Memory is Hunger

Memory is hunger. When I read this recently, I paused, I underlined it, I wrote notes beside it in pencil. I’ve been concentrating on Hemingway this summer, and this quote came from his memoir, A Moveable Feast, about his time in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley.   It is Hadley who says these words as they reminisce about shared experiences: “There are so many sorts of hunger.  In the spring there are more. But that’s gone now.  Memory is hunger.”

This summer, during this COVID crisis, my sister, cousin, and aunt often have running text dialogues that start in the morning and span into the afternoon, since we have not seen each other in months. These conversations always begin with a memory.  Often about our childhoods.  Often about my grandfather, Charlie.  The memory starts simply with one of us stating, “I remember thus and so.” Then each of us takes turns filling in details.  Most of the time, I read their descriptions one after the other, after the other, responding last.  Being the youngest, I find that their memories trigger my own, and I’m able to paint a more sumptuous picture of those times with him. 

Charlie had a large yard with a huge cherry tree, a grape arbor, a small garden, and several fig trees.  As with everything, he took meticulous care of these treasures.  Often when I’d visit in the summer, Charlie would be sitting in the shade.  A low table would be set before him with a fat watermelon, a platter, and a knife.  He would cut thick wedges and offer them to us as we sat to join him and talk.  Cherries, concord grapes, fresh figs, melons – all these remind me of Charlie and influence the way I cook and eat. All of these bring me comfort.  Summer would not be summer without these.

Indeed, both of my grandfathers kept gardens.  My Grandpa Tony had an amazing green thumb.  He had an apple tree on which he grafted a pear branch so that he could have two fruits on one tree.  I always thought he was magic. On his postage stamp-sized garden, he grew corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, and all manner of herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano, and basil.  It is the basil that triggers the most memories for me.  Every time I smell basil, Tony’s face comes into my mind.  The smell of basil makes me smile, and I am home again. Ah…Tony! There he is bending to pick the ripest tomatoes, snapping off some long beans, taking a basil leaf and rubbing it gently, holding his hand up to my nose. “Smell,” he commands, and it all comes flooding back.

This summer, my 94-year-old father (Tony’s son) and I have weekly phone conversations.  We talk about his health, bad news, good books, but it is food that dominates our conversations.  My father does not keep a garden, but he still lives by himself and cooks his own meals.  In fact, he cooks for his housekeeper, his guitar teacher, and his young neighbors.  As much as he loves to read and write, I think he loves cooking more.  He is always inventing new recipes. Some of my most joyous memories of my father are our conversations about food. I want to write a cookbook with him where we start with basic ingredients like chickpeas and black olives. Then each of us would make recipes from these simple ingredients and see how diverse and inventive our meals could be. 

Usually, my summers consist of traveling north to New England and Canada. Always, they consist of finding and trying new foods.  Last summer in Montreal, I found so many wonderful places: gluten free bakeries, cafes, and tea shops (The Art of Cookies and Ming Tao Xuan). I miss traveling and making new food discoveries. So besides concentrating on Hemingway, I have been concentrating on many memorable meals for myself and my husband – always starting with simple, fresh ingredients. Here are three recipes inspired by three simple summer fruits: figs, watermelon, and apricots.

Fresh Fig, Ricotta, & Honey Toast

 Ingredients:

4 slices of your favorite bread

½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese

2 fresh figs sliced lengthwise

2 teaspoons honey

Directions:

  1. Toast bread.
  2. Spread ricotta cheese on toasted bread.
  3. Top with sliced figs.
  4. Drizzle with honey.

Note: The figs I use in this recipe and which are the most popular where I shop are Brown Turkey figs.  They are brownish-purple in color. Choose soft, plump fig with bent stems.

Watermelon Summer Salad

Ingredients:

¼ cup fresh Basil

4 cups Watermelon, scooped into 1-inch balls

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons lime juice

1 cup Ricotta Salata, crumbled

1 ½ tsp salt

Directions:

  1. With a melon baller scoop watermelon into 1-inch balls.
  2. Place basil leaves on top of each other and roll tightly into a log. Slice lengthwise into thin ribbons.
  3. Combine basil slices and watermelon in a large bowl.
  4. Mix lime juice, olive oil and salt together in a small bowl
  5. Pour over watermelon and basil. Toss to combine.
  6. Chill salad before serving, at least 30 minutes.

Note: Ricotta Salata differs from ricotta in that it is a hard cheese from Sicily.  It has the consistency of feta cheese, but with a milder, creamy texture and a nutty taste.

Apricot Crisp

Ingredients:

4 cups apricots, coarsely chopped 

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

¾ cup light brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ cup old fashioned oats

¾ cup almond flour

½ cup sliced almonds

½ cup cold unsalted butter, diced into small cubes

pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Butter square baking dish.
  2. In a mixing bowl, add chopped apricots and granulated sugar. Stir to combine, then transfer to prepared baking dish.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, add topping ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, oats, almond flour, sliced almonds, salt, and diced cold butter).  Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the oat mixture.
  4. Spread topping over apricots in baking dish, and gently pat to even it out.  
  5. Bake 40-50 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
  6. Serve warm, top with ice cream if desired, and enjoy!

Note: One summer in Rome, while staying with friends, I took total advantage of their apricot tree, which happily supplied me with a surfeit of this golden fruit.

