Travel Muse Press

Food

Imagine a world with no limits...what would you eat? Where would you go to eat? Who would you share these Divine Delights with? ...Read More

Wine

From young root clippings in dry, arduous conditions to fruit bursting with the essence of the surrounding countryside, grapes are cultivated over a long period of time to bring you an explosion of sensory impact...Read More

Art

Where does inspiration come from? Travel has always been a vehicle to carry an artist off in a new direction. Travel, it has been said, purifies the mind, body and soul.Read More

Archive for Food

Restaurants in the Heart of Bordeaux, France

in Food, France, Restaurant     

September is a beautiful month in Bordeaux, and the day after we landed we went out in search of a good meal.  M de Monbadon’s menu was printed rather than handwritten and the offerings seemed uninteresting.  C’yusha, whose chef recently came from the great Table de Calvet, was closed for lunch the day we visited.

Le Loup, 66 rue Loup, was a familiar and reasonably priced alternative.  Run by the same brother-sister pair for 18 years,  the restaurant has operated in the building since 1932.  The 17 euro menu offered a salad of goat cheese lightly fried in bread crumbs with vinaigrette with verve, followed by a tender couple of pork medallions in mushroom sauce with potatoes fried in duck fat.  Dessert was simple:  fruit cocktail with lemon sorbet.  The scallops in a sauce of honey, grapefruit  and tangelos were dreamy, mopped up by rye bread we had bought at Paul bakery.  We ordered a half bottle of Chateau Falfas 2005, Cotes de Bourg.   It was tannic and needed another  5 years, since the 2005 year was very sunny and the wines strong.  We conversed with the couple next to us in their 80’s and narrowly escaped without buying either of the two properties they were selling:  a 900 square feet apartment in Old Bordeaux, and a huge country estate between Bergerac and Perigueux! 

Friday, with great pleasure, we met our friends Patricia and Daniel Bain at the new fancy Regent Hotel Brasserie for lunch.  Since we saw them 2 years ago in Martel, the beautiful stone town where Daniel had been restoring stone houses,  they had decamped to Bordeaux, where their 13 year old son Oscar is in a new school.  They now have a new project and are renting a townhouse in the center of Bordeaux, complete with beautiful wood terrace and walls painted a combination of robin’s egg blue, bright yellow and red (not their taste in colors!).  It was wonderful to see them in such good spirits, looking well.

To celebrate Catalina’s birthday, we all ordered the 22 euro 2-course menu, a heap of tiny fried smelt,  with a glass of tartar sauce for dipping.  Some in our group did not appreciate the fish’s tiny eyes looking up at them!  The main course was either a white cod with snails in parsley butter sauce, or tender chicken rolled around perfectly cooked foie gras, wrapped in a green leaf that might have been lettuce.  Several people noted that the 2001 Graves red we ordered had slightly off flavors, but we nonetheless managed to down it all.

P&D invited us to their home, and fed us delicious chocolates and macaroons.  Hopefully it won’t be long before we see them in the gite.

Claudia, Steve, Catalina

Bordeaux’s Far-Flung Satellite Restaurants

Bordeaux’s Far-Flung Satellite Restaurants
Sallying forth in the 5 passenger Opel Zafira that we had picked up at the Bordeaux St. Jean train station, we headed for the Saturday market in Bazas south of Bordeaux.  We were ecstatic to see the sausage wizard, Patrick from Aveyron, and he was equally happy to see us after a 2 year absence.  We picked up lean pork herb sausage, duck sausages, chorizo, smoked ham, smoked duck breasts and a dense wheat and seed bread.  We bought a riot of fresh fruits and vegetables, and then went to our favorite restaurant for lunch.

Les Remparts, 49 place de la Cathedrale, Bazas.  This restaurant was just sold to new owners from far away.  Who knows what cuisine they will offer…  But for today, we savored a rich lamb tajine with apricots and pistachios on couscous.  Cat, John and Trudy chose the 3 course menus for 25 euros.  The first courses, Bazas beef terrine with a small salad, or sweet melon with Bayonne ham, were delicious.  The wine was a 2008 Coquillas Pessac Leognan.  It had an intense aroma of violets and blackberries with a taste to match.  Main courses were tender white cod on braised vegetables, Madras curry chicken (mild) with pineapple and steamed white rice.  Dessert:  flat apple tart with ice cream, an assortment of sorbets (pear, cassis, mandarin orange) accompanied by dense, bitter warm chocolate sauce and a side dish of Chantilly cream.  A terra cotta dish held crème brulee, excellent.  We rated the meal an A.  We also ordered a half bottle of white Graves, Chateau Brondelle, 2010.
Clos Mirande, Montagne St. Emilion (05 57 74 50 16).  We reserved for Sunday lunch in their casual bistro.  The restaurant was opened a year and a half ago.  As an entree (the entering, or first course), Steve ordered a green salad, and we also ordered terrines of rabbit with a parsley garlic sauce and salad.  Main courses were:  perfectly cooked sole with lemon butter, fricassee of guinea fowl game bird, braised with black grapes, mushrooms and honey, or tender layers of pork stacked then wrapped in bacon, sitting on a slice of eggplant.  It was accompanied by zucchini, carrots and turnips.  We asked the lady for a recommendation as to a local wine, and it was a good one:  2006 Chateau Vieux Rocher Montagne de St Emilion.  We also ordered a glass of white to go with the fish.  This was the best meal we have had in France so far on this trip!

