Baja: All Zen and Fun on the Eastern Front

Loreto, Mexico

Loreto Mexico

It’s easy to associate Baja, Mexico with throngs of partying beach goers. No doubt the touristy tip of Cabo has this rep, but this is only a tiny part of Baja, the skinny California peninsula stretching more than 700 miles (1100 km) south of the U.S. border to its glittery tequila-soused point. For those seeking a more remote location, fret not, there are plenty of quieter and lesser trod areas in between that will quell the craving for a low key, sun soaked, holiday experience – with a margarita or cerveza in hand, of course.

Loreto Mexico

I was recently invited to attend a Chef’s Week event at the new Villa del Palmar Resort in Loreto, Baja, to not only indulge in rocking cuisine from a trio of world class chefs, but also to explore this relatively and refreshingly undiscovered niche of Baja.

Danzante Bay Mexico

Situated 300 miles (500 km) north of Cabo on the eastern coast overlooking the Sea of Cortez, the resort is away from it all, yet clearly in the middle of exactly where it should be, with abundant opportunities for relaxation and activity. Everything evokes balance – including (literally) the mighty location of its stunning golf course landscaped into the teetering cliffs overlooking the sea. I don’t golf, but I thought pretty hard about taking a lesson when I hiked the trails around the Rhees Jones designed golf course, perched on a bluff with panoramic views.

View from Hike

The orientation of the resort is equally spectacular, sandwiched between the jagged ridge line of the grand Sierra de la Giganta Mountains and the picturesque and vertiginous outcroppings of the Islands of Loreto, a pristine Unesco World Heritage Site.

Villa del Palmar Resort Loreto

Boat Tour Villa del Palmar

North of the resort lies the historically rich and vibrant colonial town of Loreto, which also (conveniently) has an international airport with direct flights to and from Los Angeles on Alaska Air. Loreto is a quaint fishing village, easily walkable and offering a little bit of everything, including an historic mission, muchos curios shops, and a vibrant plaza ringed with restaurants and bars that come alive at night. A long promenade stretches along the town’s sandy beach, home to fishing and tourist boats, thatched beach umbrellas and cafés overlooking the waters of the Sea of Cortez which beckons with its multitude of islands and marine life waiting to be explored.

Downtown Loreto Mexico

Loreto Mexico

Loreto Mexico

Thirty minutes south of the town, with easy shuttle access, lies the secluded property of Danzante Bay and the Villas, surrounded by unrivaled nature with an expansive white sand beach, miles of hiking trails, and all of the active and zen (your choice!) amenities of one-stop shopping resort life, including the aforementioned golf, a world class spa and fitness center, all things water sport, and beach yoga. The easiest task at hand is to simply park yourself and let time slip away while you contemplate your next cocktail, meal, or form of exercise.

Villa del Palmar Loreto

For nature lovers – and you will be one, after you explore the Islands of Loreto – take a private boat tour from the Villa and Danzante Bay, where you will weave between the craggy rocks and jutting, cactus strewn islands dotted with deserted beaches and private coves inhabited by a lexicon of birds, with plenty of opportunities for snorkeling and whale watching, likely in the company of pods of playful dolphins.

Snorkling and Boat Danzante Bay

Whale watching Danzante Bay

Back on the mainland, I was lucky enough to be at the Villa for Chef’s Week, which perfectly balanced my zen downtime. It was a 5-day fiesta extravaganza helmed by Celebrity Chefs Keith Breedlove, Manouschka Guerrier, and the Villa’s Gerardo Garcia Martinez, where we were treated to demonstrations and tastings, multi-course extravaganzas, plenty of local wine and tequila, and all around socializing with a fun group of food-loving (and writing) folks.

