While our vacation travels are often too busy to be relaxing, they do rejuvenate by interrupting routines, offering new perspectives. These perspectives often show up in small quotidian ways; I use my clothes dryer even less ever since a trip to Portugal nudged me back towards more reliance on the simplest use of solar power, several years ago, for example.
Most often, these small changes happen in the kitchen. One of the pleasantest ways I can think of to bring a vacation back home is to emulate meals enjoyed in faraway places. To that end, I've ordered a copy of The Puglian Cookbook for Paul, who's keen to try out some of the simple, fresh, delicious dishes we ate in Peschici. But in the meantime, we're rekindling memories of our Bordeaux kitchen by making up a favourite salad we ate there several nights, after delightedly discovering fresh fava beans at the local outdoor markets.
In this case, rather than trying to recreate a dish typical of the region, we're conjuring the region through memories of a recipe we brought to ingredients we found there. Fava beans are difficult to come by in our local Thrifty's grocery store, although they can occasionally be found, in season, at Farmers' Markets. But we found them several times for anywhere from 1.5 to 3 euros a kilogram in Bordeaux and happily filled our bags.
We've developed a pattern during our Bordeaux weeks (of which we have now been fortunate enough to have 6 or 7 over the past 3 years): we tend to have our bigger meal of the day at lunch, in a restaurant, accompanied by a demi-bouteille of wine. We will often choose from the formule menu, and thus include a dessert after the meal, as well as an entrée before our main. So for dinner, something lighter (although still accompanied by a glass or two, bien sûr).
And part of the pleasure of our time in Bordeaux is that, removed from the demands and obligations of life at home, we are nonetheless able to integrate some of the daily domestic pleasures that deserve to be savoured. So simple foods processed by hand, slow food, but slow, simple summer food, food whose handling reminds us of all our senses. Fava beans, that must be stripped in stages. My fingers still recall the waxy squeak of their pods as I break them open, that crunching sound that acompanies the break, the fine mist of juice that escapes with that snap, a fresh, green bouquet. In an arc of my wrist, a pinching together of my right thumb and pointing finger, I remember the precise tension of the green fibrous "string" that unzips to reveal the beans themselves, lined up neatly within the long, rather coarse pods.
Shelling a kilogram of pods takes about ten minutes, and one might be discouraged to see how small the haul, especially knowing that the beans need more processing, and will give over even more fibre to the compost pile before we're done. But in Bordeaux, those ten minutes were spent in a sunny cloistered garden, and working all that green matter through my hands, into the compost bin, made me feel part of a local ecology, if just for an afternoon or two.
As I said, removing the beans from their gousses, labour intensive though that might be, is not the end of our work here. The beans must first be cooked in salty water (add them by handfuls to water already at a rolling boil, give them a minute or two to rise to the top, and then place them into a bowl of ice water) and then squeezed out of their jackets, one by one. Again, the work is rewarded by sensory pleasure, in this case, the revelation of the sweetest, sweetest green. And the undeniable childish pleasure of the squish and pop, sometimes even the flight of a bean across a counter, under a chair.
In the photo below, I'm showing you the empty cases (in the top container) and the tender green beans, cooked and ready for our recipe.
I'll let Paul demonstrate for you. The recipe is an amalgam of one we found on the web; there's considerable latitude for your own version... Paul diced about 1/2 a red onion, adding them to the beans with a tige (branch, stem) of cherry tomatoes, halved.
At some point, he added the juice of a lemon
And he obviously knew the salad would taste better if made and served in the prettiest bowl possible.
He also added half a chopped, peeled cucumber and perhaps 1/4 cup of a chiffonade of parsley. Then tossed it altogether with some seasoning (your choice, but you might go Moroccan with cumin, possibly switching out the parsley for mint).
One night, when we hadn't been able to find any fresh fava beans, we substituted canned. Not quite as good, no, but still a fine, easy salad. Another variation is to add chopped fennel bulb. Your imagination is the limit, really.
We enjoyed our salad with the best bread we could find, complemented by that day's cheese selection from the cheese shop around the corner. A glass of rosé, sometimes a follow-up of a chocolate-covered Petit Ecolier biscuit, and then a cup of tea and a good book. The last three items made our holiday spot feel more like home. And now, when we adjust this meal to our kitchen on the island, we'll be pulling a bit of Bordeaux into our lives back here. This integration is important to me as we travel back into the quotidian....
Do you find the same thing? Do you import new habits from the places you visit, both changing and changed by them? What meals have you brought to vacation spots, and which have come home with you? Or are the changes you make happening in other aspects of your daily lives? And finally I'm curious, are fava beans easy to find where you live? Do you think they're worth the prep time? Any good substitutes to suggest?