Claudia, Steve, Catalina, John, Trudy

Terranea Resort and Beauty in the Eye of the Dessert Beholder

I can’t help myself; I see beauty everywhere, especially in Nature. Next, I see beauty in objects that Nature inspired, like cake. And I take photo after photo of those moments that catch my eye because I love to share, make greeting cards or paintings from them and of course, they provide me with thousands of vivid memories or inspiration.

It was a beautiful day on the coast. Sea birds, birds of prey, dolphins and whales spouting in the water made it a magical day atop the bluffs in Palos Verde, CA. It wasn’t quite happy hour; more like afternoon tea. A coffee and small bite of something decadent was just the ticket and Sea Beans Cafe inside the hotel grounds is just the thing a traveler needs for a little pick-me-up. Here are some of my images from my visit to this cafe at Terranea in January.

This is a photo of the chalkboard menu inside the Sea Beans Cafe at Terranea Resort.

This has YUMMM written all over it.

This is a photo of the dessert display case inside the Sea Beans Cafe at Terranea Resort.

What's not to like? I'll take one of everything.

This is a photo of candy signage in front of a tray of gourmet chocolates.

Stop and think about this for a moment. Read the sign again and let your imagination take flight. Yes, two servings will help confirm that you got the tasting notes correct!

This is a photo of handmade chocolate cups filled with Tiramisu dessert at Sea Beans Cafe in Terranea Resort.

It does more than pick you up...it leaves you changed forever.

This is a photo of a pecan tartlette.

For times when you feel a bit nutty.

This is a photo of a a fruit tartlette at Sea Beans Cafe in Terranea Resort.

Sigh.

Urban Foraging in San Diego, CA – “Annie’s Rose Canyon Wild Mustard”

My friend and neighbor, Kieth Beatty, who is a retired biochemist, causally invited me to go pick mustard down the street in Rose Canyon here in San Diego. What a strange idea, I thought at first, then I got excited about the notion of a short hike into the canyon down the street from where we live. I’m not a big mustard fan, but I was game to try my hand at foraging in Nature; after all, 2012 is right around the corner and maybe it’s time I learn a thing or two about living off the land…heh-heh…and to learn what the expression “it doesn’t cut the mustard” means.
Watch Kieth cut the mustard!

This is a photo of mustard growing in Rose Canyon Mustard, San Diego, CA.

Keith contemplating where to start picking.

This is a photo of Kieth Beatty picking mustard flowers in Rose Canyon, San Diego, CA.

30 minutes of picking yields about 5 oz. of mustard.

At 8AM we marched down the street with brown paper bags in hand and Keith began educating me on mustard. It’s been in the human diet for as long as scientists and researchers can determine. It has few predators, snails for one, and returns each year.

Mustard stems are delicate and when they die back, the stem is fragile and breaks easily. If something couldn’t cut the mustard, it was generally useless as a tool.

This is a photo of wild mustard growing in San Diego, CA.

The patch of mustard flowers I harvested.

Keith tends to think in terms of anti-aging, antioxidants, vitamins and getting enough natural stuff in his diet to be healthy.  He looks at plants for their concentrated goodness as only Nature can provide. In particular, he seeks out sources of lutein which is a yellow pigment found in fruits, veggies and other plants like mustard which are critical for the well being of the eyes. A mere 6 mg of lutein per day is all you need to greatly reduce your risk of macular degeneration. Why not have healthy eyes?

This is a photo of the mustard plant.

Mustard Up Close and Personal

Mustard is delicate and the flowers and seeds at the top of the stem are lovely and soft. It is easy to pinch them off and just as easy to harvest the large spiky leaves at the bottom. Most animals won’t touch mustard as it is bitter. Humans have figured out that adding vinegar to the leaves neutralizes the bitterness and makes the greens palatable. Most gourmet mustard today has wine vinegar in them and today I used a white wine vinegar from Italy to make my mustard.

This is a photo of the nettles we crushed getting to the mustard.

Crushed Nettles; Collateral Damage in Rose Canyon.

To get close to the mustard we had to trample young nettles. At least, Keith and I think these are nettles. They’ve taken over the field we were in and according to Keith have taken over the area where he has harvested mustard blossoms in previous years. I did read in Wikipedia that a mustard seed can survive up to 60 years underground if it is at the right depth and somehow, I think this patch will make a comeback. And for all you urban foragers out there, this area has enough nettles to feed an army.

