Reviews

03.17.2015

Dan Barber, the James Beard award-winning chef, has created an 18-day “WastED” pop-up in his West Village restaurant, Blue Hill, serving a menu celebrating that which is usually discarded (think a burger made of “juice pulp” and stew of kale ribs). Every night a guest chef is joining Barber and the Blue Hill team to create one additional special dish (so far it’s been Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park and Mads Refslund of ACME; for the full list here). Monday night I had the privilege of attending Danny Bowien‘s visit and eating my way through the menu with a pal. Don’t be misled by the names, this was nothing if not a sensationally tasty meal.

We noshed on the “Dumpster Dive” vegetable salad to start: a glorious ode to the flavorful skins and ribbons of carrots and apples, celery and pear that usually get slid into the bin. Instead they were served with pistachio, a bright green goddess of a vinaigrette beneath them and a pillow of chickpea water foam; a crunchy, fresh, nuanced beginning. As another amuse, strips of scraped-clean skate wing cartilage fresh out of the frier were served with a tartare sauce of herb ends enriched by smoked whitefish heads. Fried skate wing cartilage, you say? The chef who delivered it urged us to dig in while it was piping hot and he was right. Crispy as a potato chip with no rubberiness to freak out someone with “texture issues,” they hit the spot.

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A mini charcuterie board of cured cuts of “waste-fed pigs” was next, made vibrant by thin slices of pickled “bastard” potatoes (these taters tasted great but had grown in some funky shapes). We piled our slices of copa and headcheese onto melba toast made from yesterday’s oatmeal and added dollops of reject carrot mustard to round it out. (To clarify, there ain’t nothing wrong with the swine that this charcuterie came from, rather, they live off of the cast off whey from an upstate cheese maker, and boy do they live well off of it).

“The worse we are at our jobs, the more you have to enjoy there,” the adorable and extremely informed kitchen director who delivered the rack of black cod to our table remarked (it should be noted that even the tables were constructed specially for this pop up–or rather grown with compostable materials and mycelium). Needless to say, the guys in the kitchen are pros, but perhaps they were a wee bit less meticulous as they broke down the fish for our sake, so that we would have a little extra sweet meat to pull off of the cut and enjoy with carrot top marmalade and a fish skin and parsley vinaigrette.

Our meal was lit by a candle burning in clear liquid labeled “beef.” In fact, it was tallow (rendered animal fat), and was poured into a shallow dish of fresh pepper and herbs for us to soak up with the grainy bread from reject seeds that was offered at our table.

Monkfish wings (which are somewhat terrifying appendages that extend off a monkfish’s fugly head and are usually removed and cast back into the sea immediately by fishermen) were brined in the olive bin, fried and served in a basket with gingham paper and a bottle of fish pepper hot sauce meant to invoke the all American charm of buffalo wings and their requisite Frank’s hot sauce, and while it was certainly strange, one couldn’t ignore how tasty it was or how much meat was on those enormous projections.

Lastly for savory, we indulged in Danny Bowien’s special: a smoked fish skin and peanut heart furikake with chili-pickled ikura, broken rice and sesame leaves, which was delicate with just the right amount of hedonism as those bright red ikura exploded on our tongues.

Truthfully, if it hadn’t been called out ahead that we were feasting on detritus, we would have simply thought we were feasting. Instead of focussing on environmental or population issues–the greater causes for thinking about food in this way, Barber reiterated how much he wanted the meal to be delicious, which it was at every turn. The Blue Hill gang did away with a prix fixe and encourage diners to pick and choose 1 dish from each section for $15 each. The genius of this is that one could return many times in the 18 night series and always have a different meal. Scoring a reservation may not be easy, but it’s walk-in only every evening after 9pm.

Go for the inspiration on how to use, eat and enjoy everything. Go there for the deliciousness, just go. I mean it, get in line already. More details here on Tasting Table.

Blue Hill
75 Washington Place
New York, NY 10011
Tel: 212 539 1776

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Writing

03.10.2015

Three months never went so fast.

