Our Excellent Week in Naples

February 12 – 18

We didn’t cook last week.  But we ate well and drank perhaps a bit too well and slept well and, in general, took a week off from our regular existence and relaxed.  Not that there weren’t moments of high drama – Would Rusty, our dog, be seduced by John Hart and never return to our house?  Would we make it back to Pittsburgh in time for the four o’clock Mass at the Oratory?  Would Barbara finish her thriller?  Would Bill, as usual, leave something behind in Naples?  In the context of the news from Florida, last week, our concerns were no big deal.  But, in case you’re curious:

  1. Rusty was seduced, but it seems that he’s promiscuous and is now happily back at the Stewart household.
  2. We did not make the four o’clock.
  3. Barbara did not finish her thriller.
  4. Bill left his copy of William Safire’s Full Disclosure in Naples.

We also did not take many pictures, but such as we took are below, scattered among the notes on our 5 days in Naples.  These notes are, perhaps, too much information, the sort of thing that should only be offered in a Christmas letter.  But we’re taking a chance – let us know what you think.  And below the notes we’ve tossed in a recipe that we didn’t have the space to share with you last week – Baba Ghanoush – a dip to die for.

Sunset from Mere and Hoddy’s Lanai

Monday:

Well, actually, we were still in Pittsburgh, packing, eating left-over cassoulet, and dropping the dog off at the Harts with what turned out to be a lot of paraphernalia:  leash, two bowls, dogfood, dental strips, ball, bed, and tartan plaid coat.  Rusty is, in canine terms, a man of substance.

Lanai sunset

Tuesday:

Flew to Naples, FL for a stay with Mere and Hoddy and to attend the University of Pittsburgh Winter Academy.  Driven to the airport by our friend Phil Pugliese who was at his logorrheic best, covering topics from the payola at the Pittsburgh Airport to ski-slope grooming to the miserliness of the Nuttings.  If you’re facing a long drive without a radio, you need Phil to come with you.

After a wonderful lunch of Tuna Tartare and drinks at the Miramar, Beez and I took a very long nap and awoke to snack on Hummus and Pita and more drinks, but mostly to catch up with Mere.  (Hoddy was in either Fort Lauderdale or Virginia or Brussels.)  And then, as Samuel Pepys would say, to bed.

Rusty and John

Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, Rusty and John were bonding

Wednesday:

After prayers and reading, I joined Beez for a long walk up and down the ‘Avenue’ and the beach at Park Shore.  Then the gym and more reading.  Finished Alan Bennett’s gem of a comic novel, The Uncommon Reader, as well as a riveting essay in the New Yorker about Polar Exploration featuring a latter-day cross between Scott and Amundsen named Henry Worsley (“The White Darkness” – The New Yorker, February 12 & 19, 2018, p. 48).  After Mass and ashes, we picked up a nice meal of jumbo shrimp, poached salmon and chickpea salad at the Fresh Market and went back to Mere and Hoddy’s to chill.  They had another function to attend but  joined us later for a nightcap.

Beez is trapped at the pool when she cannot get her fob to open the door (you must have a fob to work all of the doors and gates at Mere and Hoddy’s place).  The security staff rescue her, we send her to remedial fob training.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

After a morning of study and the gym, picked up lunch for Mere, Beez and myself at Larry’s Lunch Box.  Other than the staff, I was certainly the youngest diner in the deli.   Despite the 3 pounds of Velveeta in my grilled cheese with tomato and bacon, I’ll be going back to Larry’s.  The clientele are fascinating and run from the just-old to the nearly defunct, savoring their knishes and soups regardless of the weather.

Beez is still unable to ‘fob’ herself in and out.  Security staff suggest that she is producing her own electronic aura that is interfering with their various beams and emanations.

After a cocktail party for the University of Pittsburgh Winter Academy, hosted by Mere (Hoddy on the move again to Cleveland and Ann Arbor, I think, but he may have been in Tokyo), we stayed at the Royal Poinciana Club for a spectacular dinner of oysters, then bouillabaisse for Mere and Beez and lobster and shrimp with tagliatelle nero for me.  The beauty of squid ink is that it requires you to describe a seafood dish as ‘earthy.’

