The year end portion of The Momma Mia Tour 2018, while fraught with mishaps, miscommunications, and maladies of a physical nature, still managed to delight and engage Mia and myself on multiple levels. If you follow my sporadic social media presence the fact that Marvelous Mia spent her fall semester studying in Denmark comes as no surprise. She thrived during her months in Copenhagen. I visited for a brief moment, getting to switch places with my newly minted world traveler - but that’s another post altogether. Before taking off for Scandinavia Mia mentioned the prospect of taking extra time to continue her European experience. Actually… her statement fell somewhere between an inquiry and a demand. No matter - She could have ended her request with the surliest of attitudes and nastiest name-calling (not that she ever would; apparently mine is the only potty mouth in this family) and I still would have fallen over myself trying to make reservations.
Our itinerary together began in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana where our dear friends Kara and Giovanni live with their beautiful four-month-old daughter Ella. Reconnecting with these beautiful souls certainly kicked off our travels on a positive note. Y’know - as I type this I realize each city deserves an entire post unto itself, so here’s a little tease about the the beginning of the end of 2018 for The Momma Mia Tour.
First off: Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Upon arriving in Ljubljana the first thing I noticed was the fairy tale surroundings - castle included! My visit began with my unwitting participation in the time honored tradition of weary travelers the world over - getting ripped off by the taxi who picked me up at the airport. The system there is a bit different and with the confused use of adjectives by hotel personnel whom I called from the Jože Pučnik Airport to inquire about the best way to get to the hotel she specifically informed me it was more expensive to order a cab from the hotel than it was to take one from the airport. So I paid 80 Euros for the 20 minute ride (I had a lot of bags, and this included my tip) only to have the driver park right in front of the well-camouflaged hotel and point me about one block up the street thru a construction zone to a big building. Thankfully a young man offered to help with my three huge suitcases; when I pointed to the soviet-era concrete monolith at the other end of the block uttering the name Intercontinental Hotel, he gently turned my attention back to where I emerged from the car where my eyes read the sign sitting atop the 20 story building : Intercontinental Hotel. The room was spectacular, due mostly to the bird’s eye view of the cityscape with a stunning mountain backdrop, topped off with a castle. I know my geography is off, but I expected Julie Andrews to start dancing across the scenery any moment.
First Blow: Arranging for a taxi to meet Marvelous Mia at the airport, I learned the actual fare between the hotel and Jože Pučnik is 30 Euros. Maybe 40 if traffic was bad. Bam. Silver lining, my swindling driver placed his card in my hand as he hugged me goodbye. Bold. Did I mention that he directed me in the entirely wrong direction with my 140 pounds of luggage? Still debating whether to post a picture of his card as a warning.
At any rate, I was dining in the fabulous B Restaurant on the hotels’ top floor when Mia arrived. Going into completely Auntie Mame mode, I arranged for Mia to be met at the front desk with directions to hustle to the top floor where Evan, the handle-bar mustached waiter/bartender/front-of-the-house guru and my new best friend in Slovenia greeted her like a returning sister and directed her to me. The menu at B restaurant is based on Honey (get it? B as in Bee. Slovenia is known for it’s honey. And Salt. Excellent combination.) We enjoyed a late dinner of the best roast chicken I have ever encountered, restaurant made butter and bread and otherworldly risotto adorned with roasted duck breast.
Mia and I enjoyed two full days wandering through the central part of the city, meeting up with Gio and Kara and enjoying a walk along the river and through the open air market where Gio - who keeps my tastebuds doing the happy dance with his kitchen creations, I’m talking dairy-free yet creamy pumpkin risotto (yes, I ate risotto almost every night I was in Slovenia) for which I would trade both husbands - scored the best dried fruit I had the pleasure tasting in this life. This included a creation new to me: sugared and dried orange slices. DAMN!! Must get that recipe too.
A final word on our accommodations - when your first hotel room, a spectacular suite sporting mountain vistas, a bathroom the size of most Manhattan one-bedrooms, and more than enough USB charging stations to satisfy both parent and post-adolescent daughter springs a small leak which quickly escalates into the equivalent of an in-room rainforest, and you get moved not once, but twice ending up in a smaller “suite” with a new view of the city dump (okay, it was a construction site) and no word of apology, much less consideration from management, I begin to curse myself for straying from my beloved Marriott.
DATELINE 4 December 2018 - As a kid growing up on Long Island, my favorite cookies arrived pre-packaged from the local A&P or, more often than not, from my mother’s grocery runs to the commissary one town over in Hempstead’s Mitchell Fielid. Our household favorites rotated between Mallomars (my brother) Chips Ahoy (sister & mother) and Fudge Town (your’s truly).
That my mother died after suddenly suffering a massive stroke during a last -minute trip to the commissary did little tamper my appetite for cookies, or food, for that matter. In my case food subsequently - and consistently -served as a solace. Over the passing years food also served as a vehicle to celebrate anything, combat boredom, express creativity, bond with strangers, friends, frenemies and family members.
Eventually my palate managed to mature beyond the packaged cookie stage (well, mostly) sometime during my junior high years in San Francisco. The cookie - type treat that helped create my very first culinary obsession was available for sale a mere two blocks from Marina Jr High, where I spent my days during grades seven and eight. Each morning before school - because this was a bakery in the original sense and these folks must have opened by 730 every single morning, except Monday their day of rest - I detoured from the corner where the 22 Fillmore Muni-bus deposited a gaggle of moderately energized students. Sauntering over to the bakery whose name, sadly, I no longer recall, I knew nirvana awaited me. This was my version of Starbucks before there was a Starbucks. My daily kickstart, craving queller, and coping companion: this was my introduction to the wonderfully sweet, airy world of meringues. I turned my friends onto this new-to-us treat and for the rest of the school year, a small corner of the massive cement playground a mere 90 second walk from the San Francisco Bay, resembled the preteen version of a very popular discotheque back then: the latest beats squeaking from someone’s contraband transistor radio and the hippest kids (at least we thought so) congregating under the exoskeletal iron stairwell just outside the gymnasium, passing around the bag of puffy crunchy confections capable of transporting a lucky indulger to bliss, if only for a moment or two. Yes, during the hour leading up to our first class of the day, the schoolyard at Marina Jr. High was our Studio 54 and meringues were our cocaine.