Chefs Week Culinerdy

Chefs Week Villa del Palmar

Chefs Week

Clearly there is something for everyone at this destination, which is conducive to families, couples, and even solo travelers. You can be as active, festive, or exploratory as you wish – or not, and simply chill with a book and beverage in a hammock on the beach. The point is that you will come back relaxed, refreshed, and well-fed, with no travel burnout or crowd fatigue, which to me is the whole point of a vacation escape.

Danzante Bay Mexico

Disclosure:
My travel costs and accommodations were provided for by Villa del Palmar and Alaska Air. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions and impressions are my own.

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

tutkabay6-592x370

It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi which multitasks as a mail and food delivery service, garbage collection, and all-purpose passenger shuttle to and from Homer, the closest town accessible by road. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

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Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut

The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

alaska makos taxi

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
Needless to say, the seafood is glorious in this part of the world. The following recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Pearl Cousous
Serves 4 to 6Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pearl (Israeli) cousous
2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, chopped fresh oregano leaves and chives

Method:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous, stir to coat, and cook until the couscous is toasted light golden, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock (it will sizzle). Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, the paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

3. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

4. To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

Homer View Lynda Balslev

 

Lisbon Snapshots #TasteFoodTravel

Afternoon Light - Casa de Pasto
Casa de Pasto
Cevicheria
Cevicheria

Rooftop Sunset

Sao Roque
Sao Roque
Chiado Wine Bar
Chiado Wine Bar

Graffiti

LX Factory
LX Factory
Pastéis de Nata
Pastéis de Nata

Ginjinha

Danish Layer Cake (Lagkage) and Camilla Plum

Danish Lagkage tastefood

When it comes to baking I am not perfect. I embrace presentations that are what they are – not too fussy, but simple, honest and fresh (as we should embrace ourselves, right?) It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is lagkage, a traditional Danish cake consisting of layers of genoise or vanilla cake, whipped cream and fresh fruit. It’s beautifully simple – no piping, no bling, just vanilla-infused cake and slathers of  whipped cream smushed with macerated fruit. The only decorations are oodles of berries and pretty snipped edible flowers and herbs from the garden. Actually, it’s…perfect.

I adapted this cake from a cookbook by Danish food icon, Camilla Plum. She is a Danish chef who, in addition to her television shows, cookbooks and garden books, has an organic farm an hour outside of Copenhagen, open to the public on weekends. During the summers you can stroll through her fields, orchards and greenhouses. Her sprawling and well-lived property includes a shop with organic produce, fruit and flowers from her farm, as well as organic meats, kitchenwares and, of course, her cookbooks.

DK camilla plum

 

DK plum is

There is also a cozy cafe where you can  enjoy a slice of lagkage with a cup of coffee or hyldeblomst (elderflower juice) outside in the gardens before heading home.  Just watch out, you might also leave with a kitten.

DK lagekage

DK kitten

Danish Layer Cake (Lagkage) with Whipped Cream and Berries

The cakes may be divided into 2 or 3 thin layers. Feel free to use as many layers as you like when assembling the cake. Recipe translated and adapted from Blomstrende Mad (Flowering Food) by Camilla Plum.

Cake:
8 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (375g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (50g) almond meal
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
5 tablespoons (75g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups (250g) unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

Whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1 cup raspberries, plus more for decorating

Assorted berries (raspberries, sliced strawberries, currants)
Fresh edible flowers, herb sprigs and leaves for garnish

Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two (9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment. Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gently mix in the almond meal, vanilla, and lemon zest. Stir in the butter. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a small bowl, then add to the eggs. Gently mix just until combined without over mixing. Divide among prepared pans. Bake until light golden and tops spring back when pressed, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on racks. Remove the cakes from pans and slice horizontally in half (or thirds).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and beat until firm peaks form. Place 1 cup raspberries in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently stir to combine.

Assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cake plate and top with raspberry cream. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake. Top with fresh berries. Garnish with snipped edible flowers and/or herbs.

