Fresh peas are here and I'm elated. These little green gems encased in a light green pod, taste nothing like the peas I knew when I was growing up. I like nothing better than to eat these sweet little morsels directly from the pod, and if any survive the shelling they are simply steamed and tossed with the smallest dab of butter ... divine either way.
My mother, God rest her soul, wasn't much of a cook although she gave it a good old 1950s kind of try. Most vegetables, and certainly all peas, came either from a box or a can - green peas from a box in the freezer and Le Sueur peas from a can. (Le Sueur, Minnesota is apparently where the Green Giant grows the peas for this canned brand.) Now trust me, we were not deprived in the area of food growing up ... "we didn't starve", there just wasn't much that was natural on our table. To be fair, I should say that there really aren't that many farms on Cape Cod which is where I grew up. The Cape is known mostly for its salty air and fresh seafood, not its produce.
I treasure the day that my mother married my beloved step-father, a former stock broker, real estate broker, and more importantly ... farmer. He focused mostly on dairy when he was farming but there were always fresh vegetables in the kitchen garden, and this man introduced fresh vegetables to our table - fresh peas, fresh lima beans, fresh beets, fresh broccoli, and even fresh carrots, believe it or not. I think he had quite a good time the day he handed me a pea pod and asked me to open it - I didn't have a clue, but I wasn't going to be defeated by something so small and according to my step-father, so normal. Eventually the two of us were shelling a bucket of pea pods, dropping the peas into a bowl that didn't seem to grow in volume half as fast as the bucket with the shells. My step-father preached patience, and oh what a reward there was. The sweetness of those peas I'll remember forever, and when he steamed them ever so slightly they were equally good. They weren't shriveled and limp like those things in the boxes and cans ... they simply popped with the lovely sweetness of fresh garden peas ... the ones I now wait for impatiently every spring.
Strawberries are in season and in my estimation there is nothing like the flavor of a freshly picked strawberry - there's no comparison to anything you'll find in the supermarket. Juicy, tender, and sweet, and packed with real strawberry flavor ... "who'd a thunk!" I also love the size of these fresh little berries; they have so much more character than those gigantic distant derivative cousins you see all winter.
Find a nearby farmer's market or, if you're on the east end of Long Island, one of our wonderful farmstands, and pick up a quart or two or three.
Fresh strawberries for breakfast will always put a smile on your face. Strawberry shortcake, made the New England way over a split biscuit with a little fresh whipped cream, will always be a welcome end to any dinner or cookout. Homemade strawberry ice cream will remind you of this devine spring berry all summer, and homemade strawberry jam will remind you of the sweetness of warm weather and sunshine as you're watching the snow fall in winter. This berry keeps on giving and I just love them.
Do you have any special things you do with strawberries every spring?
Rome in the rain and Rome with sunshine feel like two entirely different cities. Peter and I spent two in Rome at the end of our month long European journey. The first was rainy, gloomy, gray, and, I must admit, depressing. The second was sunny, breezy, warm, and exciting.
Rome Italy - Piazza Navona
This was the first truly rainy, nasty day of our entire trip so we decided to do some desperately needed work on our photo inventory in the morning, enjoy a delightful lunch at a neighborhood trattoria, and then decide how to proceed for the rest of the day. The rain didn't let up until late in the day, so we decided to take the double decker tour of the city to get our bearings and help us decide what we might wanted to do the following day.
Around 4:00 p.m., we walked to the nearby Stazione Termini to board one of the bright red double-decker 110 buses. The driver left as soon as we got on board, signaling that we should wait for the ticket collector, who arrived shortly thereafter. We climbed the stairs to the upper deck but found absolutely everything soaking wet - even paper towels wouldn't help with all the water we saw - so, disappointedly we returned to the first floor. We found two seats that were directly at the bottom of the stairs (in case the sun came out) and immediately behind the back door which gave us a relatively unobstructed view. Now we waited, and waited, and waited, and finally the bus driver returned, started the engine and pulled away from the curb. Where had he been? We couldn't help but wonder - a cafe for an espresso, the loo, a bar for an aperitivo? Well, we were underway and that's what counted.
