Monday, September 21, 2015


 He took me to a place under brilliant blue skies, surrounded by deep blue waters. We spent mornings wandering the streets of old villages under a blazing sun, burning stone streets, burnished stone reflecting centuries of unchanging traditions. We picked our way through meandering back streets, barren of life, admiring tumbles of earthenware, terra cotta crudely shaped, rough, matte terra cotta spilling from small shops with no one in sight. Chicken wire stretched across frames on every back and front porch displayed rows of tomatoes and grapes drying in the sun, broiling, withering, baking. 

 Afternoons, we would amble to the seaside, sit on the warm rocks that jutted out into the blue, sapphire and turquoise and azure blue that stretched forever. My toes would skim the chilly blue, neither the daring nor the desire to bathe as he did. Burning passion. His eyes so blue burned into mine.

 Dinners would find us at noisy family-style bistros, the sun still high, small tables lined up elbow to elbow under a colorful canopy where we would order brochettes of lamb drizzled with yogurt or fish from the sea broiled or grilled.

 He feeds me when I’m blue. Tiny sardines no longer than his hand, bright, lustrous blue, shimmering. He would slice a thin blade up each sardine and clean them one by one. Onions, garlic, parsley, spices redolent of North Africa, breadcrumbs if he feels like it. And he stuffs this mixture inside each blue sardine until bursting (but not quite). Then he weaves each blue sardine onto a brochette to hold it together. Broil. Until blistered and bubbling. Two on a plate. Bliss. Blessed.

 Black. San Lorenzo, la notte delle stelle filanti, the night of the shooting stars. We lived in the city where buildings and city lights allowed no night sky to filter through, no brilliance of stars, the starlight lost in the muted, muddy black of the night, in the bright city lights. But the Night of San Lorenzo, the Night of the Shooting Stars, we embarked on an adventure, bundling babies and parents into the car and winding up the mountainside, climbing away and above the city. We first stopped for dinner at an ancient convent which had become a restaurant. Rows of tables were lined up in the open courtyard in the center of the convent. A giant wood-burning barbecue grill held pride of place in the middle. Flames shooting skyward. Women scurried between the tables hefting bulky trays brimming with platters of grilled meats, bowls of creamy herbed polenta, salvers of French fries. And we dined until bursting.

 Back in the car, we climbed higher and higher until we couldn’t go any higher, and we pulled over onto the shoulder of the road, the edge dropping away into black nothingness. We got out of the car and looked up, heavenward, into the inky blackness. Black dotted, speckled with stars, white on black. There, look! Guarda! One would point up. And we would see a sudden movement, a streak, a smear, a blur of white against black and in a flash it would be gone. There, look! Another one! And there! Excited voices yet hushed as if any noise we made would stop the magic, chase away those stars like angels scattering. We stood breathless, watching, in awe, a touch of bewilderment, the shooting stars. Black speckled with white as far as we could see, a black so deep, so profound, so thick. Sprinkled with a mosaic of white.

 Foraging blackberries along the dirt paths that edged the village where his parents lived. A tangle, a snarl of blackberry bushes perched above the verge. Tiny berries black yet not, a bluish black the color of wine, nestled rather defiantly (boisterous) among the thorny (brutish) barren branches, beckoning. We would grab at them hungrily yet learning to bridle our enthusiasm and greed with the first bite of barb. A bit of blood. Then reaching in cautiously to pluck each berry and dropping them into our basket.

 We picked those blackberries eagerly imagining the pies that we would bake. But behold, these blackberries were hard, tiny things, all bumps and hardness that stuck in the teeth. We would pop a few in our mouths, bite and suck out the bit of flavorful juice but that was all these berries were worth. Bamboozled. Betrayed by beauty.

 Years later, a beautiful, breezy summer day, a country walk through fields and what do we spy but blackberries! Not hard little things but plump beauties, juicy and tender blackberries glistening like black baubles among the lush greenery. Lips, fingers stained black. A dusting of powdered sugar, white on black, like snow on charcoal.

 Standing in the kitchen on a blustery day. Staring out the window as the rain slithers down the pane and the world is a blur. A film of gloom, a mist clings to the glass as my eyes strain to catch movement, color outside, to little avail. Everything is a blur. Rain. People scurry by down in the street below and I see them swimming by, streaks of color wash across the sidewalk, the tram a smear of silver.