 

Beautiful Alaska

Homer View Lynda BalslevFor those who seek space

Alaska PPP Farm Lynda Balslevand new beginnings

Tutka Cabin Lynda Balslev

to embrace nature

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev

and get their feet wet

Alaska view

Where the sky is the limit

Widgeon Lynda Balslevand convention shed

Halibut

King Crab Legs

to receive abundance

Alaska Paella TasteFood

and break bread

dinner

with fellow travelers

cooknscribble

and kindred spirits

Tutka dock Lynda Balslev

Beautiful Alaska

Chino Farms

Chino Farms

Size is not everything at this wonderful little farm stand in Rancho Sante Fe, California.  Just north of San Diego, Chino Farms is a family-run farm that has been in business for over 30 years.   Tucked in the countryside east of Del Mar, Chino Farms sells its just-harvested produce to any and all who stop at their roadside stand.  Chefs and home cooks alike patiently stand in line to choose their produce. If you dine in any of the area’s best farm-to-table restaurants, you can be sure your veggies are from Chinos.

Since we were there as tourists, and unable to return to our kitchen to prepare a farm-fresh meal, we satsified ourselves with baskets of wild strawberries to nibble on as we drove down coastal route 101 on our way to the beach.  In the evening, back at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, we were lucky enough to enjoy a meal at A.R. Valentien where we were told the chef uses fresh produce from Chino Farms.

Lettuce

Courgettes

Artichokes

Zucchini Blossoms

Potatoes

To Induct or Not to Induct – 18 Years of Cooktops

You would not believe the variety of kitchens I have used in the last 18 years.  I have lived in 8 different homes in 5 different countries since 1990 and have been exposed to a catalog of kitchen styles and appliances.


The first kitchen I had was when I moved to Paris and rented a tiny apartment in the 18th arrondissement while I attended Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine. The kitchen was more of a kitchenette and had a dormitory-sized refrigerator and a hotplate as a cooktop, which I rarely used.  To be honest, I was so tired of cooking and tasting all day at school, that by the time I came home the last thing I felt like doing was cooking more food. Besides, if a meal was to be had, there were too many restaurants to explore in the city, and I was on a mission to try as many as possible.  


My first house in Geneva had another tiny kitchen.  It was the size of a closet and had a galley of efficiency appliances with a postage stamp-sized work surface along one wall.  There was just enough space left for a tiny bistro table and 2 café chairs, where I would eat with my boyfriend.  Despite the size, I adjusted and found the efficiency refreshing.  I could literally stand in one place, pivoting left and right, and everything was at my fingertips.  I entertained regularly out of that kitchen and even catered a few dinner parties, while borrowing surface space from the living room around the corner as necessary.  It worked, but I suspect it would be difficult to go back to at this time.


There were several other homes along the way, while I lived for 8 more years in the Geneva countryside before moving to England for 3 years.  Most of our homes were at least 100 years old with lots of character, yet blessed with modern kitchen conveniences and European appliances.  We rented a few, so accepted the varying styles and finishes that came with the rent, and for those we purchased, we tweaked to our taste and learned to use a whole new set of appliances.  
Our biggest coup was when we purchased a renovated barn south of London in 1999.  With the barn we acquired a large rambling country kitchen with a coveted Aga oven.  What a beauty.  It was a cast iron, cobalt-blue enameled fixture the size of a Mini Cooper.  It took up the entire north wall of our kitchen and was truly the heart of the home.  It was always on, emitting warmth (very useful in drafty homes in the English countryside) and the cats and children would curl up in front of it on a cold wintry day.  The kitchen also came equipped with an AEG gas cooktop and convection oven range.  When we first moved in, I was relieved to see the range and assumed I would frequently use it in place of the enigmatic Aga.  Wrong.  I never used the range – not even once in the 2 years we were there. 
 The Aga had 4 ovens with specific temperatures that did not fluctuate.  One was for warming, one for baking and one for roasting.  There were 2 cast iron cooking plates on the top that also did not fluctuate.  One was high temperature (boiling) and the other was medium-low (simmering.)  There was also a warming plate you could place a pot on once removed from the cooking elements.  I quickly learned to manipulate my pots and pans over these surfaces and in the ovens, and the results were phenomenal.  Nothing was impossible – I could even toast bread on the Aga.  Food that came from the ovens seemed to have more flavor.  This was slow cooking at its best.  In fact, our neighbors told us that they would put their Christmas turkey in the warming oven of their Aga the night before eating (this is not a recommendation, but they swore by it!)  According to them, after 24 hours the turkey was finished, succulent and delicious.  The only quibble I can think of regarding our Aga is that since the ovens sealed in all the air and exhausted through a chimney outside, I could not smell my food cooking.  This made me appreciate how much I use my sense of smell to judge when something is done.  (No, I have never developed the habit of using an oven timer.)


