March 2021 (Printed title in The Local Newspaper as Memory trip)
"I'm in love with cities I've never been to & people I've never met."- John Green
Remember traveling? The late night flights, or early mornings depending on which side of 4 AM you are on. I can hear my alarm clock now, blaring with immediacy... a device that was proficient in The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.
Remember airport bars? Remember jetlag? In your home time zone, it’s whatever time it is and now you have to ‘time change math’ the hours.
Remember clinking drinks with strangers who are now your good friends?
Remember hauling ass through the airport, sort of lost, but thank God for the kind samaritan who takes you under her wing to get you where you need to go?
Remember gulping unencumbered maskless breaths…tripping over your sloppy self as you fumble through your carry-on, mid-sprint...JUST barely making your first flight?
“Where the f*ck is my boarding pass?”
It’s almost painful to look at pictures from a time before COVID-19; a time when we could all be together, just as people, doing “peopley” things. I’ve been looking back at some old photos from trips my boyfriend Jeff and I had taken in recent years to remember how it felt to be that free.
We didn’t know it back then, but Thailand would become one of our very favorite places on Earth.
Our good friend Steph drove us to the airport as good friends used to do.
Once she dropped us off, we went straight to the Chickie’s and Pete’s in the Philadelphia Airport. It was an exciting time- The Eagles just won the Super Bowl one week prior and we were celebrating the launch of our trip with big ass beers and fried food, as we all used to do.
Thirty hours later, we landed in the tiniest airport that we had ever seen, on the island of Koh Samui.
It was about 8:30 AM there, but we had no idea what time we felt like it was. We spotted a small group of fellow travelers, who did not speak english, munching on chips and sipping cold ones. Pointing to their beers, we asked through body language where they got them from. They gestured to what looked like a closet across the way, but we trusted it. Once we came back with our beers, we raised our cans and simply said “cheers!” Excited by this, they ran over to clink cans with us and to share their chips. Friendship happened and all it took was a small group of travelers, ten minutes, five beers, two bags of chips and one word.
One night, we spent the night in, hanging out at our hostel. There were seven of us- Me and Jeff, the two Norwegian girls on their gap year, a couple from Germany and the Bermese guy who ran the place, Mass (pronounced Mah-ss). We drank. We laughed. We mimicked each other’s accents. We sang our countries’ Happy Birthday songs to Mass because it just so happened to be his twenty-seventh birthday, as we found out. Jeff and I debunked myths that all Americans owned cattle and guns. We talked some more, and sang some more, and drank a lot more and laughed until we couldn’t stand. And then we all stumbled back to our rooms.
Every morning for breakfast, we visited with “Catfish Lady”. She had the very best food and it cost us a whopping $1.50 USD for us both to eat whatever we wanted from her stand. On the first day, we were given the smallest fish of the catch- We will prove ourselves. In addition to the catfish, we ordered a banana leaf pouch stuffed with our curiosity. On day two, we were one of the first people to arrive. We tried something else that was new to us and also her catfish on a stick. On the third day, we had proven ourselves and she threw in a special sauce with our amply sized catfish. By the end of the week, we were regulars- she expected us to come and we expected her to be there. We had only ever communicated through hand signals, smiles, coins and the two Thai phrases that we knew best- “Hello” and “Thank you”.
Picture 7, 8 & 9:
The night market sprawled far beyond what we could see. Tightly packed vendors lined both sides of the long and winding road. The lights; The colors; The smells! The pots and pouches and skewers and slurps won us over. It was the most magnificent and beautiful place for a girl who ate everything. I ate my first grasshopper there. I ate my first chicken heart there. I ate my first fried fish chips there. I ate one of everything that would fit in my stomach there.
What is it that makes me smile when I look at these pictures? I thought that it was the newness and the adventure that I missed so much this last year of COVID- In part, I believe it is. In fact, it’s remembering when the clinks, the drinks, the undefined food tastings and the encounters of happenstance were the sparks of our days and nights. I see now, that it is the freedom that we had to just live that I am missing. I remember all of the small interactions and those are what I miss, what we are all missing. It is the living part of being alive that we are missing. It is the living to eat rather than eating to live that we are missing. It’s the strangers, the hugs, the high fives, the drinks, chips, cheers, Happy Birthday songs, catfish on skewers, and being tightly packed together that we are missing. It’s US, being together and remembering how to be “peopley”, that we are missing.
“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.” ~Thomas Keller
I’ve always believed that how I spend my money is how I cast a vote. Voting happens everyday with every swipe, venmo, keypad press, coin purse scramble and the pass off of crumpled bills. Money earned is energy spent. The dollar is an IOU note for your services and time. When you give your money to a company you are voting for their survival and prosperity, as you are giving them a representation of the time that you spent to earn that note. As Americans, we’ve become supreme leaders of consuming and creating all things fast and cheap, as it is, above all else, CONVENIENT. This is a mistake.
When I walked into Kimmy’s home, it had been the first time that we’d seen each other in well over a year. I sat down, at her island prep station and awkwardly pulled out my voice recorder. It was my first interview of this kind, and with all there was to catch up on and learn about her new confectionery world, I didn’t want to miss a beat. She chuckled in her infectious way and off we went down the rabbit hole.
Among the shimmer of sugar and plumes of wafting butter floating through her kitchen, it was her relaxed and warm way of going about her work that made the experience a sweet one.
“Would you like a snack?” She asked.
I was delighted to be served freshly made macarons, crisp on the initial nip and chewy through the center. Glowing and freshly baked apple cider donuts danced their way to me, warm from the baking sheet. I was living my dream (taste testing, of course). Kimmy presented me with one other magical morsel; a substantial, yet fluffed, vanilla cupcake crowned by a whip of her personal favorite, swiss meringue buttercream. It was unlike any other icing that I’ve ever had. It was satiny and glossy, not overly sweet, yet, decadent. I was hooked. It, by contrast to it’s American cousin, is all but fast and cheap to create.
