Eating Through Oak Island and Southport, NC – Part 1

In preparation and eager anticipation for our move to Oak Island, North Carolina, my husband and I have been visiting the island, both on and off-season. The past week, mid-march was our third visit. The first was in last June when we fell in love with the place and bought our home. The second visit, in October, was the first time on the island as invested future residents. During these three visits, we have enjoyed a wide spectrum of tasty treats and meals.

The first lesson about Oak Island is that looks can be pleasantly and surprisingly deceiving. The unassuming appearance of a restaurant may not reflect the care and craft in the food. Like the Tardis, and my little house, things are more impressive on the inside. No unnecessary shiny, glitz, and glamor competing with the majesty of the beach, sky, and sea creatures. Oak Island accepts the beach as the main event and priority. And, it is worth the adoration.

The second lesson, for me, was that while options may be limited, most restaurants are kindly willing to explain the dish and hold an ingredient if needed. When in doubt, just ask. I did not miss pre-prepared fast food at all.

The third lesson, related to the second, is that there are so many temptations for someone watching sugar and dairy. Doughnuts, pies, cakes, and ice cream everywhere! Can’t say I mind. The honey butter with cornbread…decadent. This is a place of summer simplicity, celebration, and joy. Enjoy the cake! Especially the coconut-key-lime piecaken from Swains. Yum!

This quick post is limited to our last visit and stomach space. It also does not include the many very worthy restaurants closed for the season. Very much looking forward to continuing on this North Carolina food adventure.

So here is my incomplete list for now…with more to come…

Tranquil Harbour Restaurant – Oak Island
Cafe Koa – Southport
The Pepper Pot – Southport
The Saucy Southerner – Southport
Swains Seafood and Cut Restaurant – Oak Island
Moore Street Oyster Bar – Southport
Lil and John’s Sweet Treats – Oak Island
Southport Gourmet and Sushi – Southport
Inergy Market – Oak Island

Sway, Sweat and Sip in Costa Rica

Think back to memories where you were so immersed in the experience that either you couldn’t or wouldn’t stop to take a picture. For this reason, cherished memories of my recent trip to Costa Rica doesn’t make for a good social media post.

For my own sake, I’ll try my best to share and reflect on a few moments. Prepare to use your imagination…

Gentle swinging in a hammock: It was warm and quiet except for the chirping birds of all colors and sounds. The hammock was soft and enveloping, enclosing me like a cocoon. (It wasn’t on of those horrid ones that flip over as you try to find your balance. So awkward.) Above through lacy vibrant green leaves, the sky was cloudy blue. Rain was approaching. There were a few moments when I did feel a few raindrops but by then I was too relaxed to be bothered. Of my two session hammock afternoon, the first involved quiet rocking with friends reading books in other hanging hammocks, while the second session, after my tea break, I was joined by my beloved, who swayed across from me as we talked about our time in Costa Rica. I have never enjoyed a hammock supported afternoon so much.

Temezcal Sweat Lodge: Darkness, stones, heat, ancestors, sweat, doors, herbs, sweat, intentions, chanting, sweat, wash off, cool pool, return, darkness, hot stones, steam, sweat, confusion, darkness, screaming, fetal position, sweat, cool, heat, forgiveness, love, sweat, cleansing, heat, steam, sweat, friends, ease, OM.

Sacred Cacao Ceremony with Tibetan Healing Bowls: Mindful sipping for unsweet hot-chocolate-like liquid in a circle with friends, rest, sound resonating through us. Sipping, rest, heart pulsated with stronger beats, melted emotions for some, reassurance for some, just relaxing for some, talking stick, offerings, invoking ancestors, parents. Who knows whether the ceremony was authentic or not? What ceremony is? As a tourist, authenticity of experience is always suspect. Does it matter, if it leaves you feeling good and joyous?

I learned to mindfully sway, sweat and sip during my trip to Costa Rica.

Thank you, Community Yoga for organizing the retreat, Thank you Vida Asana for being a welcoming place and host.

Here are some moments with pictures of beautiful things, places, and people.







Chef Alain Passard and l’Arpege Experience

How do I justify spending a small fortune for one evening?  Was the experience worth possibly hundreds of rescued books (my currency)?