This is a photo of nettles from the point of view of my knee.

Young Nettles about to burst into bloom.

This is a photo of a yellow nettle flower.

Yellow is always the color to warn you of danger.

This is a photo of a glass bowl full of freshly picked, bright yellow mustard flowers.

WARNING: Hot, spicy mustard flowers!

This is a photo of the ingredients in my mustard flower recipe.

This is just guesswork for me: I read the ingredients on a jar of store bought mustard and am leading the way with courage and confidence!


At the risk of sounding redundant, here is my:

“MUSTARD FLOWER MUSTARD” RECIPE:
3 cloves raw garlic
1 tablespoon turmeric (for flavor, color, health)
1 tablespoon coriander powder with cumin in it 1 to 1 ratio
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
6-8 tablespoons of water
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
3 huge handfuls of fresh picked mustard flowers

In a food processor, put the vinegar, spices and garlic and pulse it until it is minced fine. Add a handful of flowers at a time until all flowers are minced into the seasoning before adding water a little bit at a time. NOTE: The mustard is rough, not smooth. This is a high fiber mustard in case you were wondering.

This is a photo of a mini-food chopper with mustard making ingredients in it.

Step 1: Garlic, Spices, Salt and Vinegar

The turmeric will stain plastic and silicon spatulas so use old ones if you care about staining your kitchen ware. I used a mini food chopper for the task and it was perfectly fine.

This is a photo of mustard flowers in a food processor with spices.

Add a handful of flowers at a time and pulse.

This is an image of a food processor with ground spices and mustard flowers in it.

Don't be scared. Something good can still come out of this. Just add water.

Outcome: I’m not sure if this is edible or not. I lifted the lid to my mini-chopper and the way the scent hit my brain can only be described as a pick axe that was suddenly inserted up my nose with intent to split my brain in two. The intense burning in my sinuses only served to make me take a step backwards and say, “Whoa!” On exhale, my sinuses relaxed and I stopped for a moment to consider the following: store bought mustard is over processed; this is undiluted mustard flowers, picked two hours ago in Nature. Old fashioned plasters and poultices for chest colds and coughs came to mind and the medicinal smell that singed my nostril’s mucosal lining made me race over to my computer to search the internet on mustard flower for warnings and recipes. Guess what? There are no recipes for “mustard made from mustard flowers” that I could find in a reasonable amount of time. That was a bit unnerving. There are books for sale with foraging recipes, but overall a few pages in to this subject and I was done with research.

Basically, mustard flowers aren’t toxic and they won’t kill me. I moved on to storing it. There is one tool in my kitchen, besides the power tools, that I just LOVE and can’t do without: a wide mouth funnel. Treat yourself to one and let it be your forever-kitchen-friend.

This is a photo of a Kerr jar with a metal wide mouth funnel on it.

Wide mouth funnels are in my top ten kitchen items to love.

There are countless sites stating that mustard flowers are edible and have been used in love potions, salads and garnishes and even given as gifts to symbolize spring and abundance. Some sites remind us to be careful because some people are highly allergic to mustard. Other sites tell delightful and charming stories of how paths were created by explorers to use in the springtime to return from whence they came.

This is a photo of the jar of mustard I produced from the flowers I found in Rose Canyon.

Annie's Rose Canyon Wild Mustard

This wild mustard is down right SPICY HOT! Think horseradish. My mouth was on fire from just a little teeny-tiny taste. I’m not prone to getting hysterical when my mouth is on fire from the occasional chili pepper in food, and in fact, I do enjoy a bit of heat in my food…but this…this was off the charts hot. This reminded me of the spicy hot Chinese mustard that I don’t enjoy because it is just too hot for my liking.

In the end, I am thrilled that I foraged and made something unusual and gourmet.  I will make sure that everyone who visits my home gets a taste of my first batch of homemade garlic and white wine vinegar mustard.

So, be honest with me: Is this something you would make and eat? I’d like to know.

Port of San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA – Restaurants Around the Cruise Ship Terminal

There are five noteworthy food places near the cruise ship terminal and one not so noteworthy. In order of quality, with the last one being so-so, I give you my take on the places we wined, dined or grabbed snacks at while in the Port of San Pedro.

This is a photo of the exterior of the Whale and Ale Pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Look for this wonderful pub when in port.

1.) Whale and Ale – British Pub and Restaurant
Atmosphere: Casual, typical pub decor, dark wood paneling and beautiful bar
Noise: no problem during the day (no reference for nighttime)
Stars for it’s category: 5
Price: $$ 1/2
Upon walking in I noticed the silence of the people enjoying a late lunch. I mention the silence because where I come from, if no one is talking the food is so incredible, they can’t stop eating long enough to talk let alone breathe. Since there wasn’t a cruise ship in town, nor one expected for two more days, I assumed that the folks enjoying lunch were locals. A quick chat with Gail, a friendly bartender revealed that the majority of their business is from locals and not cruisers.

