Why We Travel

by Caroline

I love the mix of familiar and unfamiliar when we travel. We bring food from home, but we shop in new markets. We rent an apartment so we can cook most of our own meals, but we also eat out and learn how to translate menus written in different languages. Our first night in Sintra, we went to a school fair (very familiar) but the theme was medieval Portugal (brand new!). Unlike most fairs, where plastic (or, more recently, cornstarch-based biodegradable) cups are standard, here we were given small clay mugs, which have now made their way safely home and become indispensable for breakfast drinks:

The boys shared a candy apple (familiar):

While I was more interested in the skewers of wine-poached pears:

All of our stay involved this fascinating push-pull of new and different. We ate familiar kinds of snacks (cookies and granola)…

…with amusingly new names.

We set the table for dinner outside:

But our table had a view of a castle:

So this is why we travel, even though it can be so complicated, and the rewards so simple: cereal you address with a honorific; a view of a castle. It’s enough to get me packing again.

Home and Away

by Caroline

For the third summer in a row, people we love were in Europe, offering us a reason to visit and, even better, a place to stay. There is always a moment (sometimes quite a long moment) when, contemplating a trip like this (3 cities and 17 days), paging through guidebooks and counting up the number of restaurant meals, I wonder if we shouldn’t just stay closer to home: rent a beach house with family and friends, do more home cooking, spend less of the summer in museums. But I also know these opportunities aren’t going to come again, and I know we’re lucky that we can take advantage of them now. And we have become pretty adept at traveling in a way that minimizes the upheaval and maximizes family harmony and comfort (that is, we pack food). So for the third summer in a row, we counted our lucky stars, booked plane tickets, and packed our bags.

First stop: Sintra, Portugal, the small city outside Lisbon that Byron described as “glorious Eden,” and where my friend Ursula is living in a beautifully rambling home with her daughter, her Portuguese husband, and her mother-in-law. The house is perched on a hill surrounded by a big yard and lush gardens.

the neighbor's horses, grazing out the kitchen window

The boys quickly got used to the backyard chatter of chickens and geese:

feathered friends

And they learned how to use a familiar tool — the mortar & pestle — in a new way: to crack nuts. In the past, their nut-cracking has been with my dad, whose hickory nuts are so hard-shelled he starts them off with a good whack of the sledge hammer on the garage floor. Portuguese hazelnuts offer a much easier entry:

A familiar snack — yogurt with nuts and honey — was the perfect way to start our time away from home.

The Kids Were All Right

by Lisa

The table on the Lanai

For some reason, things are easier on Kauai. Take dinner for instance:  grilled fresh fish, rice, local vegetables or salad.  Fast, easy, delicious.  Both Ella and Finn insisted on maybe our second night that things tasted better in Hawaii. They had a point. It might have been the weather. It might have been the lanai. It might have been the ease of it all, or having all of us together, or the pre-dinner watercolor painting in the secret spot. Regardless–family dinners are  a highpoint of vacation partly for the new food (ono, fiddlehead ferns, local pork and beef from just a few miles up the road) but mostly because we all gathered happily together on our garden lanai.

And more to the point:  every night we ate at home,  the kids happily and eagerly set the table. Can I repeat? They set. the. table. With alacrity. Without complaining. With lovely care to attention and detail.  They worked peacefully together. They cooperated. They set the table at home, too, with some regularity, but not nearly with such good cheer and eagerness.  At home, this is a chore that interrupts the very ebb and flow of their life. But on the Island? It’s a Fun Thing To Do.   Go figure.  Personally, I think we need more orchids on the table.  Perhaps that would do it.


By Lisa

We were on Kauai for two glorious weeks and before we went, the kids told me that one of the reasons they love vacation there is because I’m “super-nice” the whole time. Apparently this has a lot to do with the fact that I let them eat shave ice almost every day. This is easily the Hawaiian equivalent of gelato, with a lot less fat.

Jo Jo’s Blue Raspberry

Their flavor picks evolved with the trip, for example:

Day 1= lime and cherry (Ella); mango and guava (Finn)
Day 2=guava & li hing mui/root beer & cotton candy
Day 3=vanilla & coconut / peach & pineapple

After that,  I lost track, but Ella was often seen eating coconut and vanilla to match her toweling shirt.