Yes. Yes, it was. Thankfully.

Particularly when one takes into account the imaginative time of anticipation and the echoed time of appreciation.

Our June 22nd dinner at l’Arpege began at least nine months ago when I watched the first episode of the third season of the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. As our trip to Paris approached, I watched it again with my sweet, Jim. I was fascinated with how chef Passard talked about the creative “gesture” as much as his status as the “maestro of vegetable cuisine.” I blogged about it in this post.

Actually eating there seemed like a distant fantasy.

Then, surprisingly Jim made a reservation. I was both excited and horrified. What if the fantasy doesn’t match up with reality? What an expensive disappointment? Reading this less than positive review, “The Crushing Disappointment of l’Arpege” didn’t help my anxiety either. But, I am not a food critic. It is not my job to convince, justify or explain. My job is simply to enjoy the best I can. Food blogging is perhaps a more self-centered but less self-righteous mode of sharing gastronomic experiences. Look what I ate, I am so happy and you should be too……..the capitalist-consumer nostalgia is not lost on me.

The limits of food criticism and blogging aside, Thursday, June 22nd arrived. We were in Paris. While Jim was working at the Paris Airshow, I took two cooking classes, Monday and Tuesday. I was immersed in learning French cuisine. Learning, eating, watching, walking, and eating again. I felt like I was training for l’Arpege. I couldn’t have been more emotionally prepared to have a wonderful evening of new tastes and the best of company.  I was determined to enjoy it, darn it!

During our short walk to the restaurant I carried my determination with the nervous intensity of carrying a jug full of precious water through the desert. We were seated promptly in the cellar with rugged walls and about 6-8 small white-clothed tables for two.  Our server introduced himself. Jim and I talked in reverent hushed tones. We noticed the other tables and our fellow diners. Then the amuse bouche arrived. I gingerly picked up the colorful, beautiful bite, and then I don’t remember anything but fragments of the evening.

Time slowed and sped up, tastes were surprising, often I didn’t recognize what I was eating, names were curious, textures and colors were popping. I remember being suspicious of hay-flavored ice-cream and then loving it, how the sole tasted light and substantive floating on a flavored foam, how the duck felt like an assertive steak, and mostly how the vegetables blossomed, fluttered, foamed and floated. I didn’t take pictures, I wanted to just be in my mouth.

Towards the end of the meal, Chef Passard himself emerged to meet each table. I was starstruck (and I am too cynical for celebrity worship). This never happens. While Jim was talking with him…words…..anniversary….yada yada…happy to be here…take a picture..more words….in my inner monologue, I wondered how can he, a chef, be dressed in all glowing white, panjabi and sandals? In the picture, I look like I’m holding my breathe, horrified and confused.



The evening was worth it. It was small slice of an event that will continue to echo in my memory as long as it functions. This was a memorable meal fed by expectation, digested and converted into inspirational energy. The experience wafts beyond the three hours.

Yes, I still feel guilty that I could feed a small village in Bangladesh or a few hundred at the homeless shelter in Indiana. The guilt is warranted. However, that one evening of experiencing the best efforts of a creative artist, the produce of a beautiful country, the historical, political, social and ecological complex context that made that meal possible continues to make me feel human with the privilege of sense, sensation and guilt.

I, hungryphil, am most drawn to Passard’s philosophy of small things that is best expressed in his recipes. Here is how he introduces his recipe for peaches with lemon and saffron:


Peaches with Lemon and Saffron

“I always like to give a lift to stone fruit simply by adding a tangy touch of lemon juice to it. This recipe takes the lemon further: its chunky segments are stewed alongside segments of peach in a little butter. The lemon adds a vivacious piquancy to the gentle peach, and the heady scent of saffron and some grenadine syrup add to their flavors. The real key to this gastronomic treat, however, is adding olive oil – of the finest quality you can afford- at the end of cooking. Slivered toasted almonds complete the presentation.”

