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Archive for Food

Jodhpur – The City of Blue Walls and Great Forts

in Food, India      tags: , ,

The rutted way from Pushkar to Jodhpur leads past lime and chemical factories wafting yellow dust.  Jodhpur is Rajasthan’s second largest
city and one of the most prosperous.  The largest fort in Asia, the beautiful Mehrangarh “Majestic Fort” was begun in 1459 atop a sheer
sandstone abutment 400 feet high.  Massive 120 feet tall walls protect ornate palaces with panels carves in wood and stone, half-moon eyebrow
windows, stained glass and scroll work.  Panoramic views of the Brahmins’ pale blue houses, the downtown clock tower and Umaid Bhawan palace are spectacular from the heights.

We visited Jaswant Thada, the cenotaph (no body buried, only memorial structure) of the maharajah, built in 1899.  It’s a mix of Hindu, Buddhist, English and Mughal styles in shimmering white marble, overlooking the city.

We came down to street level to the chaotic market, with loud blaring of horns, a crush of people hawking spices, fruits, vegetables, cutlery, sundries and cloth, all surrounding the clock tower.  Unusual were the water chestnuts, whole, with dark covering, as well as betel leaves for chewing and spitting.  Public drinking fountains quench locals’ thirst in the 130 degree F summer heat.
For our 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.

We gave heartfelt thanks to have been born in the USA.

Claudia and Gail

Christmas in San Diego, CA – Little Italy by Day

This is a photo of India Street signage proclaiming "Little Italy".

Retro signage for the Little Italy neighborhood

The charm of a large city lies in its many neighborhoods that are formed by the cultural influences of a unique group of people. In Little Italy, San Diego, CA this little neighborhood was crafted over the years by fishermen and their families, restaurateurs, grocers and bakers from Italy. Of late, the addition of art, festivals and general tourism have brought a resurgence of energy, money and even more local color into this retro/modern area and brought about a charming revitalization.

Here’s the approach into Little Italy from India Street of all things! The signage has been the neighborhood landmark.

This is a photo of India Street as you drive towards Little Italy.

Little Italy on India Street

The corners are festooned with lovely ‘wooden’ soldiers playing a variety of musical instruments in wine barrels filled with red poinsettias.

This is a photo of a wooden soldier blowing a trumpet in a flower barrel.

The Trumpeter

Windows are dressed for Christmas and storefronts look inviting. The general atmosphere is warm and cheerful. Red “Buon Natale” flags are atop the lampposts and line the blue sky. White, sparkly snowflakes dance nearby.

This is a photo of the Christmas decor along India Street in the neighborhood of Little Italy.

Christmas Decor in Little Italy, San Diego

For a quick and amazing bite of pizza by the slice, visit Landini’s Pizzeria. Lightly browned thin crusts, divine red sauce, delicious toppings and heated to piping hot perfection before being served with Peroni draft beer to wash it all down!

This is a photo of Landini's Cafe

Dine here for delicious pizza by the slice!

This is a photo of a sandwich board advertizing pizza prices. Ha, ha!

A sandwich board that advertises everything but sandwiches! OK, I'll give you "Paninis" but it is a glorified sandwich!

The buildings in the area have been modernized and new, European-style, condo-mixed use buildings have popped up in recent years. Many are full, many still looking for buyers and lessors in the depressed housing market.

This is a photo of a modern building on India Street in the Little Italy neighborhood.

Modern Architecture in a Retro Neighborhood

This is a photo of a modern building in the Little Italy neighborhood.

"It's A Grind" coffee cafe on the right (unseen) and a lovely fountain in front creates terrific ambiance.

Walking down India Street in Little Italy is like walking in an outdoor museum. The utility boxes on the streets have been painted by local artists with Italian motifs. The buildings’ walls have large paintings adorning them and it becomes a visual treasure hunt looking around for other pieces.

This is a photo of a utility box painted with an Italian motif to hide its plain and ugly exterior.

This is a photo of a utility box painted with an Italian motif to hide its plain and ugly exterior.

Utility boxes wrapped in artwork

This is a photo of a large Italian themed image painted on a cafe building in Little Italy.

Exterior Wall Painting in Little Italy

This is a photo of a large Italian themed image painted on an office building in Little Italy.

Exterior Wall Painting in Little Italy

It’s a lovely place to spend a couple hours before hoping over to the airport which is just a couple minutes away by taxi. I do hope to return at nighttime to see the lights and mood of the people in cafes as they get into the Holiday spirit!

Famous Sicilian Recipes You’ve Never Heard of…

Polpette al sugo (meatballs in sauce)

Polpette al sugo

… or maybe you have (if you’re Sicilian).  Polpette al sugo is a recipe from our friend Erminia, the great classic Sicilian cook we know who lives in Messina.  You can say that the English translation is “meatballs in tomato sauce,” but that’s like saying that crêpes are pancakes.  This recipe takes the simplest ingredients — ground beef, dinner rolls, tomatoes, onions — and turns them into light, fluffy wonders that melt into a delicately flavored sauce, and then into your mouth. 

