We had a decadent weekend in the North Carolina mountains, and I never wanted to come home. The air up there is so delicious and clean, I never realized how cautiously I inhale in New York City, not that you can blame me if you’ve ever gotten a curbside whiff on a humid summer day after a long holiday weekend with no trash pickup.
But up there, everything is a delight. We hiked, we played with the sweetest Schnauzer there ever has been, we ate proper vinegar barbecue, the best peaches in the world (from South Carolina!) and even hit some stores and a craft fair. And oh, how we cooked. Alex and I get a little hog-wild when we see a kitchen bigger than 60-square feet with not one, not two but three large counters and a grill that resides outside. Like, on a giant porch and everything! It took a mighty amount of restraint to not take a tour of the entire smittenkitchen.com archive, but we did make a good dent in just 72 hours, with the kefta kebabs, dimply plum cake, napa salad with buttermilk dressing, pork tenderloin and noodle salad, grilled eggplant with caponata salsa and even the big crumb coffee cake, updated for late summer with a blueberry filling, made a showing.
Actually, it stole the show. I am currently angling an excuse to make it again. Like the fact that it’s Tuesday and I haven’t had lunch yet.
Not to make the understatement of the century or anything, but Prague is stunning with its pastel contrasts, village-under-a-snow globe cityscape and cobblestone sidewalks, not to mention beer so delicious I’m still craving it with breakfast today, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. We walked from one end to the other twice, ate leaden dumplings and paperweights of smoked pork while accordion players stumbled around us. We failed to hunt down the Golem, or even a chunk of mud from the river for my father, as he requested, but had fun trying. I’m really glad I finally made it there.
So were the other ten million people in the city last week, where the tourism, I’m sorry to say, is near-paralyzing. (We, of course, were not tourists but world citizens. Right.) Sure, we were warned, but we live in New York and understand that any place worth wandering around will be filled with others who had the same bright idea. But this was like Times Square, minus the cozy neighborhoods twenty blocks in any direction, and the small city seems to be struggling under the weight of all of the world’s citizens wanting to take a peek. You know, people like us.
But Vienna, Vienna my love. Vienna waited for me, just like Billy Joel promised me it would when I had my monstrous crush on him throughout middle (coughhigh) school. I fell instantly in love with its cafe society, late nights, lush park space, walkability and impeccably dressed masses. We’d been warned that there wasn’t a whole lot to “do” in Vienna, that we wouldn’t need more than 48 hours there, but I don’t think these people used their time as I did: imagining our expatriate lives there, and taking late night swings into to sidewalk restaurants for a glass of wine and a slice of cake, with our Westie in tow.
If there is one thing that Alex has shown me the light of over the course of our relationship–but fortunately, there are many, including ribs, pickles, bourbon and skiing–it’s the consummate beauty of a vacation that entails absolutely nothing. No water skiing, no scuba diving, no afternoon of shopping, no conga lines: just hours upon hours on the beach, tearing through one book at a time. Can you imagine how awful this must be after months of doing things and being ‘on’ and producing things of value for other people in exchange for earning a living? I’ll tell you, it’s a big adjustment.
Day one is always a little bewildering; we find ourselves saying “Wow, a whole week?” “Seven DAYS of this?” and “What will we do with ourselves?” a lot. Day two we start settling into the beach life–barefoot, sunscreened, our winter coats looking ridiculous hanging in the room’s closet–and make some dents in our books. By day three, however, we’re pretty used to it all: the bluest–aqua, really–ocean we have ever seen, silky white sand, absurd 3 p.m. cocktails called the Tropicolada and the uncanny ability to take a long post-cocktail nap despite having slept 10 hours the night before, and this is where everything descents into a haze. Without a singular event or laughable attempt at productivity that will serve as a demarcation between the days, we tend to blink twice and its day seven. We wonder how our families are doing. We ponder what plans we have made for the weekend we return.
Whoops! I hadn’t meant to abandon you like that, we just didn’t have internet connectivity on our last two days of the trip. It was like 1999 or something. I got the shakes. So, where did we leave off?
After Day One at the wineries and Days Two and Three at the grill, we spent our last day on a barely too brief to mention swing into San Francisco where we wandered the Ferry Market Building and lunched at the Slanted Door with friends before heading up to Berkeley. We had dinnerwithagorgeousgroupoffoodbloggers that evening at Oliveto in Oakland, and on recommendation from the lovely Shuna, breakfast at Mama’s Royal the next morning. In between these gullet-gutting excursions, we found some time on Monday to wander about the Berkeley campus where we wallowed in nostalgia for our unscheduled college days and once wrinkle-free foreheads (fine, that was just me) before jetting back to the land of late dinners, humidity and the daily grind.
In honor of our long weekend in Napa–you know, the trip that you won for us–I have done the unthinkable and brought the laptop in hopes to share snippets throughout our trip. Should we ever leave California, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled cooking next week. But I’m not making any promises.
Oh people. Come, hither. Sit down, have some wine. Try to summon in your mind the awe-inspiring amount of information one can absorb in twelve hours of applied grilling class, all that direct versus indirect heat, smokers and infrared and Japanese ceramic egg grills, lump charcoal and applewood chips, muscle and protein, brine and sear, marinade and sauce and rub and ignition and meat, my god, so much meat even the pictures give me a meatover.
I’m about 29 heirloom tomatoes and 300 sugar snap peas from returning to my former, non-cavewoman self, and it’s going to be a day or so before I can get to all of the tasty stuff we learned. Until then, don’t let me forget to tell you about our beyond fabulous grilling partner, this meal, that one and the awesomeness to come before we leave on Tuesday, our bags bursting with bottles of Sinskey and jars of homemade gifts. We are hopelessly spoiled. We wish you were here.
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