Notice the language of lift, of furthering, of gentility, of quality, and of presentation. This is the perspective I hoped to have absorbed in eating at his restaurant. I didn’t want a meal as a privileged traveler’s trophy. My determination to make the meal great may have made it so. So what? The meal at the least met my expectations half way. It lifted and furthered my taste, like the segments of peaches. Like his recipe, I imagine my fragmented memories and appreciation will “murmur very gently” for years to come, just like chef Alain Passard’s recipe. I will not stir or mix it with bad reviews.

“Partially cover the pan, and adjust the heat to allow the juices to murmur very gently for 20-30 minutes. During this time, do not stir, or mix the ingredients, or the segments of peach may break.”


For the full recipe to go:

Thank you Jim for making this experience possible. What a wonderful evening walking with you in Paris after a beautiful meal! You are my celebrity crush. I don’t look horrified and confused here.


So, there is it. The story about how I ate an uncomfortably expensive meal and found comfort in human creativity.

Now, I’m off to see a local exhibtion, “Making it in Crafts III”

Come with me!

Wishing you happy eating at home and at expensive restaurants,




5 Food Lessons from Paris in June

Despite the sin of blogging an event weeks later, here I am. To me, my summer travels are still fresh and worth reliving, even if just to extend the trip a bit longer. Here are five lessons I learned.

1. Pastries, desserts, macarons are experiences of contradiction. Light and airy yet decadent and buttery. Sweets are not only sweet but flavorful. I can taste the butter, the fruit, the flavorings. In Paris, contradiction is sweet!

2. Location, location, location. During a food tour in Paris, we visited a cheese shop. The origin of each cheese variety, the type of milk, and the name was clearly labeled. The region of the cheese is part of the taste and experience. In France, location really matters. Sadly, I don’t know where all my food comes from.


3. Taking cooking classes was a humbling experience that helped me appreciate the simplicity of ingredients and complexity of skill. A baguette is made with flour, salt, water, and yeast. That’s it. No butter. 4 ingredients. A sequence of kneading, rising, kneading and rising, yields the crunchy on the outside, chewy soft on the inside bread that needs to be eaten within three hours. The master sauces class taught me the same lesson. Simple ingredients become unctuous sauces through appropriate sequences of heat, whisking, resting. In France, skill is respected and expected.

4.  Markets have a beautiful variety of fresh produce, meats and dairy products. If I were to shop there to make a meal, I don’t know how I would choose. Building a relationship with a favorite vendor would be the best way to decide, I suppose. Somehow, my local grocery store seems very impersonal now. Next summer, if in town, I’ll spend more time getting to know my local produce vendors. I’m reminded that fresh and local produce is imperfect, beautiful and tasty.

5. Long walks between cooking classes, lunch, dinner, snacks, and markets with a curiosity towards small things like the weeds on the banks of the Seine grounds Paris.  The idealized glittering image of Paris with its cathedrals, museums, palaces become gritty, real, and more beautiful in my eyes through the experience and perspective of weeds, trash, construction debry and hot summer sweat. The small things remind me that Paris is the home of many and not just an idealized tourist destination. I wonder if the beautiful floral weeds still live there.


What a wonderful trip discovering the grand- the small, the light-the rich, the sweet- the salty, the delicious-beautiful contradictions in Paris.  The visit reminded me to notice the contradictions of textures and tastes, the location, the skill, the ingredients and the larger context. I hope to eat like a tourist everywhere, even at home.





Hunger, courage and a snack in Oslo


I found a bench for myself and began gnawing greedily at my snack. It did me a lot of good; it had been a long time since I’d had such an ample meal, and I gradually felt that same sense of satiated repose you experience after a good cry. My courage rose markedly; I was no long satisfied with writing an article about something so elementary and straightforward as the crimes of the future, which anybody could guess, or simply learn by reading history. I felt capable of a greater effort and, being in the mood to surmount difficulties, decided upon a three-part monograph about philosophical cognition. – from Hunger by Knut Hamsun (Noble Prize Winner, 1920)

As I read these words by controversial Nazi sympathizer and nobel laureate Knut Hamsun, the significance of my first bite in Oslo became clear.  It was a short walk from the National Theatret station to the Savoy Hotel, made slow and deliberate by the bumpy drag of my carry-on wheels and by the weight of my backpack pressing down each step. I happily welcomed this seemingly underwater rhythm of a traveler on foot after the cramped imprisonment of seatbelted air travel. My snack, this shrimp sandwich, hearty chewy bread, sweet shrimp, bright lemons, woke me up. I felt the sense of “satiated repose after a long cry” and also, the mood “to surmount difficulties.”

