Peter and I ambled through the travel section at Powell’s.

“Where would you like to visit next?” he asked.

This is a small-talk question. Same as “What kind of food do you like to cook?” or “Do you enjoy your job?” Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these questions. They can lead to perfunctory answers or interesting discussion, and it’s a fun challenge to find out where a new person is perfunctory or interesting. It had been awhile, though, since I had been asked:

“Where would you like to visit next?”

Because I am trying to stay grounded here, I’ve had tunnel vision on Portland. It’s not that I don’t care about the rest of the world. I know that the Dream Act didn’t pass, I know that Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, I know about the impending referendum vote in southern Sudan.

But I don’t know where I want to pull out my passport for. I gave relatively perfunctory answers: Japan would be nice, maybe a longer trip to India. What a change this has been from the replies I would have given three years ago. This afternoon, looking for the answer to a crossword clue, I was sucked into an atlas and I began to remember those replies. Back to Turkey, I want to go. Georgia. Estonia. Bhutan. Uruguay. Ethiopia. Tunisia again, more of north Africa. I miss the assimilation of previously foreign smells spilling through the streets and becoming fodder for future nostalgia. I miss finding comfort in discomfort, miss mingling languages. When we travel, we find ourselves daily by giving ourselves up to the journey. It is exhausting. It is so worth it.

I am going to give you an armchair traveler’s dish. It is full of familiar flavors, put together in a way that is suddenly alive. It’s from Moosewood. Your potluck companions will coo. It will make you miss places you’ve never been.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Gratin
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
serves 6-8

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup medium-heat prepared salsa
1 cup cooked rice
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced sweet potatoes (I used a mandoline)
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (15-oz can, drained)
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach, rinsed, stemmed, and chiffonaded

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat to 350F. Lightly oil a 9″x13″ baking pan.

Combine garlic, lime zest and juice, cilantro, thyme, salt, pepper, coconut milk, and salsa in a measuring cup. Pour one third of this mixture into the prepared baking pan. Layer half of the sweet potatoes in the bottom, topped by half of the rice, half of the black beans, and half of the spinach. Pour on another third of the coconut milk mixture and repeat the layers of sweet potatoes, rice, beans, and spinach. Pour the remaining coconut milk mixture over all.

In a small bowl combine all of the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the gratin, making sure to go all the way to the edges.

Bake, uncovered, for about 60 minutes, rotating the pan in the oven after 30 minutes to ensure uniform baking. When the potatoes are tender and the topping is crisp and golden brown, remove from the oven and let sit for 2-3 minutes until the potatoes absorb any remaining liquid.