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Betsy Block


Winter Vacation on a Plate

Winter Vacation on a Plate
Every February I vow either to move out of New England or to take a trip the next year. Almost all our friends take winter vacations. It's hard when they go, thinking of them frolicking at the beach while here we sit in our messy house, cold and lonely, watching the snow fall. If we're going to go this winter, though, we'll have to book soon; flights sell out by early September.

We get all excited -- where should we go? The Caribbean? Florida? How about somewhere in the West? But as we continue talking, we think about how expensive it would be, and how much trouble it is to pack, and how flying with kids takes the fun out of life, and how when you get back you're usually more exhausted than you were when you left.

So, as usual, I think we won't go on vacation this year. Still, while we may not be traveling the world, we can always eat as if we were. It'll just have to be a vacation on a plate.

We'll start by reliving our honeymoon in France. While my friends are off creating happy memories for their children, I wait until my own are asleep before I spread tapenade on homemade crackers or pour a dash of crme de cassis into a glass of Champagne. My husband and I will toast each other and let thoughts of Provence wash over us like a warm, lavender-scented summer rain.

Or maybe our first sublimating diner a deux should be lobster rolls, which we always model after the ones we had in Bar Harbor. We were in town for a friend's wedding; it was one of those perfect Maine days, dazzlingly clear and sunny. My husband went foraging for lunch and returned with toasted buns overflowing with warm chunks of just-cooked lobster drizzled with sweet butter and tarragon. We ate on a porch overlooking the Atlantic.

Better yet, maybe we'll start with fried clams. A few years ago, summer weekends became a joyful quest to find the sweetest, most tender clams around. I finally found what I was looking for at a hot dog joint by the sea. A couple of daytrips to Rockport could help transform our season of discontent into a glorious summer of clams.

A picnic of roast chicken and a baguette evokes heavenly St. Barts. I would need a special glass, though, if I wanted to recreate the gratis aperitif we received at a Vietnamese restaurant there in exchange for some on-the-fly translating; when finished, it revealed a topless dancer in a grass skirt on the bottom of the cup.

Jerk chicken conjures Grand Cayman, where a gentleman from Jamaica made magic happen in a halved oil drum. Grilled sardines and a glass of cheap cava eaten al fresco bring me back to Portugal. And then there's paella, which has seemed almost magical since the time my friend and I arrived at a restaurant in Valencia too late for lunch. The owner, seeing our crestfallen faces, told us to come back in an hour; when we did, the food had been made to order and the restaurant was all ours.

It's all within a fork's reach, but come to think of it, there's something else I want most: a hot fudge sundae, with four spoons. It reminds me of an idyllic trip from long ago. Though the memory is foggy, it involves a girl in a nightgown sleepily dismantling a tower of cream and sugar. It fills me up completely.

Milk Chocolate Sauce
My kids love milk chocolate. Pour this over ice cream and you'll most likely have satisfied silence for at least a few minutes, or as long as the sundae lasts.

1 c. heavy cream
1/2 lb. milk chocolate, chopped
1/4 c. corn syrup
dash of vanilla extract

Scald the cream, add in the chocolate and corn syrup. Once melted, cook on medium heat, stirring, for about eight minutes. Add in vanilla. Pour 'n eat.