Finn was the wild card. One day it would be tropical, another day candy-sweet. They liked things that turned their tongue unnatural colors.

Sometimes, we had ice cream on the bottom–vanilla or macadamia nut, which is a real treat.  I dusted mine with li hing mui powder, or tried the haupia (coconut) cream topping.

With Li Hing Mui (salty preserved plum powder)

Not all shave ice is created equal.  There was a decent roadside stand on the way to Koloa, and Jo Jo’s, a shack in Waimea, has terrific syrups (60 in all), and Shave Ice Paradise in Hanalei is open long hours and is good, too.  But the Wishing Well in Hanalei still takes the prize.

Wishing Well’s Local Girl:  Li Hing Mui + Coconut

Grape + Vanilla

Lime + Coconut + Whipped Cream (for Ella’s local girlfriend)

Vanilla + Coconut

Pineapple + Coconut + Guava

It’s in a truck, and it’s almost never open as far as we can tell. Her posted hours are flagrantly wrong (in our limited experience) and she runs out of ice regularly. The owner is ageless, tall and thin and tanned and usually clad in draping island wear.  She is secretive and dictatorial–you have to order in a prescribed way and you can NOT substitute anything in the specials. She will not let you hold the kids up to the tiny screened window so they can see how she works.  But she is amazing and her shave ice is glorious. It’s light and delicate and melts in your mouth. But it does not melt quickly in the cup like some other shave ice does.  I don’t understand how she does it, and when I asked if she had a different machine and she answered cryptically, “No, I just take my time.” She claims her syrups are the same as everyone else’s, save for 4, but I’m not sure I believe her.  There is something mysterious about this truck and magical about just how good the shave ice is.  So if it’s open when you drive by, stop immediately.  While pretty much any shave ice will hit the spot, this is what ice was made to do best.

At Jo Jo’s

Lemony Zucchini Muffins

by Caroline

I’ve written here before about the food my family takes to travel, the food we’ve eaten on journeys, even the food that has greeted us on our return, but not yet about this particular food/travel issue: cleaning out the fridge before leaving on the trip.

Tonight, on the eve of our 2+-week vacation, and with friends coming to stay in our house ten days from now (and so a week before we get home), I had to think carefully about what we should use up and what could stay put. When the eggs ran out late last week, I didn’t replace them; that half loaf of sandwich bread goes in the freezer, as does that end of baguette, sliced into cubes for croutons and tossed into a bag. We’ll use up the milk in the morning, but the last stick of butter will be fine. It’s the produce that’s trickier, of course. Tonight I found myself adding lots of vegetable sides to our pasta dinner: green salad with shredded carrots; roasted zucchini; roasted potatoes; fresh snap peas. The meal looked a bit like this, the kids ate a ton, and the crisper was nearly empty.

Nearly! I still had a bunch of beets to deal with, so quickly pickled them using the recipe recommended by a reader (my sister!); the recipe was fast, and the pickles will keep until our friends arrive.

Last up: zucchini, which our CSA has been providing at a rate faster than we can handle. I’ve made them into pancakes, fritters, and soup; shredded them into salads or tossed them, roasted, onto pasta with walnuts. Tonight, running out of steam, I grated four cups and stuck it into the freezer for a future soup. Then finally, because I always have time to make muffins, made these lemony zucchini muffins from the fabulous King Arthur Cookbook:

2 c flour (I use a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flours)
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 scant T baking powder
1 t salt
grated peel of 2-3 lemons (the recipe calls for the peel of just one lemon, which just isn’t enough for me)
1/2 c chopped, toasted walnuts (optional)
1/2 c raisins (optional)
2 large eggs (I’d run out of eggs, but luckily still had egg replacer from when my vegan niece lived with us last year!)
1/2 c milk
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 c shredded, unpeeled zucchini

Preheat the oven to 400.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon peel in a large bowl. Stir in the walnuts and raisins.

In a 2-cup liquid measure, combine the milk, oil, and eggs. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Fold in the zucchini.

Spoon batter into a 12-cup muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn out of the pan to finish cooling.

Some of the muffins will come to the airport with us tomorrow, and the rest will wait in the freezer for our friends, because if we can’t greet them ourselves, at least we can greet them, in absentia, with muffins.