My Uruguayan sojourn was everything I asked for and all that I needed. I powered through those painful first days at a new job, when I did’t know where the cling wrap is kept or how many limes make a gallon of juice–or in this case even possessed the words with which to ask. I remembered to relish in my own company, the deliciousness of being alone and answering to no one. No grand bank account balance could make me feel more rich than walking by myself on the beach beneath the moon, holding my dress up from the waves breaking at my knees. The proximity to nature turned me into a child again, wondering daily at the birds–the penguins! the parakeets! the flamingos!–that miraculously all coexist there. I was reminded of why I was a rider, that everything falls away when I am on horseback, sensitive to every twitch and step of the creature beneath me as I galloped through the hills and fields of Garzón.

I soared quietly there on my own, and like Icarus, flew perhaps a bit too close to the sun, burning my tanned wax wings. I sank, naturally, but the salty Atlantic buoyed me and carried me eventually home, eyes wide open, back to reality: my cold concrete city, thriving on the competitive sweat of its busy bees, to rejoin the forces.

These are the places that fed me and inspired me, and of which I will dream.

* * *

Santa Teresita – The owners of La Huella–Martín Pittaluga, Gustavo Barbero, and Guzmán Artagaveytia–teamed with Argentine super chef Fernando Trocca for this irresistible, low-key canteen. Breakfast options include huevos Santa Teresita (scrambled eggs, charred tomatoes and toast) or a version with avocado, granola, and the freshest fruit salad on the peninsula. Lunch is served  as it would be at home: big salads of sublime ingredients, platters of proteins and a vast array of sweets. Guests choose a grande or chiquito plate which a member of the Santa Teresita team fills up with delicacies. The crowd is laid back, sipping cortados and cold local wine, and always peppered with chefs, who know this is the best. I went everyday, sometimes twice. Open for prix-fixe dinner on Thursdays.

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Marismo — Chef Federico Desseno, who worked with Francis Mallmann and his dream team at Los Negros, owns this romantic outdoor, sand-floored restaurant in “the woods,” less than 10-minutes from the center of town. Known for his 8-hour cooked cordero (lamb) and pizzas, everything on his menu is enhanced by the woodsmoke its cooked in. A simple dish of papas rosti becomes unforgettable when he served it with barely cooked green and yellow beans and oozing soft boiled egg. The char of the open fire elevates each ingredient, and the candlelight and fire pit amid tables makes for the coziest ambiance to drink wine and stargaze.

La Olada – Another local haunt where all cooking is done in a clay oven, La Olada serves up consistently delicious fare from local farms and fishermen, including their signature pumpkin salad–a roast half squash with cheese and arugula, excellent marisco-stuffed squid ink ravioli, pizzas and meat on the parilla (grill). Located in La Juanita, it feels like you are going to dinner in someone’s backyard…because you are.

La Huella – Certainly the most famous restaurant in José Ignacio, and perhaps in Uruguay, for that matter, La Huella offers so much more than its self-proclaimed “beach restaurant” status might suggest. Seemingly open 24-7, it’s great for an espresso en route to Playa Brava, on which it sits, or lunch of sushi and salads at 3pm after hours of sun & surf. Dinner, particularly in the high season is the place to see and be seen if you are a Brazilian model or the men who love them. A pile of woolen ponchos made from local lambs are always on hand in case there’s a cool breeze coming off the ocean. Playa Brava, José Ignacio +598 4486 2279

T & Laura @ La Huella

Almacen el Palmar  An institution for its garden, its croissants and its longevity, this spot in town and its brand new informal outpost outside the center are great for French staples and a quiet meal. A duo of live musicians reminiscent of the guys from Something About Mary and the occasionally available pale green marijuana madeleines are a must. 218 José Ignacio center square | +598 4486 2102

Posada Paradiso My home while I was in Uruguay, this bohemian 23-room enclave around a delightful interior courtyard is perfect for an artistic traveler. Co-owner, chef Clo Dimet, serves excellent fare inspired by her travels to India,  Morocco and beyond, but using the best local ingredients. She and her partner José Secco make every guest feel truly as though they are at home. Calle Picaflores esquina Biguas, Jose Ignacio | posadaparadiso@gmail.com | +598 4486 2112

La Susana

La Susana -This beach club-restaurant next to super swanky hotel Baiya Vik offers a panoply of favorites for big raucous lunches or quiet romantic dinners. Ceviche (which I made) from local brotola, corvina and lisa, a killer blue cheese burger, grilled meats and fish and wonderful salads and sushi enjoyed with the waves and the sunshine or starlight over your shoulder make this spot a must visitreservations@lasusana.com | +598 4486 2823 

