Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Ins and Outs of Eating Out and In

All right, I admit it. Not only did I take a vacation from the blog (mostly), but I also got away physically for the week, visiting the fair Titania in Philadelphia, attending a work-related conference in DC, and then visiting with more friends. It's wasn't all fun and games, but it felt good to get a complete change of scenery, even with my current deep inclination to remain a homebody.

Despite traveling to two culturally rich and architecturally inviting cities that I enjoy very much, I spent my time focused not on what but rather on who I could see. It's an excellent way to travel, especially when some of those friends appreciate good local food as much as I do. But instead of giving you all the details of all my culinary outings over the past week, I'll just hit the highlights:

--a tour of the Philadelphia local-foods scene with the fair Titania;
--breakfasts from the Chestnut Hill farmers' market throughout the conference;
--good ethnic food (Lebanese, Ethiopian, Spanish tapas; none local, alas) with congenial colleagues during the conference;
--tipping pints with the Gentleman and the Film Fanatic, always a raucously amusing adventure;
--getting an inspiring school garden tour from The Slow Cook;
--tipping another pint with the lively and lovely Jasmine; and
--a home-cooked Bulgarian meal prepared by none other than Mitch Heat and his beautiful fiancee: tomato and cucumber salad with fresh creamy Bulgarian feta, steamed asparagus, and plump and savory feta-filled potato pancakes, all chased won with a sip of homemade "firewater" (the Bulgarian name eludes me).

On top of that, my Opera-Loving Friends picked me up at the airport on my return home and whisked me off to a local South Indian vegetarian restaurant for a feast of dosai, bonda, avial, and other wonderful dishes. We even stopped in the grocery next door, and I went completely bonkers over all the spices and staples that I can't find anywhere else locally. I stocked up in a big way, and I hope to do more serious Indian cooking soon.

So much friendship, so much laughter, so much good food and drink! I had my misgivings about traveling far from home for so long when all I've wanted lately is to sleep for days on end, but I can't deny the restorative power of genuine communion and companionship and all the culinary connotations those two words hold.

Now that I'm home, though, I have to confess: I am really tired of eating out so much. Cooking at home can take a lot of my time, but it is so much more relaxing to me than heading out to a new place (or even to repeated favorites) for every meal. Trying new dishes and ethnic cuisines is fantastic, but for the most part, I want simpler meals made with the fresh produce and quality ingredients I keep at home. The only trouble is, after clearing out the refrigerator in preparation for my trip, I have to fill it up again!

Even after a short night, then, I was up at 7 this morning and heading down to the farmers' market shortly thereafter, and I piled lots and lots of goodies in my bag:

--two cucumbers, a quart of small sweet potatoes, and a bunch of carrots from the Amish farmstand;
--fresh parsley and thyme, broccoli, cauliflower, two big cookies, and a jar of Dutch apple jam from Handyman Joe;
--broccoli (yes, more!), Niagara grape jelly, and leeks from the Sheep Lady;
--two bags of spinach, two small bags of homemade sweet potato chips, apple-pear fruit leather, and half a pint of red raspberries from the Madcap Farmer;
--Honeycrisp apples and cider from the local orchard; and
--tomatoes, potatoes, onions, a red bell pepper, lettuce, bok choy, dried cayenne peppers, and zucchini from the Gentleman Farmer's Son.

A visit to the local natural foods store later in the morning found me buying local milk, eggs, and pasta along with butter and oil for baking and a hefty stash of black tea, so I'm pretty well set now to bake, cook, and eat many wonderful things of my own making. (Maybe after a nap!)

Now that the surfeit of restaurant food is behind me, I hope to have more home-cooking adventures to share with you soon!


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