This is a photo of the carving of a whale over the bar in the Whale and Ale pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Now, this is one smug whale!

This is a photo of Anand Kolatkar at the Whale and Ale Pub in Port San Pedro, CA enjoying a cold pint of Guiness.

Sláinte

This is a photo of a plate of pub chips (french fries) with a side of curry mayonaise.

Pub Chips with Curry Mayonaise

Since it was mid-day for us and we had already eaten lunch and were just passing time until happy hour, we ordered a basket of chips and a couple pints. It was perfect! The entire menu looked thoughtful, extensive and wonderful so we vowed to return to sample some of the gourmet items on the menu.

This is a photo of the menu at the Whale and Ale pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Have something with the pig's ear!

PS: Next to the pub is a darling little shop if you are into elegant, vintage or upscale home decor with a penchant for English (Stratfordshire) bone china tea cups and tea pots. Here you will find the miniature silver spoons for your sugar bowls and unique table items from candlesticks to napkin rings. Let your inner hostess emerge at the Garden Shop!

This is a photo of the gift shop next door to the Whale and Ale pub in Port San Pedro, CA.

Garden Shop - Port of San Pedro, CA

This is a photo of Mishi's Cafe store front window in Port San Pedro, CA.

Mishi's Cafe Store Front

2.) Mishi’s Strudel Bakery and Cafe – Homemade Hungarian Food
Atmosphere: Casual, artsy, bright interior
Noise: no problem
Stars for it’s category: 4.5
Price: $$

Aside from the classic European facade painted on the windows with wrought iron cafe tables out front that alerted me that I was in for something delightful, I was greeted with one of the warmest, most cheerful smiles by a cafe server when I walked in the door. Cerlie (meaning “Happy” in Malaysian) helped us select our breakfast menu items and worked efficiently to have everything to the table in as little time as possible. This is an important mention because strudel takes time to make and bake. There is a process to strudel that takes time and the food is fresh, hot and delicious as a natural consequence! We observed that people who don’t have time to wait for their order, may not want to order strudel. Since we were first inside at opening, we got served immediately.

This is a photo of bacons and eggs and a croissant at Mishi's Strudel Cafe.

Breakfast at Mishi's Strudel Cafe

This particular Friday morning followed  “First Thursday of the Month” where this art district neighborhood is open until midnight as they showcase works of art, singers, musicians, poets and more and this cafe was shorthanded by three women workers due to the demands of the previous night. It also affected the remaining supply of strudel choices since they sold out a number of flavors the night before. However, I can’t imagine this place having a bad strudel.

This is a photo of Mishi's Strudel Cafe store front window on the left.

All it needs to say is "Yummmm!"

Their coffee is organic and imported from Guatemala. I had one of the most incredible Americano coffee drinks ever. Smooth, round, not a trace of bitterness, great scent and a long finish; this was perfection in a cup.

This is a photo of beef strudel from Mishi's Strudel Cafe in Port San Pedro, CA.

Mishi's Beef Strudel

Feeling hungry and somewhat adventurous, I opted for the beef strudel which is something I never have had before. WOW! It was seasoned with just the right amount of onion and Hungarian paprika. There were other spices in it, but I couldn’t readily identify them except to say that it was very similar to a ground beef taco filling. Now, I’ll admit, that sounds almost offensive to say that the Hungarian strudel tasted like Mexican food, but it was very similar…and I couldn’t eat enough of it it was that good!

My daughter, almost three, loved the little pickles they serve on the side. (For me, it would be sacrilegious to mix coffee and pickles first thing in the morning). And, as you can see from the chair she is sitting in, the decor is shabby chic living room-coffeehouse.

This is a photo of Arabella in Michi's Strudel Cafe sitting in an upholstered armchair.

Goldilocks thinks this chair is just right!

This is a photo of flourless almond strudel.

Flourless Almond Strudel

This is a photo of a small sample of cookies we bought at Mishi's Strudel Cafe for the ride home.

A small box of TOTALLY AWESOME cookies 'to go' with their TOTALLY AWESOME coffee for our ride home.

This is a photo of the shipping channel from the deck of Ports O' Call restaurant in Port of San Pedro, CA.

January Sunset on the Port San Pedro Shipping Channel

3.) Ports O’ Call – Happy Hour at the bar
Atmosphere: Casual, Wharf side
Noise: no problem inside or out
Stars for it’s category: 2
Price: $$

The first thing I loved about this place was the wide open deck overlooking the shipping channel with its multiple heaters overhead and brick fireplaces. It faces south somewhat which means the sun isn’t in your eyes at sunset and the sun bathes the red cranes and ships in warm light creating a soft and somewhat inviting panorama of what would otherwise be a cold, hard, mechanical, industrial scene. Cargo, fire, tugboats and cruise ships all pass within yards of your front row seat on the channel and I happen to love the atmosphere here being a sailor of many, many years.

This is a photo of a man and his little daughter next to the fire pit on the deck of the Ports O' Call bar in Port of San Pedro, CA.