Santas Negras Bar y Tienda – Lovely ladies Negra and Paula own this chic little spot adjacent to their mammoth shop, selling beachy frocks, home wares and well-curated treasures. Camino Saiz Martinez esquina Los Lobos, José Ignacio +598 4486 2662

Mutate – This gem located on the central square of town in José Ignacio is a fashionable café as well as a shop. Deco tea sets, vintage Argentine leather satchels, glass objets and bauhaus lamps are sold amid whimsical treasures and carefully chosen clothing. Expect New York prices for these one-of-a-kind finds. Frente a la plaza | +598 486 2585

Hugo González, Teler Artisinal — This legendary knitter sells throws, sweaters, ponchos, hats and much more out of a small shop near the lighthouse. All his wool is from local sheep and frankly feels like cashmere. I guess you could call him the Francis Mallmann of Uruguayan knitters, as he apparently has disciples all over Uruguay selling their handmade wares at local ferías. He’s a delight. Seasonal shop by el faro.

Abandoned train station, Garzón

Lucifer – Chef-owner Lucía Soria’s intimate restaurant in the garden behind her home is worth the gorgeous half an hour drive inland from José Ignacio to Garzón. Charred sweet breads with criolla and bitter greens, eggplant tapenade on homemade hazlenut bread, whole roast fish from the Laguna Garzón and many more delights abound on the ever changing menu served up by the foxy women who cook them. A wonderful destination for a long lunch (or dinner) under the whispering vines. Cno. a la Estación Custiel, Pueblo Garzón. | +598 99 255249

Lucifer, Garzón

Hotel & Restaurante Garzón Francis Mallmann is a legend in his own time. There doesn’t seem to be a chef in Argentina or Uruguay who hasn’t worked for the cocinero who burns things to perfection. At his luxurious and stunning boutique hotel in Garzón British-Spanish chef de cuisine Gioconda Scott brings her passion for sourcing and attention to detail to every aspect of the experience. I spent many an evening enjoying this extraordinary place. Plaza Principal Pueblo Garzón. info@restaurantegarzon.com +598 4410 2811 / 00598 4410 2809  

Restaurante Garzón

Alium The chicest boutique in Uruguay, I’m guessing, featuring international creatives who all have found a home in this rugged country. Linen gaucho pants, knit line “Garzon” by Brit Tiggy Maconochie who fell in love with the ghost town; handmade patchwork leather bags by Ale Sly; and the finest wool knits from local lamb abound in this shop cum gallery cum event space owned by the adorable Carolyn Prevett and Mariano Piñeyrúa. Plaza Principal Pueblo Garzón. hola@alium.com.uy | +598 99 128672

Farro de José Ignacio

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Writing

02.09.2015

I know, I know, I’ve been very quiet. It’s not for lack of inspiration, however. In fact, it seems everyday I discover a new treasure here, whether it’s a word (me copa, which aptly is slang for “adore it,”) a perfectly intact sea turtle’s egg found amid the seaweed on the beach, or the rush of a wave, pushing me toward the shore as I contemplate standing up on a surfboard.

I’ve realized I cannot share any story until I explain a bit about where I’ve been thriving.

Those days around the holidays I lived as if in a dream. From the maid’s room in the rented house, when I fell asleep at night the full moon perched, enormous, in my window frame. Often I thought, how can this be real–this joy, this beauty, this experience I wrought for myself from a casual conversation?

A windstorm near New Year’s gave me a gift: an afternoon, albeit a breezy one, off from La Susana with my new bicycle on which to explore and look for a post-maid’s room home.

I canvased the streets of town, zigzagging to make sure I saw what was on each. I browsed in shops I had no interest in. I paid the cashier at Almacen el Palmar the money I owed her for my coffee and croissant three days before. I decided to hunt for Hugo González, the man who hand knits the sweaters that my American friends had bought in bulk like any self-respecting New Yorkers, and on my way there, passed Alto Ver, a casa near el faro with a one-room tower. I could see into the small single room—see the edge of a bed with a white spread and a small table with afternoon detritus: an ashtray, a book, a teacup. I could see through the tower room, in fact, as it had windows on three sides. I allowed myself to dream: oh, what I wouldn’t do to live in a tiny tower room with views where I could be alone and write and dream. I looped around to the front of the building to see if it might be a posada, but the gate was tall, solid wood and firmly shut against inquisitive wanderers such as me. I took a picture of the house’s name, framed by the old ivy, so that I could try to find out more.