 A misty morning, the fog covers the countryside, damp clings to my skin, my hair, the ground, my shoes squelch, I am swallowed up by a fog that swallows up buildings, humans, the little I can see into a shroud, a blur of white. Ghosts dance on the horizon, trees, their bare branches stretched heavenwards like arms held high, swaying in the wind, movement, phantoms in the gray obscurity. Headlights poke through the fog suddenly and flash past, blindingly bright for a mere second, with barely a whisper, sounds muffled in the cotton clouds. Everything else is a blur.

 Or maybe it is just tears that blur the world around me. Soft and indistinct. Tears of pain, tears of laughter, the world is a blur, oblivious.

 I lift the lid of the pot and a geyser of steam assails me, blast, blitz. Eyeglasses fog and the world is a blur. I stare down into the pot bubble bubble and can’t for the life of me see what is down there behind the veil of vapor, the haze, and I wait for it to clear. I pull open the oven door and am enveloped in brume. I blink, trying to clear my vision but it is all a blur. Bedazzled. Squinting at labels, directions printed on packages, lists of ingredients, and it is all a blur. When oh when did this happen?

 Old eyes, blurred photos. Old black and white snapshots edged in white are faded with time yet captured a family in blurry shades of gray a lifetime ago. Someone held the camera with a shaky hand, excited by the moment; children squiggle and squirm and just won’t stand still so out of focus, forever a blur. Or maybe it is my old eyes squinting, searching for detail in the vagueness, voices in the silence. The past is all a blur.

 Life passes in a blur, a lifetime of meals cooked and eaten, remembered or forgotten. Life passes in a blur, one day you are young, eating peanut butter sandwiches in the front yard with your kid brother, the next you are preparing peanut butter sandwiches for your sons. One day your sons are cooking for you, blanquette de veau and boudin blanc and moules frites and they are all grown up. And I watch them, men now, cooking together for us and suddenly they are a blur….

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Monday, September 7, 2015


 Plated Stories has always been about inspiration, creativity, experimenting with the interplay between text and image, with food as muse. After a summer hiatus, we take off in a new direction: up until this post, the texts and the photographs had been conceived and created independently, with no interaction before posting, only inspired by the same theme, a way to see how one theme inspires words and images separately and how the energy changes when brought together. We have decided now to play with a wider palette of inspiration by interacting during the process: alternating posts, Ilva's photos will be inspired by Jamie's texts or Jamie's texts will be inspired by Ilva's photos; the inspiration can come from memories, words, the image itself, inspiration and creativity are 'free birds' to be caught in flight and we intend to continue to do just that. The starting point? A letter of the alphabet. Some posts will have a recipe, some will not.

« Apricots » she said as she handed me the bulging brown paper bag. I shifted awkwardly, uncomfortably in the much-too narrow bed trying oh-so hard to find a position that wasn’t painful and accepted the gift with pleasure. My mother- and father-in-law had driven all the way across Paris from the suburbs at the diametrically opposite side of the city to see the new baby, their third grandson. And she had brought me a gift of apricots. 

 Amazement. Those apricots were like none I had ever seen before. They were the size and shape of avocados, of those elegant artichokes the color of jade tinged with aubergine. Apricots the color of bridesmaids gowns, a soft, pale orange of creamsicles. The perfume was exquisite, escaping aromatically from the bag as I peeled back the paper. And the flavor was astonishing. Maybe I in my hazy state, alone in that hospital room with nothing to do all day, for seven days, except watch an angel sleep, maybe I in my bored and bewildered condition maybe the flavor of those apricots was exaggerated in my mind. But I think not. They were ambrosial. 

 Absurd. My mother-in-law made her pastry from scratch, pushing squishy, damp dough across the glass pie plate with her fingers, pressing it into the corners and up the undulating, fluted sides. Yet she used canned apricots, pouring off the heavy syrup, pressing perfect, regular, homogeneous, identical half apricot rounds into the pastry, hollow side down. Dusting it with crystallized brown sugar and pushing it into the oven, it was the best thing eaten on a Sunday afternoon on the terrace in the country.


 Animal crackers in my soup…. Monkies and rabbits loop the loop….

 Alphabet Soup Animal Crackers American cheese toasted between two slices of buttered white. A my name is Albert and I live in Alabama, my wife’s name is Alice and we sell Apples. A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. Abracadabra. Alice in Wonderland.  Afternoons baking cookies with any adult will do. A child’s life.