Fi-Er. Fiiiii Errr. Ooooo. Fire.

This is a photo of a plate of deep fried chicken tenders and two dipping sauces at Port O' Call bar in Port of San Pedro, CA.

Port O' Call - fabulous chicken appetizer with delicious, hot, spicy sauce and Ranch dressing.

There are free appetizers inside the bar area during Happy Hour. Tortilla chips and salsa, taco makings and cheese cubes. Nothing noteworthy, in fact, nothing special at all. Since it is free food, and didn’t taste all that great, I’d say it was cheap and nasty. Teasers, not pleasers. I don’t eat this kind of food so I avoid it.

We enjoyed the simple and inexpensive house merlot and cabernet sauvignon with 1/3 lb Angus burgers that were nicely priced at $5. And all our waitresses were attentive and efficient with their service.

The creme brulee gets an “F” for failure.
A small hankering for something sweet overcame me and I asked to see the dessert menu. There were the typical items you see in restaurants these days from a vial of fresh strawberries with cream, warmed chocolate lava cake, cheesecake and creme brulee. I ordered the latter. It was the most bizarre creme brulee I ever ate and I do not recommend it. The sugar on top was not crisp in fact I had to look closely to make sure it was even there at all. Using the light of a cellphone I began examining the creme brulee for what was wrong with it. A strange substrata of brown colored custard on the bottom and lighter cream on top could only be the result of improper technique and bad ingredients. The cold sweat on the ramikin and on the sugar topping told me this had been made in advance and was sitting in a fridge. It was disgusting.

Entrance

4.) Ante’s – Traditional Dalmatian Coast Food (Croatia)

Atmosphere: semi-casual with deep traditional booths
Noise: no problem
Stars for it’s category: 3.5-5
Price: $$$

I had to do some research to determine a few things before I could write a review of this food. I had a hunch that this Croatian food from the Dalmatian Coast was not to be judged in haste. If you like bland, healthy food that is properly cooked, you’ll think it is five star cuisine; if you like lots of garlic, flavor and complex seasoning you’ll be heavily disappointed in this regional cooking. The food was incredibly fresh, no doubt, but it was very plain. Looking around at the clientele, you notice that everyone appears to be of retirement age. And, I think that this is comfort food for any stomach that can’t handle too much in the way of herbs and spices. One friend who would move to Croatia in a heartbeat said that when she was there she noted that the motto of the chefs seems to be “Catch it, kill it, grill it.” Need I say more?

The wine list was very good. The bar was very well stocked and our friends and us were of the opinion that this would be an EXCELLENT place to grab a traditional martini since the ambiance was so RETRO! You know the place, it’s where all the young  dotcommers went after work because they thought they were looking and acting so cool when they found their mom and dad’s dive bar and had their first cocktail.

Our meals were simple: slices of roast lamb (sans seasoning), baked potato, steamed vegetables. Salmon in garlic and olive oil, steamed vegetables, with rice and leeks. The rice with leeks was very bland, but with a pat of butter, salt and pepper we were beginning to get somewhere. My chicken and veal risotto I chose so that I could have a gluten free meal to share with my little daughter. This massive bowl of risotto would have fed the entire table! Yet, it was very plain and I felt obliged to salt and pepper it and add some butter. No one could say the meal was anything but good, home-style cooking yet, it was nothing to write home about. It had good, strong, quality ingredients and nothing that would give youdigestive problems later if you had a sensitive gut.

A small side note: I noticed all the to-go bags were recycled Whole Foods grocery bags. Upon asking our hilarious waitress, Kate who was able to overlook any of her shortcomings with a boisterous laugh, she told me that the chef sends a runner to the local Whole Foods in Longbeach to buy many ingredients for the restaurant. A+, chef!

5.) Off the Vine – Wine and cheese store up the street from the cruise terminal on 6th street
Stars for it’s category: 4.5
Price: $$

Looking for a good bottle of wine? and some cheese to go with it? Here you will find a wonderful array of delicious cheeses and friendly owners to coach and guide you in just the right selection. No one is more cut out for this business than this couple. We enjoyed two sheep milk cheeses from Spain,the  most notable one being the Manchego.It was by far one of the best Manchego’s I had ever had, so this gets them an A+ on their score card. They have over 200 wines that they sell for under $25 and have some nice services for cruisers. They are located around the corner from the Warner theater.

This is a photo of the storefront of Sacred Grounds Coffee Cafe - Port San Pedro, CA.

Look for the theater marquee and all the skateboarders outside.

6.) Sacred Grounds – Coffee Cafe

Atmosphere: Very casual, living room
Noise: no problem inside or out
Stars for it’s category: 1
Price: $$

Umm, in all honesty, I’d have to tell you that the coffee at Mishi’s was a thousand times better than this coffeehouse so avoid it completely. That being said, the groovy dude from Jamaica was friendly to each and everyone he greeted and made an amazing mocha for Anand. He takes his barista duties quite seriously and I would say that every step was a pleasure to watch from packing the espresso to measuring the cocoa and the final topping of whipped cream.