When we moved from England to Denmark, our 130 year-old home outside of Copenhagen had a lovely restored kitchen with a minimalist Danish style.  The cooktop was induction.  This was a new one for me, and, at first, I was very dubious, especially since I was still on my Aga-high.  As I got used to this new slick, clean cooking element I was very pleasantly surprised.  It was fast, consistent and, as mentioned, very clean.  I was worried I would have to replace my pots and pans, since induction requires a ferrous metal, such as iron or steel, as a component in the cooking pans to react to the magnetic field, so they will heat.  I was relieved to find that most of my pots and pans already had this. As the heat is inducted in the pan, it’s the pan that becomes the cooking element, so the cooktop surface never becomes too hot, which I appreciated with small children in the kitchen.  And, believe it or not, I found it at times faster and more controllable than gas, as the organic aspect of the gas flame is less predictable.  I loved it.


So, fast forward to our present home in Northern California, where we inherited a 6-burner commercial grade gas cooktop.  Before Denmark, I would have been ecstatic about this.  However, if I had my choice now, I would opt for induction.  Yet, I see none in all the spiffy renovated kitchens I visit.  My question is: Why hasn’t induction caught on here yet?  Does anyone know?

Summer Solstice NOMA-Style

Last summer we were in Denmark visiting friends and family during the solstice.  Miraculously, we managed to get a coveted dinner reservation at the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant NOMA, and realized that our luck was only due to the general population out partying in traditional solstice-style on beaches before bonfires rather than in restaurants.  Seizing our opportunity, we invited our Danish friends and hosts (who were more than happy to abandon tradition for a table at NOMA) to join us.

That evening, we dined on a fabulous prix-fixe menu consisting of 7 courses composed exclusively of ingredients hailing from Nordic countries.  (NOMA is an acronym for Nordisk Mad – or Nordic Food in Danish.)  A visit to this restaurant is highly recommended if you are in Copenhagen, although advance reservations are a must. It is a fantastic collaboration between Danish chefs Claus Meyer and René Redzepi.  All ingredients originate from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.  They run from the familiar to the exotic: eel, musk ox, green strawberries, hare, seaweed, rye bread, black lobster are a few examples (quite out of context.)  You may feast on dishes such as Sautéed Dover Sole with New Danish Potatoes, Green Strawberries and Elderberry Sauce perhaps accompanied by Stirred Mashed Potatoes with Lumpfish Roe and Crispy Chicken Skin, and finish with Caramel Ice Cream with Icelandic Buttermilk, Dried Swedish Berries and Sorrel Crème Anglaise.

MPMS Stepping up 08, bday, food 112I enjoy poring over the NOMA Nordic Cuisine cookbook, which I bought as a memento after our meal. It is an inspirational and unique testament to Nordic terroir, and apropos several interesting blogs that attempt to prepare every single recipe in a particular tome of a cookbook, I would seriously have a go at reproducing NOMA’s – if only I could get my hands on chickweed, seakale and sweet cicely.  For now, I do what I always do and improvise with the seasonal and local products I find in my part of the world.