Rome is an ancient city and on a gray, rainy day, its ancient-ness shows in spades. The cobblestone streets are lumpy, bumpy and gray. The buildings all appear gray: gray brick and stone, pockmarked where signs or colorful marble once adorned the outer walls, and shiny new glass reflecting the gray of all that Roman stone. Our bus was meant to do a wide circle around Rome, starting at the Termini in the east, going as far west as the Vatican - just across the Tiber, and back. We were doing our best to appreciate this ancient (ugly) city, stretching our necks to see the Colosseum, the "Wedding Cake", and the busy city streets in general, when the driver had to hit the brakes, and then an avalanche of water cascaded down the stairs from the upper deck straight toward Peter. Startled at first, Peter's immediate reaction was to turn his video camera on to the oncoming torrent and ignore the fact that he was rapidly becoming soaked. All of the other tourists on board were looking at us with horror, thanking the dear Lord that this wasn't happening to them, and wondering, "What will these Americans do?" .... We laughed - long and hard, for there wasn't a thing we could do about it and this was more fun than we'd had all day. Better to laugh than cry, right? Peter said he saw no reason to move at this point especially as we had seats, and his pants would eventually dry. This bus took us only as far as the Vatican, at which point our "ticket-taker" told us we had to disembark and board an entirely different bus. We obeyed. When we boarded the next bus, there were only two seats remaining together, so Peter and I snapped them up - just behind the back door, at the base of the stairs to the upper deck. Can you see what's coming? Under way once more, our new driver also needed to brake suddenly and yet another waterfall headed our way. Once again Peter was on the receiving end of an avalanche of water and once again we roared with laughter much to the dismay of our fellow passengers. You truly can't make this stuff up. We were surprised - once again - at how much water could be captured by the second floor of a bus in a rain storm, and we caution you about this for your future travels. This blue bus eventually returned us to the Termini. We walked slowly back through the gray streets of Rome to our hotel and straight into its very elegant bar - seeking comfort in beauty, color, and a Negroni.
The Lobby Bar in The St. Regis Hotel Rome
Our second day in Rome was sunny, with bright blue skies, and puffy white clouds giving the city a wholly different feel. We decided to take a taxi to the furthest place we wanted to see away from the hotel - the Vatican. We arrived at St. Peter's Square around 11:30 a.m. to find the square cordened off and nearly ¾ full. We hadn't known when we set out, but Papal Audiences are held in the square every Wednesday, during the summer, when the Pope is in town. We quickly learned that we were allowed within the barricade, and approached as close as we could get. I am not Catholic but I was thrilled to be here, at this point in time. As the Pope and Cardinals spoke over the p.a. system, small groups, each wearing common attire like bright yellow hats for one diocesi or bright red for another, cheered - you could feel the good will in the air - it made me smile. Here we were in St. Peter's Square, receiving the Pope's blessing; this was an incredible beginning to our day.
Papal Audience in St. Peter's Square
No matter where we go Peter and I always try to get on the water to see the landscape from a different perspective. We were seriously considering doing this here until we saw the Tiber. For some reason, Rome turned it's back on the river that runs through it and walled it off from the city. As we looked down from the Ponte Sant'Angelo, we saw a shallow river that in many places looked more like a grassy marsh and it was bordered on each side by three-story tall walls beyond which we wouldn't see anything but rooftops. For the first time, we decided to stay on terra firma.
A "few" decades ago, I spent a month in Rome in college, when I was studying Art History and Italian, so I remembered places that I wanted Peter to see his first time through. After walking past the Ponte Sant'Angelo and along the banks of the Tiber, we headed for the Piazza Navona, which was teaming with tourists and pantomime artists who provided unexpected entertainment. Lunch was in the Campo de'Fiore just as the market was breaking down and farmers wheeled their remaining produce back up the alleys, to their trucks and then home. Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps were next. The throngs of tourists surprised us at each of these sights.
Spanish Steps - Rome Italy
At the base of the Spanish Steps, I told Peter I wanted to climb them and he smiled with resignation. We agreed to take them in stages and we did, he on the left side and me on the right. As I stopped at the first stage, I couldn't believe there was a fashion shoot going on amidst all of these people - a very smartly dressed couple, she in bright red high heels and he in distinctive Italian black leather shoes. It probably took us the better part of an hour to climb the stairs and photograph everything on the way, after which we rewarded ourselves with delicious, cool gelato.
Two days in Rome, one gray and gloomy, the other sunny and exhilerating. It's a city of contrasts and we enjoyed them all - albeit some more than others. The St. Regis Hotel was a wonderful oasis in the midst of this unique city - one we appreciated immensely.