Again, you can get awesome coffee, pastry and free wi-fi at Mishi’s so unless you want a more grungy setting to hang out in, I’d skip Sacred Grounds and go straight to Mishi’s.

India’s Rich Cuisine – Part II

in Food, Hotels, India      tags:

Breakfast in Jaipur highlighted the foods of India’s south – dosas, rice and lentil batter pancakes made on a dark griddle.  It was served on top of a green banana leaf, on a platter formed to resemble an artist’s palette with wells indented in which to put railway chutney, curry leaf, tomato and coconut chutney.  Inside was a scoop of hot spicy potato mash.  Delicate and delicious!

Other Southern Indian breakfast items included the small white idlis, made of steamed rice flour, and medhu vada, a dense doughnut made of lentil.  Also, sago vada- chick pea gram flour soaked for 24 hours, then ground fine, formed into balls and fried.

Lunch at the Maharajah in Jaipur treated us to the desert cuisine of Rajasthan.  Laal Mas, lamb curry and Kher Sangri, the skinny desert beans and berries, dried, then rehydrated and cooked with onions and spices, was a superb introduction to the region, and to dishes we had never heard of before.  We ordered a rice dish and mint (methi) parantha bread to accompany it.

At the Ranthambhore Taj Hotel, our stay was marred by unexpected monsoon like rains for 2 days.  I struck up a conversation with Nagendra Singh, the General Manager, and soon I was in his office for 2 hours of talking about our mutual love of Indian cooking.  I told him how delicious the food had been the first night, and soon he was calling in the chef and his assistants, bringing ingredients and equipment to show me, such as a wooden butter churn, dried desert berries and beans, gourds, carom seeds for digestion and for stopping bleeding after childbirth. That afternoon was my favorite memory of India.   I was furnished photocopies of each day’s menu, which I transcribe below:

Monday lunch:
Bhindi Jalfrezi – okra fried, tomato, onion, ginger, garlic

Bainghan Bhurta- eggplants baked in charcoal oven, stripped, crushed, with spices and onion

Paneer Achari – farmer’s cheese with pickle and mango sauce from pickling

Pittod Pullao – specific to that region, rice pilaf with gram flour-chickpea, oil, salt, chili powder, aniseeds, curry

Ghosht Saag Nala – Mutton/goat bones in a bright green sauce comprised of mustard greens

Makkhan Wada – refined wheat flour, sugar, ghee, cream dessert

Monday dinner
Paneer Mutter – green peas and cottage cheese

Cabbage Tamater – cumin seeds and grated cabbage strands, tomato shreds

Ghiya Kofta – white gourd, green coriander powder, crushed cottage cheese, crushed potato, balls in tomato gravy

Kadhi – thin chick pea flour gruel, yogurt, coriander powder, turmeric, mustard seeds, garlic, onions, asafetida, made into balls

Vegetable Biryani – light, fluffy rice with small bits of vegetables

Moong dal Halwa- intense, sweet, grainy dessert

Tuesday lunch
Bharwan Capsicum Stuffed with Cheese & Tomato, meltingly delicious and light

Paneer Palak – light farmer cheese in delicate green mustard/spinach sauce

Mutter Tamater Curry – peas, tomato

Chutneys & Tamarind sweet sauce

Pullao – with vegetables, beige, almonds

Keema Liver Masala – ground meat with small vegetables

Tuesday dinner
Murg Methi Malai – chicken with cream gravy, spiced with fenugreek, ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric, tomatoes and red chilies

Gobhi Tamater tomatoes with other vegetables

Sarson ka Saag – spicy mustard/spinach greens with turnip, dill, radish, ginger, green chili

Paneer Tikka Lababdar – farmer’s cheese

Lemon Rice- yellow, light and fluffy

Seviyon di Kheer dessert

We were rolling our eyes with pleasure every time we took a bite.  As soon as Nagendra found out we adored the chef’s food, he organized an outdoor cooking demonstration, under the veranda eaves.  A stainless steel cart with clay tandoor on it was rolled out, and eggplants were impaled on a 4’ skewer and roasted.  After removing the skins, the eggplant was combined with spices and onions and garlic and presented as an appetizer.

There are, according to Nagendra, 5 key ingredients that a cook is able to get anywhere in India: meat (lamb/chicken), clarified butter (ghee), salt, whole red chili, water, garlic.  The chef whipped up a curry using these simple ingredients.

Lastly, he combined chick pea flour with yogurt and oil to form a dough.  He rolled it into tubes and cooked these in water until it foamed.  Then he made a curry with the cooking water and spices.  All were delicious.

While we were in India, we didn’t have one bad meal, only good, delicious, and ambrosially delicious meals!  I won’t recount all the meals we had, but the other really good ones happened at the Lake Palace Hotel.

