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

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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.

Adeus, Lisboa and thanks for the memories!

And then this happened...

And then this happened…

I’d love to go on and on about the many great things I ate in Portugal almost as much as I’d love to go on and on actually IN Portugal, but alas, like my trip itself did, the lovefest has to end. But don’t you worry, sweet reader o’ mine, I’ve saved the best for last!

And by best, I mean most likely to possibly freak you out. Bear with me.

My last full day in Lisbon was spent with my old high school friend who lives there (the lucky bastard, him and his EU citizenship) strolling around town, stopping at museums, bars, markets, shops, and miradouros (viewpoints from which to take in the city’s many gorgeous vistas) basically squeezing every ounce of goodness out of life that day. It was a pretty phenomenal day at that, and you know I wouldn’t say that if it hadn’t included some good grubbing too.

For my last proper meal in Lisbon (not counting the pasteis I wolfed down en route to/and at the airport the next morning) I wanted one thing: caracois. Uh, huh. Snails. I’d heard about them and seen signs advertising them outside of restaurants so I figured, hey, when in Rome…

We walked up to As Zebras Do Combro, a small, homey restaurant with azuleijo covered walls and a sassy, Portuguese only speaking waitress who confirmed they had snails, among other traditional and regional Portuguese eats.  With stomachs growling (ok, possibly just mine) we ordered a plate of snails, linguica, grilled sardines (another thing I wanted to eat before leaving the country) and a cold bottle of white wine.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

Ok, so let’s get right down to it: the snails. I posted a picture on Instagram (AngieDupinthelimousine if you don’t already follow me) and one vegan friend commented with a broken heart emoji. I texted the same picture to my sister, who immediately wrote back (5 hour time difference be damned): “HELL, NO.” So, I get it, people on this side of the pond aren’t crazy about the slimy little suckers as food. But over in Lisbon, they’re a local favorite, so I wanted them. Was I necessarily in love with them after? Well, no, but I didn’t think they were bad either. After poking them with a toothpick and dragging each one out of its shell, the tiny snails were kind of gummy, and didn’t really taste like a whole lot besides the butter and olive oil they were cooked in. Not as meaty or flavorful as escargot I’ve had prepared the French way, these were just ok. Not bad, but ok.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Now the linguica, a Portuguese chorizo that won’t be winning any points for its good looks, was deeeeelicious. Smokey and garlicky with a slightly crispy outside and a juicy, spicy inside, this sausage ranks as some of the best I’ve ever had. Again, not much to look at but damn good to eat, a true lesson in the importance of focusing on more than just looks.

It wouldn't be Portugal without sardines.

It wouldn’t be Portugal without sardines.

Last were the grilled sardines, probably the most Portuguese of foods since sardines are everywhere and on everything from a billion different beautifully packaged cans to keychains to magnets to t-shirts. I was most interested in getting them on my plate, however. Grilled whole with just a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, these little fish were the perfect example of less is more. They were simple and tasty, the plump, soft meat inside worth the work of pulling the thin bones away.

Having done everything I wanted to do and eaten everything I wanted to eat, I left Portugal with both a full stomach and heart. Until we meet again, lovely Portugal, obrigada and adeus! (But you can keep the snails…)

Will travel for food

“Will travel for food” might as well be my philosophy for life, because I rarely mind a trek— be it by foot, train, plane or automobile— if there’s a good meal waiting to be had at the end.

When my Lisbon-living friend suggested we take a daytrip to Tomar, a small town about a 2-hour train ride away, to have lunch at a great family run restaurant where you had to tell them what you’d be having when you made the reservation so that the lovely little grandma in the kitchen could start the appropriate preparations, I was sold. (I mean, there was also a visit to a thousand-year-old castle at the top of a hill thrown into the pitch, but really, he had me at lunch.)

Chico Elias, did in fact, involve a hike. No, really. After our two hour train ride, my friend and I had to cut through town and hoof it up a hill, on the side of the road, under the unrelenting August sun to reach our lunchtime destination.

Like showing up at your actual family’s house, the door was locked, and someone, possibly one of the children, answered the door and let us into the cool, still dining room. No menus or English either. My friend confirmed our order in Portuguese and I just smiled and nodded.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

First out was the duck, prepared in a way like no other I’d ever had. Served in a heavy casserole type dish, it came out as a mountain of a most delicious mix of stuffing-like cornbread, pine nuts, walnuts, greens, and buried inside like the treasure that it was, tender, juicy, perfect duck. Each heaping spoonful had a little bit of all of the ingredients and all of it was perfection. The blend of textures and flavors including crunchy, sweet, nutty, juicy, soft, meaty and earthy was just everything I needed and wanted, with all of the comfort and warmth of a home cooked meal.

Roasted goat and the most perfect potatoes in Portugal

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If my own home cooking were this good, I’d never leave the house.

Next up, the goat, a rich, meaty dish so good that even after the absolutely filling duck before it, I couldn’t stop shoveling it in until it was done. Served alongside the juiciest, most savory, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and equally juicy, delicious greens, good enough to convert even the most veggie opposed eater, the outrageously tender, soft roasted goat was one of those foods you can’t eat without at least once closing your eyes and letting out a deep mmmmm.

Just like at home, where your family (or at least certainly mine) never thinks you’ve eaten enough, it’s worth noting that the portions at Chico Elias are massive. Each dish we had could easily have been split between three people, who would’ve all walked away well fed and beyond happy, but between the two of us we had two. So yea, enough food for five to six people.

Faitas de Tomar

Faitas de Tomar… slices of cloud like dessert

But because no truly perfect meal is complete without dessert, we went with local specialty, faitas de Tomar, a moist, spongy cake like sweet made with egg yolks and sugar. It was just the right amount of sweet and light to balance the heavy, savory feast we’d had.

Would I ride the L train from Brooklyn to JFK, fly across the Atlantic to Lisbon, jump on a train to Tomar and haul my butt up that hill to eat at Chico Elias again? Damn right I would.