As we drove home after our long dinner, it was approaching midnight.  To the west the sun had just set and exited the sky in a swirl of orange and purple flourishes in its haste to rise again. To the east it was doing just that, where the sky was brightening and soft pink tinges nudged the gray-blue midnight summer sky.  It was truly a magical Danish solstice moment.

Football Party Food

No, I am not talking about the Superbowl. I am talking about UEFA.  It’s World Cup Football Championship time again and for those of you not interested in or in touch with this intenrationl rite, it is THE football championship that takes place worldwide every summer. Don’t get me wrong. I hardly watch football (that’s soccer for you Americans). But, after all, I am married to a Dane and spent many years in Europe where, come summer, if you are not following at least a teensy bit of football in the news or on the television, you are living in a shoebox. Two years ago we were vacationing in Italy at the time the Italians won the world cup. Now that left an impression I am still talking about. During the quarterfinals we were in Rome. Being the tourists we were, we naively ventured into the city for dinner during the quarterfinal match. While the restaurants were open, they were very empty except for wayward disoriented tourists such as ourselves. The staff were, to say the least, distracted, and we quickly deduced that we might as well just go with the flow, and root for our new favorite football team while not being overly critical about the spotty table service. After our meal we realized that there would be no hope in finding a taxi driver to bring us back to our hotel. So, we wandered into another restaurant with a lounge and cheered on our new favorite team as they won the match. From that moment on the streets came alive with revelers, cars honking, sirens blaring. This continued well into the night, long after we had gone to bed – and it was just the quarterfinals. The semi-finals took place after we left Rome for Tuscany where we were sharing a house with some friends near Montepulciano. The afternoon of the match, we wandered around the narrow streets of the medieval village and came upon the square, or Piazza, where an enormous screen was being erected against a building façade. Rows of folding chairs filled the Piazza, encircling the fountain, and an instant outdoor theater was in place where all the village residents would gather together that evening and watch the football match. It made me think of the film Cinema Paradiso.

The finals were played on one of our last nights in Italy. We had moved on to the Isle of Elba and were staying in a lovely hotel with an excellent restaurant. The staff was very professional and proper, and the clientelle was well-heeled and dignified, hailing from Europe, the Middle East and Russia. So, imagine the night of the finals, when in the middle of the first dinner service, a tuxedoed maître d’ wheeled a television into the center of the dining terrasse. On cue, all protocol was suspended, and waiters, busboys, hotel staff gathered around the television along with diners balancing dinner plates on their tuxedoed laps. The French tourists cheered on France and the Italian tourists and staff cheered on the Italians. We were all caught up in a passionate TV dinner for the next 2 hours. When the meal was finished we crowded into the bar, squeezing into already full sofas, balancing on the arms of chairs, sitting cross-legged on the floor, elbow to elbow with our fellow football fans. A Swedish photographer bought us a round of drinks, we reciprocated and also bought drinks for the French couple sitting at our feet, the bartender invited our children to perch on the bar and gave them free sodas. Together we cheered and booed as Italy won the world cup. What an equalizer. Who said that English is the international language?

Molo 13

Perhaps it’s the heat or perhaps I have the itch to travel right now. I am thinking of Italy. There are plenty of things to think about in Italy, but I am specifically thinking of a restaurant I dined at in Milan a number of years ago called Molo 13. This restaurant is one of those restaurants where if you are a tourist, if you do not have a local resident show it to you, you would never know it existed. This is the best kind of restaurant to eat in when traveling.

In my post Border Crossings, I mention a road trip to Milan, when I took with my friend, Deb, when I lived near Geneva. Aside from having a gun drawn on us by a particularly ruffled border guard at the French/Italian frontier, this was a very positive experience. As we drove on to Milan through the mountains of Aosta and Piemonte, we anticipated our arrival in the city, shopping along the Monte Napoleone, seeing the Duomo, and, of course, eating. In fact, we had a dinner scheduled for later that evening. The plan was that after checking into our hotel, we would drive to Malpensa airport where we would pick up my husband and his Italian colleague, Eugenio. They were returning from a business meeting in Rome, and Eugenio would take us to dinner at one of his favorite restaurants in Milan.

