Alcázar of Seville Yellows | Umami GirlYou might remember when we left Málaga last summer. We belly-crawled like Navy SEALs out of our hotel in the middle of the night and shared the back of a pickup with live chickens as we hitchhiked our way to Seville. Whatever it took to escape to a place more fitting before the clock struck midnight on Cope’s 40th birthday. Plus, traveling is all about teaching the kids flexibility, life skills, and hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes you’ve gotta walk the walk.

And that — well, something like that — is how we arrived in Seville in August. Seville, the “frying pan of Andalusia,” where everyone knows that everything closes in August.

We loved it, thanks. We’re off-season folks at heart in so many ways, including the actual way. And traveling is all about teaching the kids how swimming in the clear waters of the great wide world helps us see ourselves with clarity. Off-season and proud. Off-season and aware.

Of course, the swimming was purely metaphorical, as Seville is landlocked and surprisingly devoid of public pools for a place that averages 97 degrees at certain times of year that shall not be named.

We balanced the self-discovery with several truckloads of ice cream. Traveling is all about stuffing the kids with ice cream.

We’re learning.

Seville AirBnB I | Umami GirlThere’s Cope making 40 look like it ain’t no thing on the roof deck of the airbnb we rented in the old town (Casco Antiguo) — the one with the “please eat the grapes” and the rad modern layout and the attentive decor that all cost half of what you’d pay for a decent dinner for two in New York. It couldn’t have been more reasonable. Unfortunately we learned from our hosts that unemployment in the region, particularly for women our age, is so high I blacked out the percentage: 70%? 80%? We thought we detected subtle signs of scrimping: people drinking more Coke than cerveza, people sharing entrees, but not in that fun tapas way. Beyond that, it was hard to separate the quiet of August from the quiet of scarcity. Even in tough times, though, Seville can’t help but shine. I mean, just look at it.  View full post »

  • Karla Valenti

    Sevilla is one of my favorite places in Spain. I loved re-living it through your post, thank you!

Grilled Cheese with Sauerkraut | Umami Girl-2Of course I knew it wasn’t a good idea to search “hot mess” on Urban Dictionary. Maybe it’s because I watched the whole two seasons of Broad City in as many days, but I couldn’t stop myself anyway.

Turns out it wasn’t a good idea. It was a great idea. Here’s what the top entry said:

“No one set of guidelines can perpetually determine what distinguishes a ‘hot mess’ from an above-average train wreck. Regardless of the circumstances, you know it when you see it; because they are typically conspicuous, and obviously they are always awesome.”

I couldn’t say exactly what that means, but I know I like it.

I am totally not comfortable using the term hot mess to describe a person. I’ve tried it a couple times and have discovered what it feels like to loathe and laugh at myself at the same time.

But a grilled cheese? That I can work with.

This one fits the description perfectly: bold flavors of aged cheddar, sauerkraut and Dijon (conspicuous!), a tangle of fermented cabbage and just enough cheese to ooze out beautifully while still basically keeping its shit together. (Obviously always awesome!) Crisp grilled rye. (You know it when you see it, amirite?)

Grilled Cheese with Sauerkraut | Umami GirlPlus, unlike some other super-excellent grilled cheese riffs that are a little high-maintenance, this one you can make with minimal effort when you’ve just rolled out of bed.

Like the hot mess that you are.

Nope, still can’t pull off saying that.

See you soon.


  • Sauerkraut + cheese, kimchi + cheese…these things are total winners in my book. Love the addition of mustard on this. Your photos are awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Love doing it with Emmental, with a little caramelized ooze in the skillet. Using the heavily seeded, chewy-crusted rye from the Jewish bakeries where I grew up are just pure heaven!ReplyCancel

Nut Loaf | Umami GirlYesterday evening at 5:23 we were slipping pungent, silky pieces of Taleggio onto a few crackers for a snack and settling in to start our homework. Then, in a surge, the lights went out, and everything that beeps was beeping. We heard a noise so loud that I’m convinced I saw it. And the telephone pole with the transformer across the street had burst into flame. 

In the time it took me to eye the wires connecting the pole to our daughters’ bedroom and think, “Huh…that’s prolly not great,” the town managed to deploy four emergency vehicles. They arrived almost before it happened. I have a bit of a complicated relationship with our little town, but one thing I know for sure is that we are incredibly lucky to have our stellar emergency response teams. While we slept under extra layers in a dark and chilly house, a throng of police, firefighters and folks from the power company worked through the night in driving rain to put up a brand new telephone pole. I have no idea what they did — which may be obvious from the way I’m calling the thing a damn telephone pole — but it brought our utilities back before we finished breakfast. And with 30 minutes to spare before the kids started walking to school, they cleared away all the chaos and left us once again in Pleasantville, fumbling with our awkward, bulky gratitude. 

