2018 | My Year in Food

In 2018, I published no books and made no book tours. What the hell did I do with my time? I wrote and traveled, read and gardened. But above all, I ate. So why not take a look back at 2018 and a sneak preview of what’s to come in 2019 by way of my dinner plate?

Problem is: I don’t like to take pictures of my food. It’s there to eat, isn’t it? So we’ll have to take a roundabout route to food located near and far.


Ottolenghi, London 2018
Ottolenghi, Islington, London. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Let’s start in London, January 2018. My husband and I are en route to visit No. 2 son at Oxford University. But first, we have to make a pilgrimage to one of the many Ottolenghi restaurants in London. I love to cook from his cookbook Jerusalem.

View from the Bakery Institute. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Back home, I fulfill a long-held wish: a two-day class on sourdough bread. We bake baguette, boule de blanc, rye, multigrain, and bread with raisins and nuts. This class transforms my way of baking though somehow bread remains a work in progress. Or, maybe I’m just slow.

Between loaves, there’s just enough time to organize a little reading despite the hiccup along the way.

Then the next trip comes up. This one takes us to windy Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands. Our goal is the Mata Hari exhibit. We find joy instead in a ceramics museum and a great little restaurant called Eindeloos.

The End of an Era

Omi's funeral April 2018
Main course, Treeswijkhoeve.

But all good things do come to an end. In April 2018, we lose my mother-in-law. We give her the kind of send-off she would have wanted. A full-on Catholic service, a warm reception for her guests, and an elegant family dinner at her favorite restaurant.

#bookstagram 2018
#bookstagram. Photo credit: Karen Kao

With endings also come beginnings. In 2018, I discover the #bookstagram. Another first is a podcast with the effervescent Dieuwke van Turenhout. We discuss “An Afternoon at the Bakery,” a Yoko Ogawa’s short story that’s all about strawberry shortcakes.

Bergen, Norway 2018
The Daily Spoon by Stian Korntved Ruud. Kunstlab, Bergen. Photo credit: Karen Kao

By now, it’s summer 2018 and time to travel again. We meet my BFF and her husband in Bergen, Norway where we tour the fjords, marvel at the graffiti, and eat ourselves silly. Alas, I have no shots of our Nordic fare at Restaurant 1877 or Lysverket. Instead, I give you “The Daily Spoon.” Norwegian artist Stian Korntved Ruud spent a year and a lot of wood making these 365 spoons.

Home Again

harvest 2018
Harvest 2018. Photo credit: Karen Kao

Back at home in Amsterdam, I find my garden in riotous bloom. For the first time since I started planting vegetables, I get an actual harvest of cherry tomatoes, long beans, and herbs galore. I’m still an amateur (idiot) gardener and therefore have an idiot app to guide me. Makkelijke Moestuin tells me when to sow my seeds, warns me to water, stake, and harvest my plants, and will even tell me when it’s time to pull up roots and plant something new.

Austin Texas 2018
In the ladies’ room at Fonda San Miguel. Photo credit: Karen Kao

But I let my tomatoes rot on the vine because it’s time for our last trip of the year. This one takes us to Los Angeles, where I find some surprising treasures, and the Great State of Texas.

I don’t need to tell anyone about Texas BBQ. But do you know about Fonda San Miguel? In addition to great Mexican food, there’s a to-die-for art collection. This little gem hangs in the ladies restroom. Check out her inscription: I like two kinds of men domestic and imported.

teaching treats 2018
Sourdough carrot cake and salt caramel walnuts. Photo credit: Karen Kao

For the first time in a long time, coming home means starting a new job. After much hemming and hawing, I take the plunge. In October 2018, I teach my first creative writing workshop. In order to bribe my students into liking me, I bake something every week. It’s mostly sweet and sourdough-based (I have to do something with all that starter) though my students give me the additional challenges of gluten and ovo-free diets.

Christmas dessert 2018
Christmas dessert. Photo credit: Paul Verhagen

Then comes the Blue Wave and a round of prize nominations. Before I know it, 2018 is almost over though not without food to mark that passing. No. 1 son takes charge of Christmas dinner. He produces a magnificent rack of venison in a chocolate-blueberry sauce and this angelic dessert. It’s cardamom panna cotta in a rose syrup with candied pistachios and a caramel tuile.

From 2018 to 2019

What will the new year bring? I’m hoping more of the same. 2018 was a good year for me, full of firsts and lasts, new places and old, readings and writings. I could have just as easily written this blog to show you all the great art I saw or the wonderful books I read in 2018.

As good as 2018 was for me, I think 2019 might be even better. For one, I hope (!) to finish my novel Peace Court and send it out into the world. For another, I intend to further my cunning plan to collect as many rejections as I possibly can for my short fiction, nonfiction, and in-between-fiction-and-nonfiction work.

But more than anything else, 2019 is going to be the year of travel. Not just little hops about Europe but all the way around the world. Yes, boys and girls, this little old lady is headed off-road. I’m still in the planning phase so not much to say at this point. As this trip shapes up, you’ll hear more about it in this blog. And once we’re airborne, this blog may become erratic but so will my life.

Stay tuned.