Alto Ver

As I pedaled away, I thought wistfully of life in that tower and the fast-moving clouds mirrored my mood. I found the knitter just where my pals had said, in a makeshift shop by the lighthouse, selling his wares.  Hugo promised he’d knit me the sweater I hoped for  in three weeks and we said our goodbyes. On a whim, I returned to him: “Do you know the house near here with a tower–Alto Ver?” I showed him the photos I’d snapped. “No, no lo conozco,” he told me.

“I’m here for a few months and looking for somewhere small and clean to stay,” I explained. He pointed to the tacky house across the street, in which we could see people moving around through the floor to ceiling triangular windows. “That’s sometimes for rent,” he said. “Es muy rica.”

“Yes, I said, it’s very nice. But I am looking for a place very small just for me. I am a writer and I need a quiet place to lay my head.”
“You need a posadita,” he said.
“Wonderful,” I said, sensing I might have found a lead. “Where might I find one?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “But there’s a posada near the entrance to town. Instead of going left as you come in, go right.”

I thanked him heartily, and as as I biked off my thoughts turned to the film Sex and Lucia, a favorite for its heart-wrenching romance: the mysterious connections between apparently disparate people. In the film, Lucia runs away from a tragedy to recuperate alone on an island and a woman who also is broken takes her in, asking no questions. I thought of how much I wanted to meet that person, the woman who would see just what I needed and somehow manifest it for me. As I left town, I swung off the main drag toward where Hugo had suggested I might find a hotel. Continuing my canvasing, I turned suddenly onto a road I’d not yet followed and pedaled on. To my right, a red cement wall with iron bars above woven with ivy sprung up, and beyond was a rambling deep red structure with white windows, reminding me of a stable back home. Ivy and fruit trees made the entranceway folkloric, and a child’s laughter as she ran gaily through the courtyard, beckoned me magnetically in, as did the sign: Posada Paradiso.

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Inside the bohemian foyer were walls covered in oil paintings and framed drawings. A white bar was to the right and a desk to the left, where a woman sat, writing in the hotel log.

A handsome young man appeared on the other side of the attendant’s nook. “Hello, I can speak English,” he said as he made his way around to me. I explained to him that I was looking for a small place to live, just for one; somewhere quiet and clean, and of course, not too expensive.

“Nice and clean and cheap,” he said. “Of course. You should meet our chef. She always seems to know of a place. Can you wait here?”

I said yes and sunk into the deep white sofa. From there I was able to properly take in the place, the scents and sounds that moved through the modest lobby. There wasn’t music, but there was the sound of quiet conversations coming presumably from the room beyond the entranceway, and the air carried the irresistible odors of spices toasting and garlic. A few minutes later, I watched as Juan stopped a woman wearing an apron who was walking briskly through the dining room, motioning toward me and speaking to her quickly in a hushed voice, and then the woman walked over and embraced me.

“I’m Clo,” she said. “You are looking for a place to stay?”
“Yes, I am looking for somewhere quiet and clean just for me…somewhere simple.”
“May I ask, why are you here in Uruguay?”
“I turned my life upside-down, left New York and am working at La Susana,” I explained, “Making ceviche there for the season. A place came with the job, but it’s buggy, filthy and all the kids who live in it are sleeping together. I am not in that moment in my life. I need a place quiet and clean—perhaps you have a friend who has a small room I could rent?”
“I understand,” she said with a laugh. “I have lived in houses like that. I think I may be able to help you.”

Part of me couldn’t believe her immediate generosity of spirit and part of me wasn’t surprised at all. From the moment I had encountered the tower in town, and had told myself first that I ought not dream of such things and then that I absolutely must dream of such things—that there was no place for negativity in my mind or on this adventure, I felt as though I had been making my way here to this woman, her warm eyes, her joyful smile, her strong chin. From that moment, and perhaps in my thinking of the inn-keeper in Sex and Lucia, I’d actually conjured Clo up!

