california life travels writing

Home, and Getting Back to It

24 February 2012


[Near Golden Gate Park, February 2012.]

I like to think that the best part of traveling is coming home, especially when you like home as much as I do. Late Tuesday afternoon as the plane began its slow descent into San Francisco and I saw the brown/greenish hills of California for the first time in 10 days I let out my breath in a little rush. Home – my home – is beloved and my favorite place to be.

Though – don’t get me wrong here – I do love to travel. Oh yes indeed I do. It’s just that there’s nothing quite like one’s own cozy bed and one’s own kitchen shelves stacked with quinoa and udon noodles and the friendly organic market up the street you’ve been frequenting for nearly 6 years and your books and your stove, tiny and lopsided as it may be, and your favorite yoga studio and all else.

But, yeah, Costa Rica was pretty lovely.


[On the beach, Pacific side, Costa Rica, February 2012.]

I won’t lie: there was a lot time on the beach. A lot. There was also sun and sun and swimming and more swimming and kayaking and snorkeling and seeing dolphins and hanging out with little girls and speaking French and swimming some more and missing eating quinoa, like, for real. Rarely have I ever been so happy to come home to cook.

(Lest I overload with photos of my vacation – how rude! – I posted far too many to flickr if you want to peruse. Suffice to say it’s a deeply beautiful country and I hope to go back.)

Mostly I ate pinto gallo – black beans with a smattering of vegetables and white rice – and occasionally a pizza, many salads, and sometimes pasta. One night we did cook, for we stayed with friends in Samara and insisted on making dinner for them because that’s what you do when you stay with people: a vegetable couscous with chickpeas (I was sous-chef on this one) with tinned sardines on the side, a cucumber-avocado salad, and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Certain countries are easier for the vegetarian traveler than others, and while there was plentiful rice and/or beans, I got a wee bit weary of it and my body started crying out for fresh vegetables and whole grains and all my favorite little comfort foods. The first day back I promptly made a big pot of cauliflower-leek soup and quinoa with fried tofu, spinach, caramelized red onions, shiitake mushrooms, and ginger dressing. It was exactly what I wanted.

But – and this reveals the deep, dark depths of my insanity re cooking, which is quite similar to my deep, dark insanity re running – after about 3 days out of the kitchen I found myself missing it. Not like I wanted to cook a four-course dinner (although come to think of it it’s been awhile since I’ve done that and maybe I’d start first with a creamy celeriac soup and then a very light and small fennel salad with citrus dressing, followed by a lemony roasted chicken and roasted root vegetables and fluffy couscous with a lemon bundt cake to finish and — what??), but more like I wanted to go to the grocery store and see what was about. I carted packets of oatmeal with me in my pack and was happy to eat those along with cups of delicious and strong Costa Rican coffee on a few mornings, but I wanted more.

I wrote about my penchant for cooking whilst traveling when I was in Iceland 6 years ago – talk about a country (or at least Reykjavik) that is amenable to the vegetarian – and it still holds. I don’t feel like I’m really visiting a place unless I can get into a kitchen, either at the place I’m staying or at a friend’s house. There’s really something about being in another country for a short time but acting for that brief period as though you live there. I always get a secret thrill when I’m able to move through a supermarket, quietly filling my basket with products I couldn’t get at home, carefully counting out my local currency, and making a successful purchase — all without coming across as a gauche tourist. In Reykjavik, I was pleased and delighted to be able to buy tofu in the “Bonus” supermarket; in Norway there was a strange abundance of broccoli and wheat flours in the bigger markets; in Greece, there were two kinds of oregano potato chips from which to choose, and I tried them both; in Samara we found tomato paste and slightly withered vegetables and amazing avocados and olive oil and enough couscous to make a hearty meal. Going to my local Safeway the other day to buy orange juice, after the memory of my more exotic grocery shopping sprees, was somewhat deflating; life is back to normal, then.

I suppose a reason I love to cook when I’m traveling anywhere for any reasonable length of time, is because it makes me feel as though I’m a part of the place just for the while that I’m there. (Also not to be discounted: the money saved by not going out to eat.) If Greece to me is roast chicken and vegetables and feta salads shared with the best company, London is roasted potatoes and chickpeas with spinach (and curry flavor potato chips) and brie-and-butter sandwhiches, Maine is flourless baking (see also my NPR story re same), and Costa Rica is rice and beans and cookies baked in a gas oven on a 90-degree night to eat outside on the table swatting away mosquitoes.

So yes, ’tis very nice to be home again and I’m ever so glad to be cooking regularly again. And so hopefully there will more documentation of such here very soon.

Other things on my mind this blue and breezy Friday in San Francisco
– I’d like to try a sazerac sometime soon
– How having a little jar of homemade dressing in the fridge makes me much more likely to make a salad upon which to drizzle it (current favorite: a sesame-soy-ginger-garlic dressing paired with a green salad full of chopped brussels sprouts and carrots)
– Crossing fingers the vegan chocolate cake I just baked, via Joy the Baker, that’s a bit different from my usual works out as it’s for a small birthday dinner tomorrow night
– How I’m so glad to have discovered a new favorite yoga class, offered twice a week, that feels like a hidden treasure of sorts
– It’s spring. Or summer. Or I guess still February and we’re not having a winter this year.
– Marinating tofu even just in soy sauce even just for 10 minutes before frying it is so key. Forgot about that for awhile.
– It’s the weekend. Let’s make it count.

  • Rachel Dangermond 28 February 2012 at 3:41 pm

    You should only have a sazerac here where it was invented. http://www.gumbopages.com/food/beverages/sazerac.html

  • Anna @ the shady pine 26 February 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Welcome back home! I do know what you mean about cooking when away travelling but it is equally as good to come back home to those things you love.

  • Anne Zimmerman 26 February 2012 at 9:43 am

    We should go drink a salzerac! Or go see Joy the Baker: http://omnivorebooks.com/events.html

    But only after your tan calms down. I’m too pale to be seen next to you :)

  • Stash 25 February 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Hi there.

    Here in NYC, it’s the tail end of winter or as I like to call it, the “season that time forgot”.

    And when I visited one of my favorite vendors at USGM this weekend only to be told that ramps would not arrive until possibly mid-April, well, those six weeks cannot elapse soon enough.

    Lovely post and photography as usual.

  • Stacy 24 February 2012 at 10:03 pm

    You described perfectly the wonder of shopping in the supermarkets of other countries–and that “secret thrill” of success. Enjoy your return to fresh vegetables in abundance and your own kitchen!

  • Stefanie 24 February 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Ditto, ditto, ditto! Home sweet home is exactly that once you are back to your own kitchen after long travels. On my mind…wow great Friday dinner of three-bean-veg chili and polenta muffins, just because I had the extra energy to cook after work…so very excited about my yoga teacher’s new ropes wall…have all the ingredients to make your latest cookie recipe…sourdough sponge resting overnight because its been too long since I’ve kneaded a loaf by hand. aahhh, the weekend…….

  • Pam 24 February 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Welcome Home! I’ve missed you. I miss my kitchen when away from home, too!