Boy oh boy, have things changed in the past year. I had a great day off yesterday, and I had invited my mother and her husband over for a tapas dinner because hey, any chance for a visit right? When I woke up yesterday I realized that a year ago I woke up on a plane descending into Madrid with Mrs. Primate on the first day of our honeymoon. I figured it was a sign that I should probably make something for dinner on days that I cook that would remind us of where we were on our honeymoon at this time a year ago. Well, dinner number one was already in the bag.
Last night I finally cracked open the Spanish cookbook that Mrs. Primate gave me for my birthday and made a couple typically Iberian delights, a tortilla with potatoes and onions, and albóndigas with a tomato salsa. In addition I added in a memory of our trip to Hong Kong (where I had my first tapas dining experience) with asparagus roasted under a blanket of manchego cheese. It turned out beautifully, and we had just enough little plates to even serve it in an authentic fashion. Things weren’t 100% Spanish though.
For dessert I made gelato. Why? Well, memories of how good the gelato in Rome was as we walked through the streets on a hot spring day have been going through my head like freight trains as the weather has started to heat up. I logged onto trusty old Pinterest, searched for a lemon gelato recipe, and came up with this. It took me about an hour, and this was only my second experience with the ice cream maker my sister
unloaded on gifted to us a few months ago. Well, let’s just say the second attempt went MUCH better than the first. So much better that I’m planning to make a little straciatella when we run out of this wonderful lemon batch.
I also made a syrup with lemon and basil to make homemade limonata, you know, the Italian version of lemonade? Something about the tartness of the lemon with the aroma of the basil really works together, and the basil was grown in our own garden. Talk about a fresh flavor! I found that one part Limonata mix and two parts carbonated water make for a really refreshing lemonade. If only it had a shot of limoncello…
Well, it will have a shot of limoncello, in about 30 days when this vodka I recently poured over the zest of 8 lemons is finished infusing, and simple syrup is added. But I digress.
The Spanish bit of the meal was absolutely fabulous, and it did in fact remind me of sitting at a table in Plaza Mayor in Madrid, watching street performers, hawkers, and families mill about as we enjoyed our tapas and wine. That was the point. I’d better save some Italian stuff for a week or two until I need to remind myself of Italy. 😉
Last week, or a couple of weeks ago (I can’t really remember, they all blur together) I had a personal culinary epiphany that led to a buying decision this weekend at the local lawn and garden shop. Oregano. It’s not like I was unfamiliar with oregano before, I just never paid it any attention. That was until Mrs. Primate did the shopping while I went to get some prescriptions refilled and planned a meal of chicken souvlaki for me to make (because at that point, which seems like part of the distant past, she worked later than I did) for dinner.
I got home from work that day, had my evening coffee (something I did once in the not-so-distant past when my morning started much earlier and my evenings would end far too soon if I didn’t fortify my alertness with a delicious mug of joy. I digress. I pulled out the recipe and realized that the meat needed to be marinated for something along the lines of two hours. OOPS. Well, I had less time to work with so I got cracking. Apparently the secret marinade that the Greeks use on their delicious souvlaki is olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and oregano.
Look up at the photo. This is what flashes in my brain when I catch a whiff of oregano. The flavor of Greek food that I’ve always wondered about? Oregano. The smell that makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a square on an island somewhere with ancient ruins, Ottoman and Byzantine architecture, and bougainvillea everywhere? Oregano. The scent of blissful early summer evenings in the Mediterranean wondering what adventures the next day would hold? Oregano. I instantly realized that I love oregano, I always have. Oregano is my pretty-girl-who-was-right-in-front-of-my-face-but-I-didn’t-realize-it-until-the-end-of-the-John-Hughes-teen-movie of herbs and spices.
When we were picking out herbs for our little herb garden on Sunday, you’d better believe that as soon as I saw the “Greek Oregano” plant I said “oh we have to have that one.” And we do.
So Mrs. Primate and I have this little tradition to celebrate change of seasons. We go to the Bath and Body Works a soon as the big three wick candles are on sale at the price of 2 for $22 and buy a few to make the house smell more seasonal. This spring there was a line of scents that had a bit of a travel theme, and we bought the “Tokyo Petals” which smelled of cherry blossom and iced sake (read: delicious), and “Cheers to Capri” which smelled of Limoncello. When that candle burned its last flame I was sad, for the scent of lemons really does make me think of Italy. It makes me think of the train ride from Napoli to Sorrento, the walks through the ancient streets of Pompeii, and of course the Limoncello that I managed to sip after just about every meal in Florence and Rome.
I’ve written before that scents and flavors are particularly powerful memory stimulators for me, bringing back memories that might be just under the surface. Lemon digs deep. I remember walking around lower Manhattan with Mrs. Primate and her sister on an ice cold winter day while eating a warm lemon macaron. There’s the lemon macarons I would buy at Choi Gane bakery in Daegu, the citron macarons in the IFC Mall in Hong Kong, Limoncello in Italy, and lemon meringue pies at my Granny’s house. One little yellow fruit can pull up some random game of canasta from twenty years ago and remind me just how freaking frustrating that game is.
Lemons have a more romantic notion now, though. They remind me of Italy. Riding Treno Italo from Florence to Rome to Naples. The scent of the air in Campania. The cool breeze on the beach at Sorrento. That’s better than losing at a hand of canasta.
As the story goes, we almost bought a lemon tree this weekend, but for $40 we decided we’d wait until we could get a Meyer lemon tree as opposed to Lisbon lemons, because we certainly want our fruits to be usable and we’re unfamiliar with the Lisbon variety. Also pomegranate trees were much less expensive, but I know there’s a spot in our yard to grow the little yellow fruits that manage to cut through the layers of my memory.
For whatever reason, my taste buds changed at some point this year. Up until I flew back to Korea for our second year here (Carolyn was already back. Our vacation dates didn’t line up perfectly, and for that matter she was visiting family in New York and I was visiting family in Texas anyhow…it was a lonely vacation.) I enjoyed a diet coke every morning when I woke up. After I got back, I don’t know what did it, the cold ass winter here in Korea, the major lifestyle changes we started making to lose weight, get fit, and increase our health, or what, but I stopped enjoying my diet coke in the morning and started enjoying a nice cup of coffee. What happens when that hot, dark, earthy goodness touches my lips is magic.
When I have my first sip, I’m back on an Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia bound for Bali, Indonesia. Looking out the window I can see the tops of the mountains that crown the islands of Indonesia poking through the clouds. It’s actually pretty similar to Bali Hai from South Pacific what with the islands’ heads poking out from low lying clouds and all. Another sip or two and I’m back in the cafe at the Island Hotel in Legian Beach, enjoying a fresh cup of Java, grown on the neighboring island of you guessed it, Java. It’s the cup of coffee at the top of the page here, and it’s good.
So yeah, the ordinary, everyday cup of coffee I have after I wake up and dust the crap out of my eyes takes me on a magical mystery tour. It’s ridiculous, every time I stand at the grocery store staring at the bags of coffee from Kenya, Colombia, and Java I remember sitting on a creaky wooden longtail boat with Carolyn after some amazing diving staring at the big shadow of Java on the horizon. How lucky am I to have been the places I’ve been with Carolyn over the past couple of years? A few years ago I would have boasted about it not being luck at all but rather constant positioning…but that’s a load of crap. I’m blessed all around with a wonderful lady, some great memories, and a cool flashback to a magical, beautiful place every time I brew a cup of coffee…and I do that every freaking day.