Let me just diffuse the tension by putting it out there: Thank you to all of you good-crazy people the world over who move in the direction of danger as the rest of us advise our kids to hang out in the back half of the house. We notice you. You never cease to amaze us, and you never will.  View full post »

  • I love nut roast – it is one of the foods that has made being a vegetarian not just bearable but also enjoyable – glad this was a comfort when the world outside was a little alarmingReplyCancel

Old Town Tallinn Estonia | Umami GirlHere’s something I don’t talk about much: I sing. Kind of a lot.

Not just in the car (though, come on, definitely in the car), and usually not just that awkward kind of sidewalk singing where you’re wearing your noise-canceling Beats by Dre headphones and assume you sound awesome. (It’s not your fault — you paid enough to sound awesome.) 

Nope, a different kind of awkward singing.

Choral singing.

It’s highly contagious. Our daughters do it too. And now that the elder one is about the age I was when I started, I guess I could say I’ve been singing in choirs for a whole generation. But I would never say something like that, because it’s suddenly become obvious to me that it’s a terrifying thing to say. I did take a long break during young adulthood, when work and life in NYC were all-consuming. For a hot minute I think I was also trying to gauge whether it was this hobby holding me back from A-list It Girl status. Turns out, no. Had the cause and effect reversed on that one. Lesson learned, geekiness embraced, 20s outgrown. 

These days the reason I don’t often talk about singing has nothing to do with social climbing and everything to do with the fear of ruining something perfect by acknowledging it. Or by doing an inadequate job of expressing love for it. How do you talk about a hobby that bends time and unites heartbeats? That edges you close to transendence when you do it and grief when you don’t? It’s a little much. Sometimes it’s best to keep it to yourself.


That’s my back there in the front row, black sleeveless shirt, hair looking different than I always think it does. And my back is in Estonia. You can’t say that every day.

Screenshot 2014-07-20 15.06.38Actually, half of the people in the photo can say that every day. They’re members of the awesomely named Mixed Choir of the European Capital of Culture. That’s the Estonian choir we worked with in Tallinn. The rest are London Oriana Choir (directed by the incomparable Dominic Peckham), with whom I had the great privilege to sing while we lived in England. Now that I’m retired and no longer at risk of self-aggrandizement, I’m free to say that this group is full of just berserkly talented people. England’s choral tradition teaches interested kids to sing well, read music and be familiar with a wide array of choral works earlier and more rigorously than most American schools, and you can really tell when singing with adults raised in that culture. Many of them have the kind of musical fluency that suggests they were raised bilingual from an early age. Our experience with British schools bore out that suggestion, and it’s one of the things I miss.  View full post »

  • i’ve always wanted to tour over in europe and learn about singing. maybe one day i can get over there! :)ReplyCancel

  • Carla

    We visited Helsinki in 2002 (back before we were vegan) and the vibe was exactly as you described it even back then! We backpacked for 4 months and Helsinki was always one of the top 3 when people asked about favorite cities and I explained almost the same as you. Glad you had a good time.ReplyCancel

Colcannon Cheddar Cakes II | Umami GirlI was going to try to pass off this recipe as the perfect day-after meal for St. Patrick’s Day, to use up all your leftover colcannon. Then it would be your fault if you hadn’t made colcannon yesterday. What a shameful person of Irish and/or non-Irish descent, or actual Irishperson, you would have been.

But it’s me, and the only reason I would even attempt to perpetrate that kind of lie is because you can’t see my face right now. My brain has never had a thought, nor my heart an emotion, that hasn’t crossed my face. I never learned to play poker. There’d have been no point. I spend my would-be poker time on the yoga mat instead, attempting (largely in vain, obviously) to clean up the thoughts at the source.

In truth, St. Paddy’s this year was no more to us than The Day After the Spelling Bee. We had a competitor in the regional round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a.k.a. the only time I cross paths with ESPN. She did great, and then, like 93 out of the 94 competitors from our region, she spelled something wrong. We needed a day to recover.

This won’t surprise you: boy did I love being in the audience at the spelling bee. There were magic moments. I liked how much you could tell about a kid by whether they chose the microphone that was slightly too short or slightly too tall for them. There was a boy who went everywhere skipping. One child asked to please be read the definition of “macaroni” — a clear stalling tactic I would emulate every day if I could. The sheer number of food words, arranged neatly by language of origin, verklempted me more than once. And the whole thing was both live-streamed on the sponsoring newspaper’s website and recorded on an analog tape deck. Which malfunctioned and was rewound with a pencil. Because it’s 2015.

With all that excitement, who could cook cabbage the following day? Lucky for all of us, this is a leftovers recipe you can make all at once. Technically colcannon itself — mashed potatoes with cabbage sneaked in — is usually leftovers to begin with, so making this recipe in a single bound pretty much breaks the space-time continuum. That’s a lofty goal for comfort food, but it’s one you can achieve P-R-O-M-P-T-L-Y.

See you next week. 

 Carolyn xx


  • My goodness these look amazing. I tried to make cheddar pancakes awhile back and was never satisfied with the results. I think I need to make these instead. They sound wonderful!ReplyCancel