I’m done writing about Cuba.
Sure, I could keep going, and tell you about the wonderful fish lunch we had on the southern coast, where the restaurant owner hopped into the car and went with us to intercept a fisherman, then bought his entire catch (beautiful red snapper), brought them back to the restaurant and cleaned and flash-fried them for us. (Quite possibly the best fish I have ever tasted.)
I could wax poetic about the charms of Trinidad, the enchanting UNESCO World Heritage town where we stayed while we were in the south, with its picturesque cobblestone streets and houses in every pastel hue.
I could even tell you about how we nearly didn’t make it out of the country, when we discovered on our last morning that the guest house in Havana had failed to return to us the all-important (but tiny and easily overlooked) visa papers that we needed to hand in to be allowed to leave.
It ended happily, though the adventure probably took five years off our guide Pototo’s life as he frantically made arrangements for a driver to collect the papers in Havana and bring them to us at the airport in Cienfuegos, three hours away. (I think he was terrified that we meant it when we told him we’d camp at his house if we got stuck.)
But I won’t go into all that, because enough about Cuba. I think I have mined as much column gold as I should from an eight-day trip.
I’m in another exotic vacation spot this month, so I thought I’d write about that instead.
I know, I lead a charmed life. You are so right to be jealous. I get to travel to all the most interesting and sought-after locations.
But I have to say, this latest one tops them all. I bet you’ll never guess where I am now, and you’ll be green with envy when I tell you.
The beautiful Napa Valley.
Am I lucky or what? I scored an adorable little house in Napa for the entire summer through VRBO. It’s true the kitchen could use a renovation, and with global warming, the owner really needs to spring for air conditioning, plus the place is strangely devoid of cats, but otherwise, it’s quite luxurious. I love grilling in the outdoor kitchen and hanging out on the patio sipping wine under the shade of the huge oak tree that the owner has whimsically named Woody.
And the best part is, it’s a steal. The owner must be a terrible businesswoman, because she isn’t charging me anything like the average room rate here (which the quaint local newspaper — just imagine, a town of this size supports a daily paper! — informs me is $293 a night).
It’s only costing me a tiny percentage of that for my luxury accommodations. I’m saving so much that I can afford to splurge on meals in some of the fabulous restaurants that are sprinkled around town like confetti.
I’m on vacation, so of course I’ve been eating out a lot. And I must say, the meals have been incredibly good. There’s a lot of variety, from Japanese to Italian to Spanish and more, and I haven’t had a bad meal yet.
Or a bad glass of wine, either. Like I always do on my travels, I’ve been trying to drink the local products. It turns out the stuff they produce around here is actually quite drinkable.
Who knew? I thought the “wine country” moniker was just another marketing ploy. (I mean, when was the last time you saw someone eating beans in Boston, or an apple of any size in New York?) But it turns out it wasn’t hype when they named this area. The place is literally covered in grapevines, from the valley floor to the hills, as far as the eye can see.
It’s gorgeous. And there’s so much to do here (and to eat, and to drink), that I’m really glad I planned a lengthy stay.
Though I will definitely need to move on by fall.
I love relaxing under the oak tree on these hot summer days.
But I don’t want to get stuck with the raking when Woody decides to shake off those billions of leaves.
Roasted Spicy Cauliflower with Almonds
From “In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite” by Melissa Clark
There wasn’t much in the fridge on the day I decided to cook in (you know these rental houses). But inexplicably, there was a head of cauliflower, and the cabinets held olive oil and a whole drawer of spices. It doesn’t take much more than that to turn a dull vegetable into an exciting one.
It gets so delightfully cool here at night that I didn’t mind turning the oven on, but I think the results would be just as good in a grill roasting dish on the gas grill.
This dish is easy, delicious and can be served hot, cold or at room temperature, so it is a great one to add to your summer veggie repertoire.
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 tsp. whole cumin seed
3/4 tsp. whole coriander seed
1/2 tsp. whole brown mustard seed
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. sliced almonds
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Lightly crush the cumin, coriander and mustard seed with a small mortar and pestle, or use the side of a knife. Add the salt and pepper to the spice mixture.
Place the cauliflower florets on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over them and toss with your hands to coat. Sprinkle the spice mixture over and continue to tossing them until it is well distributed. Spread the cauliflower out in a single layer in the pan, giving the pieces as much room to breathe as possible.
Roast 15 minutes, stir and roast 10 minutes more. Then sprinkle on the almonds and roast for 5 minutes more, or until the almonds toast.
Serve at any temperature.