When I run into people around the North Shore — old friends, customers from my restaurant, acquaintances from East Boston or Marblehead — the answer to what they are doing now is often that they are “retired.”
Many complain that they’d always looked forward to this time in their lives when they could travel, yet they aren’t in good enough health to enjoy moving around. Still, plenty of folks have a place in Florida or other warmer spot and enjoy spending time there each winter. Others like trips to different exotic places rather than going back to the same one over and over. One couple solved this problem by buying a luxury condo on an elite cruise ship that goes around the world and stops for a day or two in an exotic port. They’re always in a new, fascinating port and they’re always home, in their own private space. Spending a season on a cruise ship is my idea of a nightmare on two counts; I don’t enjoy being on the water and I would miss my grandkids.
Because I am not a great traveler, I prefer short trips, by auto. Some of my favorites are Cape Cod where my brother has a second home. After a few days of every variety of clams that he personally digs and prepares, clams casino, raw shucked with lemon, chowder and thrift shopping with my sister-in-law, we often take the boat to Nantucket for a few days or for a short visit, or a day trip to the Vineyard. Another trip is New York by train with our grandsons. The train ride is so much more relaxing than airplane travel. At a certain stage, the bustle, confusion and anxiety of airports and long trips takes the joy out of seeing new places.
The other evening we got together with old friend Billy who commented on how much he liked our little neighborhood restaurant. “It’s all about the service!” he announced with pleasure as we were getting ready to leave. “Sure, good food is important, but I like a place where they are pleased you are there.” It’s true — too often today we are treated like we don’t matter. That’s why Todd and I are among the many who narrow their dining to favorite places, whether for pizza, for breakfast, or for a special dinner at a place that knows how to make us feel that we’re part of their larger family.
Because of work we spend time in neighboring Connecticut. On every trip we stop at our favorite bakery — Birch Tree Bread Company in Worcester — where we have breakfast or lunch and stock up on a few loaves of the best bread in the world. Their sourdough Country Loaf has made us view all other bread makers as playing catch-up, at best.
In West Hartford, the food center of central Connecticut, we enjoy creative, impeccably prepared meals in a European bistro atmosphere at the new Delamar Hotel. At their restaurant, called Artisan, we have a favorite booth, a favorite meal or two and yes, a few favorite servers. We also look forward to seeing their two great managers and their delightful hostess who know us by name, catch up with us on what’s new on the menu and in our lives, and make us feel that we are where we belong. Artisan has become our home away from home. In warmer weather, the outdoor French garden with the patio seating area is a magical spot. The food can be both serious and fun, they have a casual cafe menu and a more serious dinner menu, but everything is prepared, and priced, to make you reluctant to dine elsewhere. With us, the plot worked exceedingly well.
As a traveler, working to quickly befriend local business owners speeds the process of feeling at home in a new town. Local shopkeepers and restaurateurs are great sources of information and they love to share what they know about great shops and special places to experience.
Many friends are taking advantage of the opportunities to travel inexpensively, using AirBnB even to get a great price on rooms at traditional B&Bs. We enjoy the many country inns that dot the landscape when we go out exploring during our stints in Connecticut. Since most rooms come with refrigerators, I have some standard things I like to bring on the road such as rice salad, hard boiled eggs, a bag of mixed greens and a few avocados. “Avocado smash” on toast is the hot thing these days, and it’s great to do on the road because it’s so easy to make. I also bring a few plastic plates, a bread and paring knife and a picnic basket and my own cloth napkins and tablecloth.
As soon as we check in, I spread out my tablecloth and put my own candle on the table with a bowl of fresh fruit from home. Even in a lovely hotel room with quaint New England furnishings, these little touches make the room feel dramatically more homey and personal. We usually stop at the grocery store and pick up some fresh flowers which also add so much to any space. Nice cheeses and pates are available in most stores. I also bring one of my pretty quilts which as a coverlet on the bed creates a warm touch.
I bring a basket of some of my collage material, whatever books I happen to be reading. The small things that are a nice distraction away from home. Although I miss my kitchen, I like the feeling of making my space work for me, even for a few days. Then like the old nursery rhyme, I’m “Home again, home again, jiggity jig.”
Avocado mash on toast
Choose a few avocados and refrigerate the ripe ones. Leave out at room temperature the hard ones that do not appear to be ripe. Placing them in a paper bag will hasten the ripening process.
To serve two portions:
- Cut a fruit in half and remove the seed and sprinkle the surface with lemon or lime juice to prevent browning. Peel the skin off. Place the fruit in a deep small bowl.
- With a fork smash the fruit well and mix in two tbsp. of olive oil, a tsp. of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. If you like you can cut up a hard boiled egg into very small dice and mix that in as well.
- In the summer I have a pot of chives growing and they make a nice addition to the mash, finely chopped, about a tbsp. will do. Spread about three tbsp. over toast or bread and serve as a breakfast or lunch treat with a small handful of fresh greens sprinkled on top.
- If you are traveling, pick up a fresh bakery loaf and enjoy the mash on that fresh loaf of bread!