Chicken Murgh ka Sole, and Mixed Vegetables. This was accompanied by mango pickle, green coriander chili hot sauce, and chutney.  We brought the chef out to compliment him.  He has promised to send the recipes by e-mail, which I will share if I manage to obtain them.

In Jodphur for our 2010 Thanksgiving feast, we enjoyed a blend of north and south India.  Cauliflower and potato stir fried with chili, coriander,coconut, mustard and curry leaves (south) and gosht baghar (north),well marinated lamb cooked slowly with yogurt, mustard seeds, fenugreek and red chilies. Scrumptious cheese paratha accompanied our meal.

Culinary regards,

Claudia and Gail

A Chocolate Dream in Seattle

Theo Chocolate Tasting Room in Seattle

Theo Chocolate's Tasting Room in Seattle

If you are a chocolate lover you must, sooner or later, check out Theo Chocolate in Seattle.  If you can’t visit their incredible tasting room in person of course you can do so on the web, and learn about how their chocolates are organic and fair trade.  But if you can manage to visit their storefront on 3400 Phinney Ave North, you will be able to savor the full experience, including unlimited tasting of chocolate bar samples plus a taste of the excellent sipping chocolates, all free.  They’ve managed to do this because the samples are actually very small (just chips, as you can see above), instead of the truffle pieces offered at some chocolatiers.  This tasting strategy is brilliant and on a rainy Sunday afternoon the room was packed.  On this trip we especially liked the Coconut Curry milk chocolate bar (milk chocolate with toasted coconut and curry spices), the Chai Tea milk chocolate bar (milk chocolate with black tea, clove, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom), but we have to say that our favorite was the Coffee dark chocolate bar, which has a much more complex taste than its ingredients would imply (cocoa beans, coffee beans, and ground vanilla).  They also offer many seasonal specials; we picked up an Apple Cider caramel in dark chocolate, which we are saving for a special occasion, such as watching the SAG awards Sunday night. 

In Seattle we were also lucky enough to have dinner at Serafina, 2043 Eastlake Avenue East, which we hear has a greatly improved menu these days.  It’s safe to describe Serafina as gourmet Italian with a traditional orientation but enough creativity to open your eyes.  We had a duck confit to die for, and the celeriac soup with porcini was so compelling that we’re going to try to get the recipe.

India’s Rich Cuisine – Part I

India’s Rich Cuisine: From Delhi and Punjab to Rajasthan

We are in culinary heaven.  We’ve not only tasted some of the best Indian food of our lives, but some of the best food we’ve ever had, period.

It started at Delhi’s Pindi restaurant, in Pandara Market.  The hottest, juiciest cardamom flecked onion kulcha, with rich tomato butter chicken and vegetable pullao, with mustard seed oily potatoes from northern province of Punjab, were our kickoff into ecstasy with this panoply of northern Indian dishes.

We were surprised to learn of the wide spectrum of Indian regional cuisines.  For example, in many American Indian restaurants, northern Indian cuisine is featured.  Yet, the famous Rogan Josh red lamb curry is actually from Kashmir and didn’t appear on any menu in the state of Rajasthan, where we were traveling.  Korma is from a different region, near Lucknow.  Tandoori ovens are not a staple of households in Rajasthan, but in northerly Punjab.  So we set out with a sense of excitement to enjoy and discover exactly what constitutes Rajasthan cuisine.

Rajasthani cuisine is the cuisine of a semi-desert state.  To avoid using scarce water, meats and vegetables are cooked in butter, buttermilk, yogurt, or clarified butter (ghee).  Fresh vegetables were once scarce, but now appear on every menu.  There is ample use of dal, dried lentils, then cooked in a sauce.  Breads are roasted in the local equivalent of a tandoor or griddle.  Chick pea flour (gram flour) is formed into balls, and set into the coals from water buffalo dung, and eaten by country people for breakfast or lunch.

Along the road we stopped for tandoori chicken and a thali.  The thali is a system of organizing a complete meal, using either a tray upon which are set little steel dishes full of foods, or a dish in which are sunk wells to contain the food.  Our first thali offered dishes of white rice, mint coriander yogurt sauce, fresh vegetables, cabbage curry, cooked vegetables, lentils, and rice pudding.  In the middle of the tray were stacked pappadum, crispy thin pepper flatbreads, and naan, tandoori bread.

Up next: Breakfast in Jaipur and Thanksgiving in Jodhpur.

Culinary regards,

Claudia and Gail

Flatlanders -VS- Mountain People at Butt Lake Reservoir, Plumas County, CA

This is a photo of two guys inflating a pool toy to use on the lake.

Hugh and the "Mountain Kid" inflate pool toys for the girls to use on the lake.

We have some friends in Chester and their kids are rather amusing to us City-folk. We’re very amusing to these mountain kids who think we know nothing about living in the country. We said nothing to the contrary. Sometimes the best way that kids learn is by witnessing to a person’s experience. Our friends dropped their kids off at our campsite for a day and a night with their bikes and a friend in tow.