So arrived and checked in, Deb and I headed out, informed by the hotel’s concierge that signs to the airport would be clearly marked. We easily found the ring road that encircles Milan, a major motorway for commuters, that would take us to the airport some 35 km. away. As rush hour was peaking we were caught up in the whirlwind of the zooming traffic. Drivers sped past us, criss-crossing lanes from left to right and back again, taking turns tailgating each other. Crazy, dangerous, and wild were the operating adjectives at hand – it was automotive-chaos-theory at 200 km/hour. Appropriately, it was at this time that the headlights on my spiffy, sporty, somewhat older BMW failed. (There must be a football metaphor in there somewhere… Italian Exuberance:1  vs. German Reticence:0?)

In a split second we took stock of our situation: No map, no improved language skills since our brief exposure to Italian epithets at the border crossing, and now no functioning headlights, so even if we could read the road signs, we could hardly see them. At this moment, in most civilized societies this would be enough of a motive to just get off the road. But, this being Italy (very civilized, by the way, but in its own special way) there is a different principle applied to driving: it’s viewed as a sport; it’s adrenaline merging with testosterone; it’s an accumulation of many espressos. No lights? No problem!  Besides, now that we were caught up in the swirling vortex of the ring road, all physics of an easy, gentle trajectory towards a spontaneous exit went out the window. Either you plan your exit at least 5 km. in advance and preferably never leave the exit lane (very un-Italian.) Or you simply exit NOW! no matter what is in your way; things will just sort themselves out (very Italian.)

Well, we made it. (I am a schooled Boston driver, after all.) I have a memory of hurtling in the dark on the motorway and swerving sharply on 2 wheels when we saw the sign at the very last moment to the airport, cutting off several cars in our path. As I swerved again to avoid side-swiping an Alfa Romeo, I could have sworn I caught the approving nod of its Italian driver as I accelerated past him with no headlights. I was driving like a local.

So, imagine our relief when we finally arrived at our restaurant later that evening. The relief was replaced by delight as we entered Molo 13 and were overcome by the warm, lively, fully booked restaurant filled with Italians enjoying seafood specialties inspired by the Sardinian coast. We let Eugenio do the ordering and were treated to a multi-coursed feast beginning with assorted antipasti, followed by a sublime seafood risotto, and a main course of baked sea bass encrusted in sea salt. For the cheese course an enormous wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano was passed around the table, and we scooped out large chunks of the cheese with a spoon. (I still have that in mind as a cheese course for a very large dinner party.) The food was Italian at its best – uncomplicated and clean, showcasing the freshness of ingredients in their simplicity of use.

Since then, I have replicated the baked fish in sea salt recipe at home. It is a remarkably easy recipe and a beautiful way to present a whole fish. Break away the salt at the table for added effect. The fish will be succulent and flavorful, the only garnish needed is a drizzle of olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

Whole Fish Baked in Sea Salt – Pesce al Sale

Serves 4

One whole fish, about 2 lbs., such as snapper or sea bass, cleaned, scaled
Lemon slices March 2008 Salt Fish 005
1 egg white
2 pounds coarse sea salt

Extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Place lemon slices in cavity of the fish.
Combine egg white and sea salt in a bowl. Mix well to moisten salt.
Spread 1/3 salt mixture on bottom of an oven-proof baking dish. Lay fish on top. Pour remaining salt over fish, covering completely. If needed, tail can remain exposed.
Bake in oven 30 minutes.
Crack crust open with a small hammer or knife.  Remove and discard crust.
Fillet the fish. Serve drizzled with olive oil and lemon.