The biggest thing that’s different about this recipe from traditional meatballs is that let you let the dish sit for two hours after it’s done cooking.  Simple, yes?  And in general, the recipe is quite simple, except for a few details — you must press all the water out of the soaked dinner rolls before you add them to the meatball mix, and you must handle the meatballs with great care when browning them and adding them to the sauce, or they will fall apart.

More about Messina and its food soon, although there is a sad caveat — since Messina is on, of course, the Strait of Messina, these lucky Sicilians have some of the best seafood in the world, they say because the waters run so deep.  So much of their cooking is based on their fabulous fish, such as the pesce spada (swordfish), and most places in America don’t have access to that quality of fish.  In other words, you’ve gotta go there and try it for yourself.

Note:  as is typical for Italian recipes, only some quantities are specified, so have fun and add ingredients such as the cheeses and parsley to your own taste.

Polpette al Sugo (Meatballs in Sauce)

6 servings

Olive oil as needed
1 sliced onion
a little red wine
Two 30 oz cans tomato sauce
6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 lb lean ground beef
8 oz. soft dinner rolls
2 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup or more chopped Italian parsley
Grated pecorino romano and parmesan cheese
3 eggs

Cover the dinner rolls in water in a large bowl and leave to soak.

In a large pot, saute onion in 1/4 cup olive oil until soft, then add the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, and wine.  Simmer lightly covered for 15 minutes over low heat.

Squeeze out all the water from the dinner rolls.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl and mix with parsley, garlic, the grated cheeses, and pepper and salt to taste.  Add the bread rolls and eggs and knead well.  Using wet hands, make oval meatballs (3 inches long).  Heat 1/2 inch of olive oil on medium high heat in a large saute pan.  Dip the meatballs in flour and saute the meatballs in olive oil until golden, turning very carefully to keep them intact. When finished, drain the meatballs and set aside.

Add the meatballs very gently to the tomato sauce, and simmer lightly covered for 20 to 30 minutes.  Check one meatball to see if they’re cooked through.  When finished, turn off the heat and leave the pot on the burner, lightly covered, for 2 hours.  Warm when ready to eat.

Bordeaux: Hungry Guests Arriving (Oct. 6th, 2007)

Sacramento is producing a new species of gourmet these days:  hard-working women who enjoy fine dining, but don’t have the time (or are remodeling their kitchens and have no stove) to prepare meals.

That means, when they arrive in France , they need food.  If one of our guests hasn’t enjoyed fresh duck, rabbit, or game birds yet, we like to fix one or more of these things.  On the first rest day, we picked up fresh breads, pastries and appetizers of baked endives at the caterer in Gazinet, and Steve barbecued up some duck breasts.  We served them with a fresh pear and liqueur sauce.

The weather did not augur well for touring, so we laid in a massive selection of cheeses into the cheese boat, and a couple of cases of fine Bordeaux reds.  Since 2 cases of wine were not enough, we sallied forth with neighbor Jean-Paul to pick up the 2005 LaFargue futures we had ordered last year.  We were welcomed in style and tasted various reds at 9 in the morning.  Next stop was the House of Wines in the Graves appellation, where we learned about the gravel brought down by the Garonne river, influencing the taste of these southern Bordeaux wines.  The same lady has been offering tastings for 15 years, and we found some delicious sweet white wines and reds.

Thursday was dedicated to shopping in Bordeaux .  There were certain Bordeaux T-shirts, olive oils, colorful napkins, hand towels that just were obligatory!  And the wine organization across from the tourist office was more than generous in giving us beautiful posters.

Rachel had recommended a restaurant by the Quinconces Square called La Belle Epoque.  We reserved and were soon discovering delicious morsels like rouget fish with basil and lemon, and another with warm goat cheese, salad, endive and mushrooms.  Carolynn had a succulent filet mignon of beef with celery root, Steve and Rosemary opted for the classic bistro dish of tender veal in blanquette (a white sauce) in this case with the autumn cepes mushrooms.  Truly outstanding.  Claudia enjoyed a pastry packet of Indian spices and mushrooms with game bird and vegetables.  We had a Saint Robert 2004 Graves and a Lusseau 2004 Graves red.  For dessert we tried a scoop of mandarin sorbet side by side with a meltingly gooey chocolate cake, citrus cream and mandarin oranges.  The other dessert was an apple tart with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, plus coffees, more little glasses with chantilly cream and raspberry sauce.  The 1880 interior of this classic café added to the enjoyment.  We had never seen such a fervor of sweating waiters straining to serve us!  The chef emerged and shook our hands as we complimented him on the wonderful food!

