Musing with Max

Musing with Max

October 16, 2014

Best meal you've ever had

I've been receiving Conde Nast Traveler lately. I'm not subscribed to it just all of a sudden started receiving it, that along with Lucky which I leaf through and then give it to the 23 year old that sits next to me at the office. I'm also receiving Vanity Fair out of the blue, not really my cup of tea, a tad pretentious for my taste. Traveler I do enjoy even though most of the places they recommend are the most expensive places on the planet but at least it gives you ideas and it has pretty pictures. The most recent issue was "The food issue", something about the greatest places to eat around the world. One of the first articles was a fun little excerpt where they ask people, not just ordinary people;moneyed and important people; what and where was the best meal they have ever eaten. All the answers contained some terribly expensive over the top restaurant in some exotic locale, usually in the Far East and consisting of some equally exotic foodstuffs. This immediately brought to mind an essay I had read many years ago by my favorite food writer, MFK Fisher, in that wonderful compilation of her essays The Art of Eating. The writing encompasses range of years of her food writing of which quite a bit was during WWII when food was scarce. I can't remember which particular essay it was where she writes about "the best meal you've ever had". In it she points out that it doesn't need to be the most expensive or at the most posh restaurant in the most exciting city in the world, etc, etc. Think of the total experience, the setting, the company, the circumstance, and yes of course, the food. I forget her description of hers but I do remember it was a very simple meal and I started to think about this,on her terms. At this point in my life I have two that come vividly to mind. I'll start with number two because I have pictures for this one :)

Frank and I had gone to Mendoza, Argentina, which is wine country.

We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast - vineyard in a town called Chacras de Coria.

One of the many activities that they offered other than lying around the pool drinking wine was a "cabalgata" with a barbecue included. A cabalgata is basically a horse ride, which we knew would be out in the countryside in the beautiful wine region so we booked it. The next day we were picked up in a van by our two guides, rode out into the country to a somewhat lopsided farmhouse with a stable, climbed on our big horses and set off following a scrappy dog named Juan through very rustic trails 8000 feet up into the beautiful snow peaked Andes.

We then rode back down to the farmhouse where Juan collapsed (apparently he did this every time), and we were invited inside the lopsided house for our barbecue. The woman who owned the house was the cook, her husband was a partner to our two guides which is why the horses were at their stables. We walked inside this house that her husband had built himself out of trees that he had cut down. Everything was made of logs including the furniture. In the kitchen there was a very large dining table made out of a tree along with the chairs. We all sat down, the two guides, Frank and I and she started to pull platters of roasted meats out of the oven, the platters were all carved out of trees, as were the serving utensils. She served three different types of meats, roasted eggplant, roasted tomatoes, onions, bread and a green salad. And since we were in Argentinian wine country, bottles of Malbec. Since Frank and I speak fluent Spanish and watch a lot of Argentinian movies and shows the conversation turned to that, she joined us at dinner and we ate and drank and laughed and talked and talked and fed Juan some meat and played with her children and talked and laughed until it was time to go. Was the food good? Yes. What made it so memorable though was the entire experience, all the ingredients MFK Fisher talks about were there, and I'll add one more, it was unexpected.

And number one? I have no pictures and I'll make it short. We were visiting San Francisco and the Bay area, went to Napa Valley one day and stopped in at the general store in St. Helena and bought pates, fresh figs, bread, took it all back to our hotel. The next day we drove down to San Simeon to visit Hearst Castle, never got in due to the extremely long lines and a much coveted dinner reservation in San Francisco. Drove back on the Pacific coast Highway, all the while in awe of the incredible beauty of the ocean at the bottom of those cliffs, found a spot to pull off of, sat under a big wide tree, pulled out our pates and figs and bread and wine coolers we had bought in San Simeon, sat there in silence staring at one of the most beautiful sights ever as we ate our lunch, just the two of us.
Best meal I've ever had.

(Max just for the heck of it)

September 20, 2014

Two towns in Provence - Avignon

Once we had rearranged our trip and included a two and a half day stay in Marseilles we started to do a little Provence planning. Frank came up with a day in Avignon which would include one of our "musts" any time we go to Europe --- a train ride. We booked a trip through EuropeRail on the Avignon TVG,

which is the high speed train, it goes 185 miles an hour and gets you to Avignon in 30 minutes where the regular train takes a couple of hours. (Paul Theroux hates these trains because the scenery becomes a blur (until you eyes adjust) but he's a travel writer and has all the time in the world, we don't). Another "must", if possible, in Europe is riding the Metro. So this was a double whammy because we had to take the Metro from our hotel in Marseilles to the stunningly beautiful Gare St. Charles, where the views of Marseilles were magnificent.

Avignon is a walled city

and what I always imagined a town in Provence would look like. (except for one of the first things we encountered, an Irish pub)

There are beautiful cobblestone streets and passageways

and charming shops selling Provencal linens (where I went nuts but didn't take pictures) and soaps and herbs de Provence (nuts again).

Gardens and flowers,

yummy window displays,

and the Palais de Papes, where popes lived before the Vatican even existed,

where we climbed all the way to the top and took in the views of Avignon.

We had dinner in one of their very charming restaurants where we practiced this motto.

Then took the train back to Marseilles where the next morning at 5:30 AM we raced to the airport in a terrifying taxi ride that made driving through the Corsican mountains a leisure drive, boarded our plane to Amsterdam, where our 3 hour and 55 minute layover wasn't long enough to take the shuttle into the city but was long enough to buy some tulip bulbs from the tulip capital of the world and go through the most strenuous security check ever, fly home to Newark and go through the most excruciating customs line ever (1 and a half hours, ugh) which meant we had to wait until the next day to get this,

which was the only reason I wanted to get home.

Vacation over :(