Mini vacations are opportunities for relaxing, seeing new places and enjoying a little shopping. Best of all, they reinvigorate you toward everyday life — seeing and experiencing new things allows you to bring fresh eyes back to your routines.
The food markets and restaurants that offer every ethnic food imaginable seem to be everywhere, great for picnic lunches or snacking when driving. Coffee and tea shops, cafes and bakeries, trattoria or high end establishments; there seems to be something for every taste and budget. On a recent trip to Connecticut, we visited two towns which were so inviting I thought we could instantly call them home. Kent, a fancy vacation spot over on the western part of the state that is home to the Kent School, offers delightful shopping in a bucolic setting. The downtown hosts lovely galleries and shops, some small town in nature, with others more upscale and sophisticated such as side-by-side cheese shops and a new artisan pizza restaurant called Swyft, home to “wood-fired, farm-driven pizzas.” We had a spectacular lunch of rabbit croquettes on a bed of beautiful greens and delicious white pizza with sausage — paired with a tasting of several intriguing craft beers.
On the ride out to Kent from our central Connecticut starting point we arrived at the surprising throwback town of Litchfield, which reminded me of my brother’s train set when he was a kid. It features a small village with the most charming old brick buildings that were more common to see in the 1950s, but were built well before. A bakery, an antique shop or two, a most delicious vintage clothing store called Serendipity, which also had a few very pretty new clothes on sale, along with decorative art and objects. This type of eclectic shopping experience is my favorite. The main street was charming with no big name stores, which was refreshing. Not seeing a Gap or Banana Republic in the midst of all this charm was pleasing to my eye and to the soul.
As much as we enjoy our travels, Todd and I both love our return home. “It’s so nice to be home,” is a favorite refrain of my husband’s, no matter where we may have been. I must say I feel the same. No matter how good a job I do at emptying the fridge (the freezer is never empty) I always manage to scrape something together for our first meal back. Coming home late from our trip to Kent, we were in the mood for a quick snack. I found some leftover spaghetti which I’d forgotten to pitch, and I was reminded of how much we love crispy pasta fried in olive oil and garlic and a good helping of grated Pecorino Romano. I rinsed some arugula, sliced an apple and some nicely ripened avocado and made a quick salad, tossed with olive oil and a sprinkle of lemon. We had the most perfect late night snack.
Other foods that I always keep in the fridge include canned tuna fish. The plain white tuna in water is great for a tuna salad or a tuna melt. But the “tonno” packed in olive oil from Italy is a cut above and enhances Mediterranean preparations such as tonno marinara — a small can of tomatoes quickly cooked in olive oil with a chopped red onion (sauteed beforehand) takes just 15 minutes and can be accomplished while the pasta pot is boiling. At the end, add tonno to the oil and if you have any Greek or Sicilian olives simmer those in the tomato for just a minute. Have a chunk of Romano or Pecorino at hand for grating and snacking on while you cook.
A good fallback when the fridge is running near empty is potato pancakes — since potatoes and onions are always around. And these pancakes are easy to make while making a delicious snack that people remember. It takes just two minutes to grind the ingredients in the food processor, and you don’t even have to bother peeling the potatoes. Add an egg, salt and pepper, a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan and you are good to go.
Fry a spoonful of the pancake mixture in hot olive oil and brown nicely on both sides. Garnish with yogurt or sour cream and if you are lucky to have on hand a jar of applesauce it would be perfect. You can quickly make your own by cutting up an apple, removing the core and pulsing in the food processor with a little sugar or honey, no need to cook.
Another quick dish is a frittata, which can also include potatoes. My Noni always made hers with very thin slices of potatoes sauteed on both sides and then the egg and grated cheese over that. Of course, if you have any ham or salami that is nice to add.
The moral of the story is that you can always find something to satisfy your hunger when you come back home. Take a good look and allow yourself to test your creativity before calling for a pizza.
Prepping for future meals is always a good plan. Our two-person household will not eat six sausages at a sitting or a pound of cut-up squash, for example. I always cook more than I need for the meal I am working on. Little baggies holding the excess are in my freezer so that I can “paint with food.” The most creative and delicious results often come from this planning. Sunday mornings when you kind of give yourself a time to relax you can quickly put together a meal. Those potato pancakes that you made extra of will heat up very nicely in the oven as will the roasted veggies and sausages.
Sunday morning Breakfast: Sausage, potato pancakes, hole in the toast with an egg, homemade applesauce and roasted squash.
If you were wise enough to roast some veggies and if you made extra potato pancakes and sausages the last time you made them, this will come together in minutes. Assuming you need my guidance from the get-go here are a few recipes.
On a hot grill pan or skillet or fry pan place the sausages. (Make more for the next time) but for now one and a half each is nice.
Turn them to brown all over and slice down the middle and place in a 300-degree oven on another pan while you prepare the rest.
In a food processor place two medium potatoes, cut up into large chunks, an egg, three tbsp. of grated Parmesan, a small piece of onion, salt and pepper and pulse quickly several times to make a medium mash.
Scrape the griddle with a spatula and to remove the burnt crumbs from the sausage and discard them off with a paper towel. Keep the grease from the sausage and add a little olive oil to fry the potato pancakes in.
On medium high heat drop rounded tbsp. of batter of pancakes and flatten slightly after a minute. Brown on both sides and remove to the oven on a platter to keep warm.
Place a large cut up apple in the food processor (I have a small one in addition to the normal one which I use for secondary tasks like apple sauce) and pulse with a tbsp. of maple syrup until smooth, but somewhat chunky. You can also melt a tbsp of butter in saute pan and toss the apple for a few minutes over medium heat. Sprinkle with lemon.
Hole in the Toast with Eggs:
The final treat is great and easy as a late night snack in addition to being a wonderful brunch item.
If you buy a large loaf of artisan bread, slice into one inch slices and freeze the rest for a quick snack.
Toast on the skillet on both sides and make a hole with a sharp knife then drop an egg and turn over gently after a few minutes. Puncture at serving time for the yolk to appear.
Serve directly from your skillet for a rustic presentation.