The Art of Cookies

For our 30th anniversary five years ago, my husband and I returned to our honeymoon site – Montreal. Since that time, we make sure we return to Montreal every summer, sometimes twice a summer.  My husband found a wonderful boutique hotel in Old Montreal – Georges Marciano’s L’Hotel. Marciano, the founder and designer of Guess? Jeans, created this lovely hotel, which houses some of his vast collection of Modern art.

The first time we arrived at L’Hotel, to our delight, we noticed a cafe right next door – Cookies Stefanie. Since I am a foodie with Celiac, Cookie Stefanie was an amazing find for me because it is an exclusively Gluten Free bakery and cafe. In the past five years, I think I have sampled almost every item they have to offer: cakes, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, all kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches, savory soups, tartines, and fresh salads.  There are also biscotti ice cream sandwiches, pan chocolate, and carrot cake. Each are so delicious that I cannot tell you what is my favorite one.  However, they do make a tiny treat, which I favored this summer.  It’s a chocolate covered cherry.  The cherry is surrounded in a moist chocolate cake and then wrapped in a creamy chocolate ganache.  It is small, so I don’t feel too guilty, and it is so rich that it definitely satisfies my sweet tooth.  Many an afternoon I could be found retreating to Cookie Stefanie for a cup of tea and a delectable treat.  I cannot describe well enough the happiness I feel when I enter this gleaming white and pretty pink cafe.  My eyes feast on all the glorious desserts and because they are gluten free.  I can have my pick!

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Here are some other wonderful eateries in Montreal, which I have enjoyed.  I cannot wait to return next summer to seek out more sumptuous treasures!

Gluten Free Dining Options in Montreal:

I am so happy that Stefanie created this wonderful place!  I wish she’d bring her talent to New York City!
This cafe is located in the open-air market – Marche Jean Talon in Little Italy.  They make buckwheat crepes, which are gluten-free in all imaginable flavors both sweet and savory.
Great gluten free croissants and eclairs!  Really!
Amazing sweet potato gnocchi, quinoa fritters, and other wonderful delights. It is a Vegan cafe too.
Fresh and creative salads in a pretty light-filled cafe.
Love this teahouse!  A respite of CALM!
The BEST gluten-free pizza crust I have every eaten and I’ve eaten lots of pizza!  Their pasta is also perfect!
Great risotto!

 

Ming Tao Xuan or How to Relax in Old Montreal

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”          – C.S. Lewis

This summer I was fortunate to spend a week in Old Montreal, one of the most beautiful places in the northern hemisphere: cobblestone streets, majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, quaint shops and restaurants nestled on the St. Lawrence harbor.  It is really a delight for the senses.  My husband and I walked all over the city exploring all the different neighborhoods in Montreal. For me, Old Montreal is a respite from the world, a solace for my busy soul.   We’ve taken many trips to Montreal in the past five year, and so I’ve come to know this historic part of the city well.  I love exploring all the shops, tasting culinary specialties at the various restaurants and cafe, but the place I go to treat myself, to take a mindful breath in my day is Ming Tao Xuan Tea House on the corner of Rue de Brésoles and Rue Saint Sulpice in the shadow of Notre Dame Basilica.

Pushing open the heavy glass door, I am immediately transported to a realm of beauty and quietude.  It is a small space filled with wood and glass.  There are floor to ceiling cabinets filled with teapots of all shapes and sizes: iron, clay, and porcelain. Huge colorful porcelain urns sit atop the cabinets like peaceful, sleeping sentinels. There are only four tables in the tea house.  They are study, square, and ornately carved. I take a seat at one table in the back of the room near the small marble fountain. I look out the window at the crowds and city traffic, but cannot hear a sound.  This is truly a sanctuary.

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The proprietor comes to greet me,  a distinguished gentleman with dark-rimmed glasses.  He hands me a thick, celadon-colored menu.  The food offerings take up one page while the next twenty pages are filled with teas of every color, aroma, and taste imaginable.  I become a bit overwhelmed by the choices, but finally choose one that I think will sooth my stress away.  After sipping and savoring, I meditate on this beautiful place and write a poem to commemorate this moment.

 

Ming Tao Xuan

Glass and dark wood,

The sound of trickling water,

People whispering tales

Around heavy square tables

Carved with flowers and serpents.

I take a respite here –

Set down my bones, and books,

and heavy backpack.

A tall, old man in dark-rimmed glasses

Brings me a thick, celadon-colored menu,

Six items: mango salad, tofu envelope, steamed buns,

Chicken skewers, cookies, and cheese cake.

And pages and pages and pages of tea:

Black, green, red, yellow –

There is such a thing as yellow tea?

Yes – aromatic buckwheat.

I choose the tofu envelope

And the Jasmine Pearl tea,

Because if I had had a daughter

Jasmine Pearl would have been

A beautiful name for her –

Jasmine Pearl – lavender and green,

Delicate and sweet.

 

The waiter returns unrolling

A red rattan mat,

Places the teak tray on top,

Arranges the tiny porcelain tea set:

The tiny teapot with a lid

Etched with a bamboo design,

The rounded pitcher with the graceful handle,

And a small white bowl from which to sip.

He prepares the tea,

Allowing the buds to open,

Pouring the first cup

And emptying the water through

The slats of the teak tray.

Now it is ready,

Now it is time for me

To sample and savor,

Relieve my mind,

Release my imagination,

Among the iron, clay, and porcelain teapots

of the Ming Tao Xuan Tea House.

 

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