The firs thing these kids did was establish that they were “Mountain People” and we were “Flatlanders”. When they described themselves, they did this little hand routine where they pounded their chest and then punched the air with their fists. We busted up before they were through defining our mutual roles.

Urban Dictionary defines flatlanders for us: the term flatlander isn’t specific to any state. It’s a term that all mountain people use to describe tourist that don’t have the skills/knowledge to recreate in the mountains.

Sweetheart No.1 is about ten years old –we’ll call her Valentina. Spunky, she liked to hang around the action but didn’t want the boys bugging her and her friend. She showed up with a pink girls bike that needed some TLC. These kids use street bikes on country roads and go over pot holes, grassy fields, through creeks and runoff and anything that falls down a mountain. Valentina was telling me about all these cool stunts she can do on a bike and I asked her to show me. She announced that she couldn’t because the seat kept falling off, the handlebars were not staying in place and the front tire was wonky. I asked her why she didn’t ask someone to fix it for her and looked over at the guys. They shrugged with indifference.

Flipping down the backseat of my truck, I pulled out some tools and started tuning her bike. Then she went into action for us.

This is a photo of a girl balancing on her bike seat with one leg while sticking her other leg straight out the back while holding her handlebars.

Bike Stunt by 10 year old girl

Sweetheart No. 2 is a tad older, perhaps eleven –we’ll call her Blondie. She and her brother wouldn’t quit throwing barbs over at each other. It was very friendly fire and we laughed at all of it. She seemed more the intellectual type as she was looking forward to going back to school come September.

This is a photo of two girls on their bikes in Cool Springs Campground at Butt Lake Reservoir, Plumas County, CA.

Girls on Bikes at Cool Springs Campground, Butt Lake Res.

This is a photo of a teenage boy examining a box labeled River Rat Tube.

Bike Boy Examines A River Rat Tube

Blondie’s brother is your normal teenager of about 14 –we’ll call him The Bike Guy. He and his buddy, who we will call Mountain Kid were high on sugar the entire time we were around them. It was Mountain Kid that provided the most entertainment for us as he accused us of doing our hunting at Safeway. And he called us “Flatlanders”.

This is a photo of a young teenage boy in an American Flag t-shirt in a camp chair with a camoflauge baseball hat on.

American Mountain Kid

He wasn’t joking. Since he could carry a rifle, he has been hunting his meals with Dad and his Grandfather. His mom runs a garden in their backyard and they live off the land. He amused us with stories of hunting deer, boars, pheasants, fish, and wild turkey. He talked about his camouflage clothes, why you don’t want to shower with soap or use detergent to wash your clothes before hunting because the animals can smell it.  He talked of guns, bows, knives and traps and we listened like it was the last story hour of our lives. Mountain Kid was Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Tarzan, Daniel Boone and Rambo all rolled into one 15 year old package.

At campfire that night, Bike Boy’s dad placed a whoopie cushion that could be operated by remote control under someone’s camp seat. Without warning, it went off and everyone was laughing out of control and trying to figure out  who was responsible. Blame was being passed from kid to kid and when one of them revealed that it couldn’t have been Mountain Kid because “his smell gamey”. Well, our family went into total and complete hysterics at that one and it was a while before anyone could speak. He became legendary in that moment.

This is a photo of four sweethearts at camp.

Flatlanders and Mountain People

My sister, Frances, had the next best laugh. The girls wanted to get their share of the fun on the rope swing before they had to go home in the morning. It was about 4:30PM and the sun was headed over the hill. Temperatures were dropping. Frances asked the girls if they had a change of clothes with them since they didn’t have swimsuits. No, they didn’t but it was okay. Frances cautioned them that there wasn’t enough sunlight left to dry out and then they would be freezing cold later. They defied her thumping their chests with their fist saying, “We’re mountain people, we’re mountain people!” No, they knew better. Off they went and one of them lost a shoe. And they froze that night.

In the morning, Frances raised an eyebrow, handed them hot mugs of cocoa and said something along the lines of, “Guess we Flatlanders aren’t so stupid after all, huh?”

While I wasn’t there, I did hear reports back about how my brothers impressed the heck out of the boys with their skills, knowledge and abilities in the mountains. The girls had their own fun with us and I’m sure none of them Mountain People remembered us when they wrote their “What I did this summer” essay.

Stay tuned for more fun with youngsters!

BBQ News Update

in BBQ, Food, Travel      tags: , , , ,

BBQ News

Must-read article about barbecue in the January/February issue of Westways Magazine (from AAA), including an essential description of the basic regional types of barbecue in the U.S. and Caribbean/Mexico.  Note all you purists — different strokes for different folks when it comes to flavors and sauces (or lack thereof)!  “My way is the only way” doesn’t cut it in BBQ!  🙂

(but everyone has his or her favorite, we understand)

UA-101177352