Well, after this deflowering of my previously innocent palate, there was no turning back to mass produced sweets from Nabisco or Burry. Even the occasionally indulgence - usually for sentimental reasons - went by the wayside with the unexpected development of a chocolate allergy (I know, right?!) No worries, Meringues were my gateway vice, and after learning how easy and inexpensive it was to make these suckers, which happened almost every weekend through high school, I moved onto bigger and better baking projects.
These days, I still harbor significant affection for sweet treats, even as my maturing palate appreciates an ever-increasing array of savory delights. Homemade, bakery created, and artisanal items take precedence over pre-packaged varieties from the local warehouse-type market. I’ve expanded my cookie repertoire with a cookbooks worth of multi-layered sweet savory deliciousness, two of which will make an appearance in honor of this specially designated day:
oatmeal raisin cookies topped with vanilla salt
I plan to enjoy these a little later today, with a steaming cup of rich golden turmeric milk or a nice tall French 75, depending on my mood. And I’ll imagine telling my parents about how the youngest of their four children, their pickiest eater, spent the last 48 years since their untimely departures, learning to eat her way through loss, pain & misery, eventually turned that indulgent practice into a means of embracing the beauty, joy and true sustenance found by a meal shared.
While the following post was composed on National Cookie Day (big thanks to @theBaseHicks for alerting me to that fact. How is this not a national holiday?) my attention to TonisTable.com grew sporadic, as I entered the pre-trip chaos from which I write to you today. In this instance, I am not referring to an entirely, or even nominally, negative situation. While this place of disorder can feel terrifying, in this case it holds such beauty and potential. According to shamanic practitioner Lena Stevens, “Chaos is the astral plane, or spirit world revealed, without form, where anything is possible if you are willing to let go of resistance and use your creativity wisely to arrange those moving parts into something you want.” As one who spent decades moving from one chaotic scenario to another - sometimes externally created, too often self-generated - realizing that to let go is to harness a kind of profound power over self and develop the capacity to withstand, learn from and even thrive in the aftermath of, chaos.
The months leading up to this post, involved milestones reached, goals realized, celebrations and joy-filled gatherings, inspirational encounters with phenomenal folks on two continents. This period also included traumas of minor and major natures, humbling false-starts in too many areas, seemingly sudden transitions to the next stage of parenting (which received not a second of forethought), depressing revelations and a recognition of my role in all of the above - not in a judgey self-hating way, but in that come-to-Jesus manner when all the half-truths, delusions and stories we tell ourselves peel away and we are left standing with a plain brown wrapper version of ourselves and our reality.
Feels pretty good actually. Don’t get me wrong. This is harder than a tray of Rice Krispies treats left uncovered overnight, but damn, I feel so much lighter after recognizing much of the drek in which I allowed myself to remain stagnant. Adopting healthy practices, releasing negative elements is a process I now crave and commit to with pure love. Self - Love. Cause if you can’t love yourself…. … …
Which brings me back to the drawing board - or laptop, in my case - to continue working the evolving mission of Toni’s Table, which is to say the mission of Your’s Truly: to tell ya a good story, fill you with delicious food and create a space to get to know each other and build a stronger community one bite at a time.
Today, marks the 98th anniversary of the birth of Rosa Maude Boyette, my Mother. She passed on before reaching the age I am today, and before I, still young enough to call her Mommy, had the chance to store enough indelible memories to ease the heartache of her absence almost five decades later. Memories of this Kittitian mother of four mostly stem from stories told long ago, the faintest of recollections inspired by old photos and cups of sweetened hot milk flavored with a drop or two of vanilla, accompanied by shortbread sublime in it's simplicity and pure goodness.
Yes, it always comes down to food with some of people.
Count me in as a member of that particular tribe. You may know one of us, maybe you are one of us: who holds a mental menu for every occasion, whose waves of grief, elation, terror, curiosity, fury and boredom are no match for a well executed sole meunière, Mac and Cheese, or whatever makes ones tastebuds tingle at that particular moment.
To honor Rosa on this day as I earnestly step into the next phase of my own journey - unchartered as that may be - feels like a generous helping of delicious symmetry. [I may be misunderstanding the concept, but it sounds dope, so I’m rolling with it]. On the day of my mother’s birth, I present this revamped-and-still evolving blog, website, vlog….whatever: Toni’s Table.
Recollections of meals by Mommy include an absurd amount of pickiness on my part and perpetual work on her part (on top of two full time jobs), as she prepared food typical to the mid 1970's North American family - unless you lived around the corner for Chez Panisse in Berkely - which included canned vegetables, simply cooked meats, and rice. I did love the rice & gravy!
These meals did sustain me, mostly because she cooked and served meals for her family with uncompromising love. No need for memories there, I still feel it.
Early in my catering career, I worked a series of events where guests sought me out to compliment the food, almost unanimously ending with “y’know, I can really taste the love you put into this.” Clearly my mother, and the generations before her passed down a calling, a passion, a gift - label it as you wish - to nourish bodies and souls, and build connections at the table.
Thank you for joining me on this new adventure. I look forward to us getting to know each other virtually on these pages, or in person - maybe over a steaming cup of warm milk.