The next day was even more gourmet, as we drove far north up the Medoc peninsula in search of an English speaking tour of Chateau Lynch-Bages and a lunch at the old customs house on the estuary, la Maison du Douanier.  At first, we did not hit it off well with the theatrical proprietors the DiTullios., but when we found out they had just come back from NY from their son’s wedding, and how much they love America, all was well.

The day was calm, still and overcast, so we sat just inside the large glass windows open to the lawn and the river.  Baby blue soft tablecloths and Breuer chairs constituted the décor.  The first little dish to emerge from the kitchen gave us a hint of the fine dining that was to come.  A slice of fresh smoked salmon with a chive cream topped by piquant little red pepper berries.  Four immense green salads fresh and perfectly dressed with vinaigrette.  Two dishes of the marsh grass fed Pauillac lamb, with tiny potatoes in their skins, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes cooked gently (perhaps in white wine and olive oil?).  8 scallops surrounding a stack of the famous cepes of Bordeaux mushrooms, now in season.  The consistency of scallops and cepes was identical.  Your brain tried to figure out which you were biting into if you closed your eyes.  And a local bass in a thick cream lemon sauce, with vegetables.  Carolynn made an executive decision right away:  more cepes!  So we ordered another whole plate for the four of us.  We downed a bottle of 2004 Lusseau Graves – and the local gold-medal winning 2003 Medoc red La Gorce.  The slightly grainy, crystalline, light Grand Marnier souffle arrived with a sparkler burning on it for Steve’s 76th birthday.  A fine, flourless chocolate cake and perfect raspberry, lime or pistachio sorbets with waffle cookie put Rosemary and Carolynn over the top.  But there were still coffees and little rum-soaked Madeleine cakes to cap off the meal.  We rated the meal an A.

Evelynn & Michel Allien in front of Chateau Dudon

Evelynn & Michel Allien in front of Chateau Dudon

The next day, it was down to Chateau Dudon for what we thought would be a tasting, and which turned out to be a 5 course lunch served by the owners Evelyne, her husband Michel, and her daughter Francoise.  We were joined by Allain, the highest ranked sommelier in the world (in 1986).  Also attending were the sculptor’s agent Rene Mas, and Pascal (an entrepreneur from Lyon who is opening a wine bar).  We were treated to a vertical tasting of Chateau Dudon sweet white Barsac wine from vintages of 2000, 2001 (the last bottle in existence), 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.  Also on hand were a 2006 burgundy from Hautes Cotes de Nuits, a 2004 Chateau Anthonic from Moulis en Medoc, Chateau d’Aney Medoc 1999.  We started with little herb or proscuitto studded goat cheeses, tiny frankfurters, cepes bread, and then a huge platter of freshly made pate with foie gras, and hazelnut sausage, and smoked duck breast.  Then after an interval another huge platter arrived, with a giant salmon, head and all.  It was delicately cooked in Sauternes wine, and was moist and succulent.  A giant bowl of salad, a giant platter of 10 cheeses, followed by pear tarts, apple tarts and coffees made us ready to nap.  Rene was joking incessantly with Evelyne and Rosemary on either side of him, flirting and saying slightly off-color things.   The “gentlemen” invited Rosemary and Carolynn to a winetasting that evening in a castle in Blaye.  Instead, we exchanged business cards with the wine buyers, and trolled the aging cellars for more oil paintings by Evelyne.  The 2007 Sauternes harvest ended last night, and we could hear all 22,000 liters fizzing in the tanks.  We were fizzing, too!

We are now sitting in front of a nice fire, eating our Sunday lunch of duck foie gras and sweet white wine, followed by rabbit cooked with bacon, peas, mushrooms, cream, onions and garlic and white wine, followed by pastries from the local best bakery.  Tomorrow we diet!

October 6, 2007

Oil Painting of Munnar Tea Plantation, Kerela, India: A Place For Total Peace and Quiet In India

in Food, India, Tea      tags: , ,
Oil Painting of Munnar Tea Plantation, Kerela by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar

Munnar Tea Plantation, Kerela, India

Almost a hundred thousand hectares of tea grows in the hills of Munnar in the state of Kerela, India. It is somewhat remote and completely restful. The perfect place for a morning cup of tea while reading the Indian Times newspaper.

In a world where a billion people reside and make noise, this place offers peace and tranquility matched only by the Himalayas.

 The silence in the morning was met with the occasional sound of a bird call, a woman singing as she picked tea leaves or the rare taxi on the road bringing a guest to the few five star resorts in the area. At night it is quiet and a far distant light could be seen across the valley of perhaps a car miles away. This is one of the few places I have walked by starlight in search of a beer wishing I had a flashlight; and if it weren’t for the promise of a cold beer at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have been out walking at all.