Beez at UPitt

Beez and Stgeve Casey at the University of Pittsburgh Winter Academy

Friday:

Lunch and an afternoon of talks at the University of Pittsburgh Winter Academy.  Research scientists (and Pitt has some of the best in the world) reported on the latest findings in cutting edge research.  Dr. Ernesto Marques talk on Zika virus (he discovered it as a virus separate from Dengue, in part, by donating his own money to get the research up and running while the lengthy process of acquiring grant money was mamboing through the bureaucracy.)  The highlight was the presentation by Dr. David Okonkwo on the development of hand-held devices which will can diagnose concussions on the sideline from a pin-prick of blood.

We ate far too much Chinese take-out after Hoddy returned from (Zimbabwe?).  But Beez is able to ‘fob’ herself in from the pool.  We are all happy for her.

sunset 3

Our last sunset in Naples

Saturday:

A true day of leisure, reading, laying about, eating left-over Chinese for lunch.  In the evening, Mere and Hoddy hosted a cocktail party (their schedule would kill ordinary human beings) for the incoming President of John Carroll University and alumni in the Naples area.  The highlights of this evening were the stories from the girls of Georgian Court (Annie and Helen were hosting a reunion at their place and came over to mingle with the John Carroll crowd) concerning their hiding of boyfriends from the nuns.  I wasn’t clear as to why – did they view the nuns as rivals?

Sunday:

Returned to a surprisingly clement (in the 30s) Pittsburgh.  Whipped up a dinner of pasta in sauce left-over from Billy’s Shrimp Creole – he had eaten all the shrimp – and went to bed exhausted, happy and trying to figure out how we can get a place in Naples.

baba ghanoush

BABA GHANOUSH

(adapted from “Cooking Fresh,” America’s Test Kitchen – 2015)

Note:  Billy’s nickname for his Mother is Barbara Ghanoush which some of you will
recognize as a reference to the movie ‘The Wedding Crashers,’ and those of you who
do not will still have the unadulterated joy of seeing this great comedy for the first time.

This is a spectacular starter or, at the end of summer with ripe, firm tomatoes, good cucumbers and freshly baked Pita, a nice light meal for a hot day.  After you’ve roasted the eggplants, which takes 40 minutes to an hour but doesn’t involve any activity on your part, this takes no time to whip up.

Timing:

40 – 60 minutes to roast the eggplants, 10 minutes to make the dip, 1 hour to chill, 30 minutes to come back to room temperature:  Total of 2 hours and 40 minutes, most of it inactive.

Ingredients:                                       Feeds 8 as an appetizer, 3-4 for a light meal

2 pounds of eggplant, pricked all over with a fork
2 tablespoons of tahini
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil* – plus extra for drizzling
4 teaspoons lemon juice – more as needed to taste
1 small clove of garlic, minced (we grated our garlic directly into the food processor)
2 teaspoons of chopped fresh parsley.

*Note to new members of the blog – we also use Extra-Virgin Olive oil unless otherwise specified.  There are reasons to cook some things in regular olive-oil, and we’ll let you know when we think that makes sense.  But, unless otherwise noted, in this blog, olive oil + extra-virgin olive oil.

Prep:

Preheat oven to 500 F, adjust rack to middle position.

Place eggplants on aluminon foil-lined baking tray.

Roast for 40 – 60 minutes, rotating once or twice.

Let eggplants cool for some minutes, so that you can handle them.

While eggplants are cooling, peel garlic clove and measure out other ingredients.

Set a colander over a bowl – you’re going to let the eggplant pulp drain in this.

Slit eggplants lengthwise and scoop out the hot pulp and place in colander.  Let drain for 3 minutes.

Discard the skins.

Assemble Baba Ghanoush:

Transfer the pulp to a food processor.

Add Tahini, oil, lemon juice and garlic. (reminder – we like to grate the garlic, rather than mince)

Add ¾ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper (we used 1/2 – we like pepper).

Pulse to a coarse puree – maybe 8 pulses.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Put into a serving bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressed flush to the surface of the dip.

Chill for 1 hour.

Allow 30 minutes to come to room temperature.

Taste and season with more lemon juice, or salt if needed.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.

Serve with tomato and cucumber wedges, olives and freshly baked and still warm Pita.

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