Sunday, January 27, 2013

We did not appear in Top Chef Seattle

My Aussie husband and I like to watch food competition shows.  Mostly we sit back, critique the dishes and think we could have done better.   
Except when it comes to Top Chef.  We are constantly amazed with what the “cheftestants” can come up with in their allotted time, and are jealous of their presentations.  So you can understand our excitement when we found out they were filming the 10th season of the show in our hometown of Seattle last summer.  We had some connections in the local foodie scene, and thought we might be able to get into some of the tastings done while filming, or at least hear some good behind-the-scenes stories from friends who seem to always be involved in anything interesting going on in town.    
The answers to those hopes were “no”, and “no”.  We were very disappointed when all we could find out about was sightings around town, from various blogs and Facebook posts.   We felt left out, out of the loop, off the grid.  We almost lost our appetite for food competitions…    however, being addicted to the show,  we did still look forward to watching when it went to air.  We wanted to see if we could a) spot anyone we knew in the crowd scenes, b) see if we could figure out where the different scenes were filmed and c) spot the location discrepancies in editing.  (like in Sleepless in Seattle, where they got into a little skiff at their houseboat on Lake Union, and got out on the beach at Alki Point, miles away – through the locks – and in the saltwater Puget Sound)   
So far, we have not seen anyone we know personally, and we have not spotted any glaring discrepancies.  We do however wonder how much time the chefs spent driving all over town to do their shopping as they seem to be driving across Lake Washington repeatedly.  If you live in Seattle, you will know that traffic across the floating bridges on the lake is usually bad, giving you lots of time to enjoy the views of the boats on the lake and the mountains in the distance.  Maybe the producers want the chefs to truly appreciate the beauty of the region?  As the next episode takes the action away from Seattle we will have to give up our obsession with spotting someone we know, and can maybe just watch the show like normal people.  And start plotting to go to all the restaurants featured in Top Chef Seattle.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Learn the Language (Part 2)

I like to cook, and I like to think I am familiar with a lot of the major cuisines of Europe.  I have learned some food terms in different languages, and I try to brush up on the words for foods I particularly like before we head off to our next destination.  This has served me well when traveling in France, Spain, Italy, and other countries whose food has inundated American culture. (ok - maybe not so successful in Spain - see part 1) Finding a menu posted outside a restaurant that translates the dishes into reasonable English helps too.  This did not work as well when we went to Portugal last year.  I realized when we arrived that I had no idea what food was served there.  It was quite a learning experience, as we encountered menus with food terms we did not understand.  There was, however, always fish.  Very fresh fish, usually grilled whole and simply prepared with olive oil and salt.  Different fish were popular in different regions, but salt cod (bacalhau) was a constant everywhere.  What more did we need??   We returned home with the impression that fish was what was eaten in Portugal. 

They didn't have what I ordered, so the waiter brought this out.  Pescadinha - it was delicious!

Before this second trip, we did a little homework.  We bought a cookbook of Portuguese dishes.  We looked up food terms.  We LEARNED THE LANGUAGE.  So when we sat down for our first meal in Lisbon, we were excited to see that there were many, many options besides our beloved fish.  Pork, beef, chicken, omelets - even salads.  It is amazing what you can find when you know what you are looking for.  We discovered dishes like Iscas (pork liver), Bitoque (beef steak with a fried egg on top) and my personal favorite, Porco com Ameijoas a Alentejana (pork with clams from Alentejo).  Maybe by our next trip there we will be ready to tackle the truly regional dishes, and maybe, just maybe we will be able to pronounce their names correctly.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

OK! Fine! I’ll write about food.

My Aussie husband thinks I may be a little too obsessed with fireworks and has gently suggested that I pick another topic to write about.  By this, he means pick something he is interested in.  And so, we turn to food.   Specifically, swanky food we ate in Madeira.  When we travel, we are usually drawn to the smaller, local, family-owned places to eat because the food is usually decent and it is a good value.  Plus, we like to think we are helping to support the local economy directly.  On this trip to Madeira we were going to be there on Christmas so my Aussie husband thought we should find someplace special (and open) for our Christmas Day dining.  We had several options surprisingly, and decided to go for lunch at The Vine, rather than the 150 Euro feed at Reids Palace because that would have required fancy clothes.  We were on vacation!  We were not going to pack fancy clothes for one meal.  The restaurant at The Vine hotel turned out to be a fine choice as the view was lovely, the presentation impressive, and the food very tasty.  They had 3 courses with a choice for the appetizer and the main and what was described as a “Christmas trunk” for dessert.  I think they may have meant “log” instead of “trunk”, but it was very chocolaty and Christmas-y anyway.  I forgot to take a picture of it, but I did take pictures of the “venison and chicken pate’ in crust and duck foie gras” appetizer and the “roasted Alentejo black pork loin” main.  (I need to mention that anytime pork is on the menu, that is what my Aussie husband will order.)  
venison and chicken pate’
Pork 2 ways

Most of the rest of our meals in Funchal were of the tasty, homey, platter-o-food variety which was fine by us.  Except for this one.  It was our last day on the island, and we were struggling to find a place to have lunch as it was also New Years Day.   We wandered down a side street that we had previously avoided (because it looked “touristy”) and were relieved to find a place open.   I was intrigued when I saw an item on the menu that was roughly translated as “oven roasted banana in bacon” and had to order it.  It was incredibly delicious, and beautifully presented.  I didn’t care if this was a tourist place or not – I was in love!  It was a little sweet, a little salty, and the diced onion and red capsicum added a perfect bright note.  The reduction on the side tied it all together.  I think it might have been a Madeira wine reduction rather than a balsamic one, but no one in the restaurant could answer my question that day.  I am going to try to duplicate it at home.  Soon!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The BEST fireworks display? Madeira Island.

I have now seen what I believe to be the most impressive New Year fireworks display ever.  On the Portuguese island of Madeira, no less.  360 degrees of brilliant color and sound, for almost 10 minutes.    
The city of Funchal is set in a natural amphitheater facing the bay, and they take full advantage of the geography to present an awesome experience on New Year’s Eve.  They set off fireworks from the waterfront, from barges in the bay, and from points up in the hills – all choreographed in sequence.   I was in fireworks heaven!  I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this display, as it seems to be a really big deal for Europeans.  They pile on cruise ships by the thousands and sail down just for New Year’s Eve.  The harbor in Funchal is filled with massive ships who all toot their horns at the end of the show.  This year, they also played a “Ship’s Horn Concert” earlier in the evening, using the various tones of the cruise ship horns to play an actual melody.  I was entranced! 
My fireworks pictures are blurry and pathetic as we were on the waterfront in a mass of people, so I will just give you one.  If you want a really good idea of the spectacle, go watch this YouTube video.  (the fireworks start about 1:40 into the video) 

Better yet, plan to go and see them for yourself next year.   =)