 How to eat an animal cracker. Head first, body first? Swirl the spoon around the bowl of alphabet soup and pick out the letters (don’t use your fingers the soup’s hot!). J. A. M. I. E. Fish them out only five of them and line them up on the plate to save for last. Floating animal crackers in a bowl of alphabet soup.

 Caramel apples Candy apples Bobbing for apples Apple fritters Apple cider

 An autumn afternoon. There is autumn in the air although an August afternoon when the days should be arid, fiery and airless. The evenings sultry, sticky, the windows thrown open to catch what breeze a summer night affords. Yet, here it is as autumn, cool and agreeable, luring us outdoors.

 I have always loved autumn. It is the sentimental season; we ache for something just out of reach, something illusory, nostalgic. It must be the odd light, unquantifiable, ambiguous, that filters through the trees as they flutter and fade to gold. Autumn is a season both exhilarating and melancholy. And I dream of aspirations, I think of people I have lost. I dream arduous dreams. Angst.

 And autumn is the season of abundance. My countertop is piled high with end-of-summer tomatoes of the deepest red streaked with orange, smudged with amber. Zucchini, courgettes, fat and awkward, bundles of green beans, rolled in newspaper are a garden gift from a neighbor. Acts of kindness. A garden a jungle of vines heavy with bunches of green grapes blushing purple, a hint of what’s to come. Tree branches weighted down by kiwis like teardrops. Rows resplendent with tremendous heads of lettuce astounding in size and number! Beds of beans, peppers, eggplant, and cabbage are lined with delicate tendrils of chives, feathery tufts of parsley, clusters of mint, ours for the taking. Pumpkins of varying shades of orange nestled in the green plants lie placidly, growing ever larger, drinking in the sunshine of summer turned autumn much too soon.

 Apple pie Apple compote Apple clafoutis Apple tart Baked apples with cinnamon sugar Apple strudel warm from the oven


African Adventure!

 Some children are born for adventure, have it in their blood, jump into new undertakings with both feet, laughing out loud. My firstborn son was such a child, courageous and curious. Happily dipping into a ditch, river or lake with both hands, a net or a fishing rod, buckets of snails or tadpoles or frogs found their way back home. Ever fearless, he tromped through woods, fields, beaches looking for animals, treasures, mushrooms, waltzed through museums and monuments asking questions, flitted up dizzying tower staircases, boarded airplanes all alone which would take him flying off to far-away lands when he was all but a tot, surrounded by strangers. And at ten, he and his father giddily prepared their backpacks for their newest adventure, a trekking holiday through an African desert. 

 They spent a glorious week in hiking boots, kicking up sand, days under the burning sun, nights tucked up in sleeping bags under the inky star-lit sky. Huge communal tents were set up for lunches and dinners, two gentlemen preparing tagines and couscous, salads and fruits, fresh breads to see them through the days, son ate greedily, joyfully, and turned nothing down. The boy was in his element, buoyant and excited, rolling down hills, sliding down mountains on the seat of his pants, running instead of walking, always twenty-five paces ahead of his father. Our little explorer could have extended his adventure for an added week and he would not have flinched. He lived every single moment to the fullest in great pleasure and delight.

 Two final days in Marrakech, they stayed in tiny hostels, a place to stash their luggage and lay their heads at night. The days were spent exploring the city, the markets, the sights, sounds, odors and flavors of Morocco. For their very first meal in Morocco together alone, an adventurous eater, son ordered a chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives. A big, bold order for such a young man, a meal bursting with flavors, salty, tangy, exciting! But he had always been a bold eater, afraid of nothing. Driven by his passion for eating, an adventurous spirit, his curiosity, he ordered this new dish. And fell in love with it. And for those several days, both before and after the hike, every mealtime found him ordering the same dish, Tagine de Poulet aux Citrons Confits et Olives – Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives. A dish now redolent with nostalgia and adventure.

 All grown up, he has traveled far and wide, Asia and Africa, and America, crossing countries on foot, on motor scooters, on wooden flat boats, and public trains and buses. And he has eaten boldly, adventurously, snake and dog and mice, eels, alligator. He has shared meals with groups of strangers on buses and beaches and under tents. But after all, he learned from the best, his parents eating adventurously in Africa, too. Road kill and bowls of warm walnut oil, local dishes and home-cooked dishes, in trains and buses and fields and deserts.

 Addicted to Adventure, his bags are packed and off he goes again. Another African Adventure.

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