my own black thumb.)

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Learning to milk a cow… and failing

The orphanage had cows and goats (for milk only) and a small plot of land where they grew seasonal vegetables— broccoli and cauliflower while I was there— and then a separate, larger farm space  further into the country where they had rice, more vegetables, herbs and more cows and chickens (for eggs, not meat.)

The kids, from the little ones to the older teens, were involved in every part of keeping things going: watering plants, milking cows (which they taught me to do one day… and I was horrible at it), rinsing vegetables, cutting, cooking, cleaning, serving, all of it.

It all helped me appreciate the actual food in a way that I hadn’t really thought of before, to feel gratitude for actually having it and being able to eat it, for knowing that it wasn’t grown in a lab kitchen or sprayed with toxic chemicals. And any time I can further appreciate food, well that’s a great thing.

Nepal for the new year

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One of about maybe ten thousand cups of tea I had while spending January in Nepal

Every year, I overdo it with the fun in December and as soon as it’s over, I stumble into the next 12 months exhausted, broke, fat and hungover. So this year, like the last, feeling bloated and dazed, I packed my things (at the last possible minute, of course) and took off for the other side of the world.

I spent January of 2015 in Cambodia and started 2016 off in Nepal, volunteering for two weeks in lovely, oh-so-peaceful Pokhara and then spending a week or so on my own, with visits to Kathmandu and Chitwan along the way.

To be completely honest, it wasn’t an easy trip. Little luxuries like constant electricity, hot water and daily showers weren’t a part of my every day, and working at a rural orphanage provided more than a few challenging and heartbreaking moments. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great trip though. I made friends with some really wonderful people, traveled and saw new places, did yoga and meditated, relaxed, detoxed and decluttered my head. And cause you know how I roll, I ate lots of delicious things wherever I went.

In the end, the takeaway for me was an incredible sense of gratitude for the life I have at home, the one I so often bitch and moan about. Over the next few posts, I’ll regale you with stories of things eaten and good times had on what will forever in my heart be one of my favorite trips.

Little fat lies

Lest you think I haven't been eating, here's a photo of the obscene amount of dessert I consumed on Thanksgiving.

Lest you think I haven’t been eating, here’s a photo of the obscene amount of dessert I consumed on Thanksgiving.

I was recently updating my resume— something I haven’t done in years— when I got to the bottom section, the ol’ dump of skills/interests/miscellaneous fun facts about myself, and noticed I had the following lie written:

“Author of food blog, LaBuonaForchetta.wordpress.com”

I mean, I guess it’s not a lie. I really am the author of this here blog, but the way it was written makes it seem like I’m the current author, like I write in it regularly, like this is something I DO, I write, I update, I keep up the charade of being a food blogger. And THAT was the lie. Because I realized that I haven’t blogged about anything in months, and when I came here to check and realized that the last time I wrote anything was at the end of summer, back in August, I was ashamed of myself, for being a liar and a bad blogger.

So what have I been up to? Oh you know, the usual: working, gallivanting, tom foolery, and some traveling (which I’ll tell you about soon, promise). I was updating my resume cause I’ve been dealing with a nagging feeling of restlessness caused by a stalling work life, love life and personal life. I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say I need something new and fresh in my life, and the ever present mild case of anxiety I’ve been recently plagued with has also killed my desire to write.

Sorry to get all “dear diary” on you but there you have it. That’s why I’ve been away. But I’m back, here on the blog I mean, and I’m a liar no more.

Summertime and the eating’s easy

write something here

If summer were a dish, it might be a citrusy, frozen drink and a plate of fried artichokes.

Man, it’s been a hell of a summer. I’m usually the first one to say good riddance during these last few days before we officially move into fall, but this summer’s been an interesting, eventful one and I’m ever so slightly kind of sort of maybe a touch sad to see it go.

It’s been a summer of reconnecting with old friends and cementing new friendships, visits home and travels to foreign cities, old flames and new flames, late nights, big laughs, concerts, dancing, hangovers, long talks, good books, slow days, and always, always, good eats.

Here’s to hoping the last few days of the season are as delicious as the above pictured fried artichokes and frozen citrus drinks I had earlier this summer at Sunset Beach. Summer, let’s do this again next year.