I hope you find good snacks that offer repose and courage during your summer travels.

For now, I’m back on my warm Indiana porch with birds chirping and gentle windchimes…….. reading and snacking.


Hungryphil Eats London: Borough Market Food Tour


It was an expectedly cool spring day in London. Atiya and I waited at a nearby Starbucks for our much-anticipated food tour near London Bridge.  I was worried that our next hours would be so focused on keeping warm that we might miss the food fun. Atiya will happily attest to my pre-tour cranky mood. Thankfully, all my worries dissolved away at our first stop at Scotchtails for Scotched Eggs (for vegetarians: Goats Cheese, sweet potato pie from Pieminister).

IMG_4133 The day only got brighter like the sunny, runny, bright orange fresh yoke of the Scotched Egg.

Here are some of the highlights from the tour:

The best Fish and Chips I ever had at Fish Kitchen.

The best vanilla custard doughnuts from Breadahead. Look at Atiya’s happiness.

After a few more stops, our tour ended with English Breakfast Tea and Sticky Toffee Pudding at Chop House. It turned out to be a sweet, fried and salty day with my baby, best because it was a cold day. Everything we ate represented comfort food.

Here is what I learned about London eaters based on the gastronomic narrative of the Borough Market and London Bridge Walking Tour.

  1. Simple foods can be surprisingly complex and crafted. For example, the chips are cooked THREE times! Boiled, fried and fried again with appropriate time intervals between.
  2. British food swings between casual, portable street foods like fish and chips or scotched eggs, and formal, elegant cream tea and accompaniments. A family in-between meal would be Sunday roast (we didn’t get to try this delicious combination of roast and yorkshire pudding).
  3. While our tour was focused on traditional English eats, the market represented a diversity of ethnic tastes: Turkish delights, Thai curries, Indian Samosas, Ethiopian Injeera, Balkan breads and more. The Borough market food story also has hidden tartness and spice.

A post-colonial critique of British food would miss the inherent inner-struggle between Anglo-Saxon, French, German, Roman and Viking past. English history has no “pure” native lineage. The “Other” is already inscribed. Food is a visceral way to respond to the climate and confronting cultures.  The Borough market English food tour was an exercise of simple and few ingredients, treated with care.

In the end, regardless of cuisine culture, we can taste –  care. No cultural critique needed.

Wishing you happy and “care-ful” eating,





Cuban Coffee Chronicles – Day 7

Las Terrazas a reclaimed coffee plantation is a self-sustaining community project, a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1984. Bird watching, hiking, horseback riding are among the offering. A community of over 1000 inhabitants and the area has schools, a daycare, a small clinic, library, ration store and a coffee shop. Maria, pictured below was the first to run the coffee shop. The chilled coffee was perfect on a hot day.

One of the residents of the Las Terazzas is artist Lester Campa. We visited his inspiring studio overlooking a lake. His fluid surrealist work combines Cuban landscape with cultural references. He uses reclaimed wood, craft paper, water colors and acrylic.

Lunch at Las Terrazas included some of the best chicken I had in Cuba and chickens roaming around at our feet. Felt wrong. Assuredly the chicken was fresh. Poor chickens.

Next, more dancing at a music school….

We visited an after school guitar and music center where the teachers are volunteers and children shared a few Cuban and Latin rhythms. Very talented.

We were lucky to get a reservation at La Guarida, a paladar that numerous celebrities visited, including the talk-show host Conan O’Brian (we found his picture on the wall). We got there early (riding our 1966 Chevy) to enjoy the view from the rooftop bar. The dinner was elegant and delicious. I had a lamb dish that had been slow cooked for over 12 hours. It was so soft. I also had a delicious coconut milk poured over cake and lime ice cream. Summery combination.

Our evening ended back with our travel friends at Old Havana listening to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club. Intimate atmosphere, amazing music, talented dancers and just such a sophisticated and soulful pleasure.