“But have you even been here before?” Clo asked me, steering me out past the desk and bar, through the dining room with an old upright piano and a print of Warhol’s Mick Jagger, a fireplace, a delapidated Old Master painting of a matador and out onto a porch with tables protected by the thatched roof hanging over it all. The sound of birds chirping was constant as she showed me the interior courtyard between the two rows of rooms, the center of which was a small tiled pool. Breakfasters spoke in whispers, and in the gentle hum of voices that accompanied the parakeets’ chirping, there was nary an American accent, or even an English speaker.

“This place is extraordinary,” I told her. The simple beatnik beauty—the quiet—flabbergasted me.
“Perhaps we can even find space for you here,” Clo said.

Again, a tingle of hope thrust through my body like a chill. “I most certainly cannot afford this,” I told her with a regretful smile.
“Of course not,” she said. “Not on a cook’s salary. But maybe we can find something that works for both of us.”

I told her I dared not hope for that but was eternally grateful for her thinking of any ideas regardless, exchanged emails with her and said my goodbyes. As I biked away, I realized I hadn’t said goodbye or thank you to Juan, but then I thought of how silly that was, as I knew in the same instant that I would surely see the yellow-eyed boy again.

Next morning—our last in the beach house—I heard from Clo. She’d talked it over with her partner and they offered me a single room for a monthly rate which was more than I hoped to spend, but it meant that everyday I would go home from work to paradise: a room of my own in the coziest, prettiest, most positive place I had encountered. Resisting the urge to immediately accept, at the advice of my friends, I asked to come see the room first. I biked over to Posada Paradiso, but was approaching from a different direction than I’d come before. As I drew neared to the posada, I saw a deep red tower that had not been visible on my previous feverish visit, and it dawned on me that in fact this tower was within the walls of Paradiso. Once again, I told myself not to get my hopes up—that I’d most likely be tucked away in a dim room without views, parked my bike and went inside.

Eugenia, the daytime desk clerk greeted me with a toothy smile behind braces, and I explained that Clo had offered me a room and I’d come to see it. “Of course,” she said. “Follow me.” As we left the foyer, she led me up a flight of stairs to the second story of the hotel. As I took the first step, again hope surged through me that she was leading me to the tower, and again I pushed it down, admonishing my childlike desire. I was reminded of the axiom that beggars can’t be choosers. As she stayed her course up the stairs and made a right, past the row of doors toward the exterior steps that must lead up to the tower, I told myself with each step to accept and be glad of whichever sweet room I wound up in, but at the end of the walkway, past the last door as she took the first rickety, ladder-like step up to the tower, my heart swelled with unstoppable jubilation—we were going to the tower! My tower!

There she opened the door to a simple square white room with windows on all four sides: one to watch the sunrise, the other opposite to watch it set over the water. “Me encanta,” I told her, and almost kissed her. As we walked downstairs I was giddy with excitement. How had it happened that my idyllic dream of living in a tower had manifested itself? How could things be so simple, so perfect here, and continually give me just want I wanted and needed and asked for?

We said our goodbyes and just as I was walking out of Paradiso to head to work, Eugenia’s voice rang out behind me: “Ah, wait, you are the girl who wants a room for a month. I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize. That’s actually not your room.

Of course my silly, sentimental little heart sank at these words, but I still knew I’d found my home here, and I tried not to let myself be disappointed. So far everything was moving in the right direction and perhaps things might shift at the hotel and I might spend a night or two at some point in the tower. I returned that night to check in with just the clothes on my back—to whichever room they offered me. Clo greeted me and I told her of my visit and how much I had fallen in love with the tower.

“But it’s yours,” she said. “You can have that room if you want it.”

I was practically speechless and embraced her to try to convey my appreciation. She laughed in response. “You must be hungry. Stay here.”

I did as I was told. I sat there as Clo got me a bowl of rich, tender tagine and minty couscous with raisins and almonds. I took in every detail of the lobby: the 1930s portrait of a woman propped low on the wall; the many framed drawings hung salon-style from floor to ceiling, the piles of books. It was decorated not unlike my studio apartment back home….home! I was home in the second highest point in José Ignacio to it winking lighthouse and I’ve been here ever since.