Scottish immigrants cultivated this land from the mid 19th century, developing the tea plantations and establishing the trade out of Munnar. Tata Corp now owns the vast majority of the land and several American franchised resorts share this particular view of the valley which is absolutely stunning when the morning mist lifts off the lake and recedes into the surrounding hillside.

Beyond the mountains are the ghats in Tamil Nadu which have animal sancuaries and other agricultural resources.

Inside this valley, cardamom is grown for export along with black pepper. A small local village behind the hills surrounding the lake share the work of the various processes required for growing and curing the spice before it is ready to use.

I have a penchant for painting the least likely scenes from a country. I like things that are universal in appeal. To my mind’s eye, this could be any one of the British Isles, for example. What do you think? Does it remind you of another place? Would you have known it was tea growing on those hills?

Hindu Offering to the Gods – Food for Thought

Food As A Hindu Offering to the Gods

Hindu Offering Oil Painting, Still Life by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar

Hindu Offering at Munja Ceremony

This still life oil painting was inspired by travel to India.

My husband, Anand’s Hindu Munja (Thread) Ceremony was in Pune, India in January of 2002. Foods common to the people become Hindu offerings for the Gods. Coconuts atop a disk of jaggery (raw, unprocessed sugar), oranges, apples, nuts,basmati rice and mangoe leaves for the God Ganesh to eat –his favorite, I’m told by the Brahmin priest.

Precious metals like copper and silver, natural fibers like cotton and silks and other elements like water and fire complete the ceremony items.

There were several photographs that I considered before choosing this one and the fire ceremony. In particular, this Hindu offering is rich in color, texture and has a vitality to it that some still life paintings lack. I was very curious to paint rice. Up close, the brush strokes decompose but at a distance they are quite discernable as rice.

This piece is commemorative for the Thread Ceremony experience and, while just a small painting measuring 9″ x 12″, it holds up well under scrutiny. I take quite a bit of pleasure from others who take a moment to enjoy the textures and colors assembled so casually by the priest.

Hindu offerings, while assembled from common items, and to the best of my knowledge, are not carefully arranged unless the priest is an artist. Rather, there is a studied carelessness to them that I find appealing. Items are stacked or grouped together on a hand-towel or other small piece of natural fiber fabric. The goal of the priest is to appease the gods not create a still life.

On one occasion, I couldn’t help myself and arranged the objects holding the Hindu offering items a bit more carefully to get better photos. The priests were amused, nor did they seem to mind the American girl.


Thoughts on Food

Chef Raffie

Chef Raffie presenting dessert

Imagine a world with no limits…what would you eat? Where would you go to eat? Who would you share these Divine delights with?

I have a very dear friend, Chef Raffie, who is a world renowned personal chef in the elite circles, and he makes food come to life through all the senses. I believe this is why he is so successful. He makes food a memorable event. He takes something that is essential to our survival and elevates it to unprecedented levels. It nearly borders on the glorification of food.

Life is full of opportunity to explore a spectrum of food experiences…only you can limit yourself. Life as most people know it, is to experience the world in a state of duality, yet that is not the Truth…merely a stage of understanding. In a dualistic mentality, each ingredient will be tasted and judged as good or bad, hot or cold, raw or cooked, unripe or ripe, and on and on. In a dualistic world,  ingredients have an existential shelf life.

Although I am not yet an Enlightened soul, I read from some who are that food, like our bodies, doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion –part of the Dream state that we must eventually wake up from. Since I am curious about this new way of thinking, I wonder about the day when vinegar will not produce a taste or reaction. I am referencing the tale of the three vinegar tasters that is used to compare Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. One found it sour and made a face, another found it bitter and made a face and the third one found it sweet and smiled. I need a name for the fourth vinegar taster who says, “I didn’t taste anything!”

Occasionally, you will hear me singing “Food Glorious Food” from Oliver, sung by the ever wonderful Artful Dodger when the mention of food is brought up. It is glorious! Really good food makes my heart sing! It’s alive with vitality and when that hits my bloodstream, I can’t help but feel wonderful all over. I never call myself a food snob, I just declare that I am very discerning about what I put in my mouth. I want every mouthful to be quality in terms of texture, taste, smell, color, energetically, and so forth. It is truly living by the senses which can, admittedly, get out of hand.

And yes, I preach moderation in the hopes of learning it, but I hardly ever practice it. Would you, if you had the opportunity to eat only the best of the best foods around? I live in California where the organic produce is exceptional –and that includes the wines! (Confession: I have not found a good organic red wine, yet, so that last bit is a reference to wine as a produce item, not an organic produce item!)

I’d love to hear about philosophic thoughts on food…and your confessions! Foodies, in my honest opinion, are not moderate in their appetites. So, how do you create a balanced way of eating and drinking?

Live well and be happy,