“How do you do it?” I asked.
“All of it.” I replied.
For the very first time ever, I witnessed her creations from the batter up. Soft and stiff peaks of swiss meringue buttercream crested, cakes layered like tectonic plates, icings and pigments blended together to coat the cake like a canvas with oil painting knives; even the delicate art of boxing and preparing for pick up occurred during my time with her, seemingly all at once. I gazed, enthralled, as she poured balmy chocolate ganache over a 3 layer cake, forming a hardshell. Her collection of tools, gadgets, colors, sprinkles, sparkles, jimmies, candies, swirls, flowers and flavors is reminiscent of the potion master’s arsenal at Hogwarts.
Tasting, chatting and giggling for two and a half hours, I learned that the concept of Kimmy More Sweets was the product of having been told NO.
“I had a summer job down the shore about 10 years ago at an Acme in the bakery department. It was over the summer after senior year and I had a lot of fun cake decorating and having access to fun tools like airbrushes. But once I came home, I just kind of stopped.”
Flash forward to just a few short years ago, Kimmy wanted a super special cake for her daughter Vivian’s first birthday (currently 2.5 years old). Kimmy contacted a well known local cake maker by recommendation, that she deemed “The Cake Lady of Philly”. To Kimmy’s initial disappointment, The Cake Lady of Philly couldn’t make the cake in time. It was then that we hit the point of no return in our story of Kimmy More Sweets because that is when Kimmy decided to make it on her own. After a few youtube videos and some Amazon orders later, Vivian’s cake was made. A vivid and bursting rainbow wrapped layer cake, molded as a unicorn came from this NO. Her daughter’s first birthday was ALSO a gender reveal for their second child, Wyatt, as well as a surprise wedding for her and her partner, Rob (but that is a WHOLE other beautiful story..)
Kimmy had actually put her tools down for another entire year until it was time for Wyatt’s first birthday. She figured she could make Wyatt’s cake and turn homemade birthday cakes into a fun tradition for her family. But Wyatt’s dinosaur cake stirred up a big batch of ideas with her friends and family.
“Can you make a cake for me?”
“People would pay for these.”
In August of 2020, two cakes quickly became four. By November, she crushed forty one, which does not include any of her other creations like cupcakes, macarons and now cocoa bombs, among many treats. All it took was 10 years, a NO, a forgotten joy, a spark of creativity, unexpected votes of confidence and a little research for her to create her home bakery business.
“Kimmy, what do you want people to know?” I asked.
She thought for a moment and simply said,
“It is worth it to buy a cake from a home baker or bakery rather than a large chain. You’ll taste the thoughtfulness. People [the bakers] are doing this [operating a small business ] for a reason. It means something when you get to know someone. Secondly- celebrate your birthday!”
I agree! Celebrate your birthday because you will always remember that pink and purple triple chocolate three layer cake for your 11th birthday during quarantine when only 5 people could come to your party but you need to have this amazing cake because your life is over.... (Real cake, real 11 year old girl, real awesome mom that got that cake.)
I vote for small businesses. I vote for their NO’s to be YES’s. I vote for the rainbow unicorn cake, handmade macarons, baked (not fried) apple cider donuts, swiss meringue buttercream and knowing my baker’s story as well as her first name.
Visit @KimmyMoreSweets on instagram and check out her website www.kimmymoresweets.com
The Bow-Tie Pasta That Binds
"Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat." ~ Guy Fieri
Humans are an intricate breed. We are vast in our capabilities, boundless in our ventures and diverse in our customs-simply fascinating!
Across time and culture, very few things can serve to unite us so much as a meal. This is not to say that the subject of food is not without its charges. In fact, it can be quite controversial and I look forward to exploring that with you as well.
Justine Eats The World serves not just as a review of food, but also as a lense into the people who create it, the communities they serve and the cultures from which they came. Together, we will explore cuisine, ingredients, myths, legends, lore and traditions all to tell the story of US, through food. Below is a tiny taste of our adventures to come.
Reflecting back one year to pre-COVID times, I spent 2 weeks in early Fall of 2019 submerging myself into the world of Italy; a magical place that I can revisit in my mind during this time of travel restriction. My memories of food, culture, love & friendship are fond and anyone who has visited the oasis of Tuscany, shares my sentiment.
At the time, I was a full-time yoga teacher and had opened my own studio 1 year prior. A substantially sized group of loud Americans joined together by our love of travel and yoga and retreated to Tuscany. Of all the memories made, this photo particularly depicts 'it all'. The brilliance of eating outdoors, the "decadence of dish", the laughter, the wine, the laughter.... the wine. And we sang, yes we sang. We stood on the majesty that was this table and we belted our happiness alongside the strum of guitars, well into the night. And our voices carried off into the Tuscan mountains, to be absorbed into the fold. Our joy would seep into the soil to re-emerge as fruit of the olive, pressed into oil and served once again on that very same table from which the joy was born. That was the culture of this place. And that is what we ate every single day of our time there together. Food was how we connected to one another. It was the tie that binds. This single captured moment speaks 1,000 words per person.
One of the most beautiful parts of traveling is experiencing culture outside of my own. Enjoying the cuisine, both traditional as well as modern, gives me a lense from which to view how people lived life in the past and how they see their world today. In each bite, I tasted, in this way, who the people are. In the case of being in Italy, I got to taste a part of my own heritage.
My old ways of knowing the world become more stretched and shifted with each time I travel; I have the extreme pleasure to enjoy what I thought I knew; all REIMAGINED. Food is a FEELING. Follow the food and the entire world will appear.
Welcome to Justine Eats The World.