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Clips

01.13.2015

Last summer I met the inimitable editor/stylist Valentina Llardi Martin and soon thereafter she asked me to help create a food section in her quarterly brainchild, Grey Magazine. I was honored, to say the least. Our first issue together, Grey I.II, has a small food section, but it was a delicious first taste of working with the Grey gals, Valentina, Aimee and Monika. Such trust. Such soaring standards.

So groovy to work with photographer Grant Cornett, whose modern images juxtapose my insistently nostalgic prose. It was also a delight to include recipes from a few of my favorite chefs: Mads Refslund of ACME, Ann Redding and Matt Danzer of Uncle Boons, Zoë Feiggenbaum and my dear mamma, with her rendition of Julia Child’s classic Coquilles Saint Jacques.

In case you don’t live in a metropolis with fancy newsstands in every neighborhood, here is some of the section. It’s printed on gorgeous paper and belongs in your hands, so please get a copy of the real thing if you can.

PRY ME OPEN, PLEASE

GRILLED OYSTERS

MUSSELS YEN TA FO 1 MUSSELS YEN TA FO 2

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SEA URCHIN BUCATINI

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Writing

12.30.2014

My first week on the job was quiet, waiting for the shack to be functional and scooting to the beach in the afternoon lull. At first I stayed alone, letting the beauty of the beach, the water and slanting sunlight wash my mind and body clean. Eventually, I succumbed to their invitations and migrated to the La Susana employees who camped out down the beach from the restaurant in a cluster not unlike the cliques that gathered together to horse around on the circle green at my boarding school. Here, however, the gang smoked cigarettes, drank hot maté and cold forties of beer and told jokes I couldn’t understand, the girls unselfconsciously sunning their thonged derrières. They all lived together in “containers”–shipping containers that had been converted into bunks, worked together and “played” together. I was a curiosity first for my presence, then for my paleness. “Muy blanca, ella es muy, muy blanca,” I heard whispered often. Obvio.

Though slow at first work became utterly manic. The town of Jose Ignacio, which could easily be described as “sleepy” on the Monday before Christmas, was positively brimming by the 27th. The ceviche shack, for all its dreamy, I think I’ll quit my job and get my hands dirty romance, had certain inherent complications, such as (in no particular order), exposure to the wind, making chopping herbs impossible on a breezy day; complete separation from the kitchen, making it extremely difficult to time when to fire orders; one sink, shared with Uri the sushi guy and the bartenders; the aforementioned sink having a drainpipe prone to clogging and spewing water onto the floor, around my feet and occasionally even over my feet. In addition, my limited Spanish did in fact make me flail and I was quite clearly the butt of jokes, which is to say people were laughing at me, not with me (for which I don’t blame them). My hands were not only dirty, they smelled of fish without cessation, and hours each day spent making my Ceviche La Susana mis en place, meant the yellow, red and green bell peppers, together made my nail beds a special shade of shit brown.

In other words, almost all of my dreams were coming true.

Making mis

My most often-used phrase—puedes m’ayudar?—was becoming my calling card, and in my efforts not to miss anything important, my ears perked up at any utterance of the word ceviche, which produced a reaction in me as though someone was calling me by name. Nico, the Uruguayan hipster cashier, often hung out in the shack in the early evening so that he could keep one Ray Ban-ed lens toward the late-setting sun. He’d perch on the bar a few feet behind me whispering ceviche, ceviche, just to see me crane my neck to find out whether there was in fact an order for ceviche or what was going on, like a dog sniffing the wind.

I spent Christmas—the only harbinger of which was a man wearing a speedo, sunglasses and a Santa hat while enjoying his sandy al fresco lunch—making ceviche, cloistered by busy work and sunshine from my family and the cold of the northeast. I dined with Belle and Marcelo, who were practicing parenting on me, and spent my last night at their place before New York pals were arriving and taking over the guest rooms. Marcelo had created a makeshift tree under which were many adoring gifts for Belle and two extremely thoughtful gifts for me: a Turkish towel and maté paraphernalia including gourd, pipe and yerba.

Christmas Sunset

On December 26th I moved into the casa in which sundry employees were living. Two guys and two girls inhabited the two upstairs bedrooms, respectively. I was to share the living room, which had two single beds in it, with a chica called Victoria. Due to a deluge the ceviche shack closed early and I wore my navy plastic poncho home as I walked to the house in the rain through La Juanita.

I arrived just as Nico and Veronica, two of my new roommates, were leaving to go to a party in La Paloma for the night. “It’s going to be very complicated. Lots of my friends will be there,” Nico explained mysteriously. “Want to come?” I declined his offer in favor of a few hours to myself to write and get settled, and while I relished quiet, contemplative time outside of my ceviche shack during daylight, whilst sitting on my bed looking out the window at the setting sun below the clouds, the grim reality of the house was undeniable. The kitchen was a maelstrom of fruitcake crumbs, half-drunk wine glasses and gourds with caked maté. The floor was grotty and the bathroom particularly fetid, with stalagmites of toothpaste growing from the shelf beneath the mirror. I miraculously found the Uruguayan equivalent of Lysol on a shelf in my bedroom/living room and sprayed the cushioned toilet seat before sitting on it.

In characteristic form, I forced myself to take the plunge and dove right into the filth by taking a shower. A drain full of hair, a windowsill with dirt ringed soap slivers and a floor like a petri dish, made me feel as though I was getting dirtier as opposed to cleaner under the feeble stream. After my shower, as I looked through my bag for something to put on, I couldn’t bring myself to unpack. It seemed my clothes would need to be washed if they so much as touched the living room shelves. I congratulated myself for stuffing sachets of Santa Maria Novella potpourri in my suitcase, as it brought sweet-smelling cleanliness and glamour to me on my thin foam mattress atop a flimsy wooden bed frame.

In fairness I had been warned: that night as I “slept,” hundreds of mosquitos dive-bombed me. I pulled the poly-cotton sheet over my head thinking it might protect me, but they knew I was there cowering, and buzzed near my ears to wake and lure me out. I warred with the bloodsuckers all night and when I rose in pinkish dawn light, it was to find the wall beside my bed a canvas of bloody splats where I had murdered the Draculean insects in my frantic half-sleep. I over-dozed in the bug-less respite of morning, and when I woke it was to the unmistakable squeaks and sighs, umphs and groans of morning sex coming from the room above. The bar manager and his girlfriend, the hostess, were enjoying the delights of youthful summer love. I didn’t begrudge these two their aurora fucking, but I knew I couldn’t remain in this house for another night and started to gather my things, hoping to sneak out before the couple finished their dayspring fornication.

Leaving my packed bags at the casa in the hope of some miraculous as yet unknown lifeline, I went to work. That evening, I recounted this to my newly-arrived New York City friends over dinner. They naturally laughed at the hoopla, but were aghast at the description of where I was currently residing. “We’ve got a room for you. It’s small, and on the other side of the kitchen (a.k.a. it’s the maid’s room), but it’s clean and it’s yours.”

I moved blissfully in with them that night after dinner and stayed for a week in the lovely maid’s room of their beachfront rental–the exact room I hoped for on this journey: small, white, one single bed with a window above it that framed the waxing moon and a clean bathroom. Why such simple things are so hard to find I shall never understand, and I plan to someday have a room such as this to give adventure-seeking, solitary artists and lost little lambs with aching hearts shelter from the storm.

P.S. Don’t be misled by my anecdotes of endless chopping and constant moving, I am sublimely happy.

* * *

Ceviche La Susana, recipe by chef Marcelo Betancourt (serves 1)

1 large fillet of local white fish (Brotola), cut into inch cubes
1 large pinch sea salt
1 glug of Tobasco Sauce
5 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed pomelo (grapefruit) juice
1 tablespoon brunoised mango
1 tablespoon sweet corn, blanched on cob, then shorn off
2 tablespoons julienned criollita (red, yellow & green bell peppers and red onions, cut into matchsticks)
1/2 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped

Prepare your mis en place. (Depending on how many servings you’re planning on, this can take a while if your knife skills are underwhelming. If you’re serving 100, I speak from experience when I say you may want to get started. Like now.)

Chill all ingredients.

Add ingredients to a small bowl, stirring to blend ingredients. Let chill for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a cold clean bowl. Garnish with a mango slice. Eat immediately.

 

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