Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Day at the Zoo in Buenos Aires

As I mentioned previously, we planned our itinerary all wrong.  We only had a couple of days in Montevideo, Uruguay, and then we moved on to Buenos Aires.  For six days.  I had actually done some research on Argentina's largest city and thought we could easily roam around for at LEAST six days.  The city was huge!  It was the "Paris of South America"!  Not so much.
Maybe it was where we stayed, in the microcenter of the business district.  Maybe it was the time of year - early spring, and the trees were bare and nothing was blooming.  Maybe it was just a bad week to be there.  Whatever the reason, it just was not appealing.  It was drab and dirty and we never felt safe out on the streets.  I had heard that the areas to the north of the business district were more residential and a lot nicer, so we headed up there one day to check it out.  We took the Subte (subway) and when we went up to street level we realized we were at the entrance to the zoo.  Let's go!  It was unlike any zoo I had ever seen.  Some of the big cages right inside the gate were empty, except for the stray house cats that seemed to roam everywhere.  They had taken up residence in them to get out of the rain.

 They were, however, outnumbered by the Mara running all over the place.  These large rodents look like a cross between a rabbit and a guinea pig, and were actually cute.  They were also fairly tame, and knew the sight of the bags containing the "zoo food" pellets meant treats for them.  We saw children feeding lots of them almost everywhere in the zoo.

There were also other cats here.  Big cats.  White Lions (which I had never seen before) and a White Tiger, with 3 adorable cubs.  We spent a lot of time watching them play, as their enclosure was big and gave them plenty of room to chase each other around  Aren't they cuuute?

Friday, December 12, 2014

MEAT - it is what's for dinner!

Meat, with a side or two of meat.  That is what we had for dinner - and lunch - in Montevideo, Uruguay.  An obscene amount of meat. And did I mention that it was grilled?  At the Paradillas we saw, they had massive racks covered in different types of meat, all grilling over different levels of wood coals.  Long coils of sausages sizzling over low coals, gently cooking through... flank steaks searing over the hotter coals... steaks of all sizes... chorizo and morcilla and kidneys and sweetbreads were all wedged onto the grill.

And a token vegetable, something that could double as starch like squash or yam. Bigger than my hand, and heaped on top of all the meat.  My Aussie husband decided it was his duty to consume all that was put in front of him, but even he had to give up on this platter!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Alternative Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving, and we will be at a friend's house eating wonderfully standard T-day fare.  Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes.  We will eat it all and love it.
But I am also loving a new tradition started with our TFS group - the "alternative" Thanksgiving.  We start with all the standard ingredients, but prepare them in a vastly different manner.  This year we went with the theme of Indian food, and had some amazingly tasty dishes.  The host marinated turkey in a tandoori spice mix, then confited it in ghee.  It was unbelievably moist and tender.  Someone else made a curry-spiced pumpkin soup.  We had green beans with coconut, mustard seeds and curry leaves.  Savory cranberry chutney with fennel seeds and garam masala.  Chai-spiced pumpkin pie for dessert.  I am already looking forward to next year's menu!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fancy Coffee in Montevideo

Part of our South America trip was spent in Uruguay - Montevideo, to be exact.  This was another place we knew absolutely nothing about, so thought that since we were going to be "in the neighborhood" we would arrange to stay there a couple of nights.  If I had it all to do over, I would have spent more time here, and less in Buenos Aires.  More on that later.
Montevideo has very distinct districts - the Old Town, the Business District, and the more upscale "resort" area on the eastern shore.  We stayed in the Old Town, in a unique loft apartment across from the beautiful Teatro Solis.  We were warned to be careful in that neighborhood by the taxi dispatcher at the airport when we arrived, but had absolutely no issues while there.  The buildings were quite old and a little run down, but they had beautiful architectural details and were set around lovely little parks.  We walked everywhere and were not bothered by anyone. 
As it was early spring, it was a little chilly so I was looking for a cup of coffee to warm me up.  We stopped into a corner cafe and I ordered the equivalent of a latte'.  This is what came out to the table:

We thought maybe that was a specialty of that particular cafe, and were pleased with our selection.
That evening, we ate at what turned out to be a German-themed restaurant and I ordered a coffee after dinner.  And this is what was served:

Apparently this is just the way you get your coffee in Montevideo, with your choice of sweet cream, cocoa, raw sugar or refined sugar.  Or all of the above!  Take that, Seattle!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Santiago's smart dogs

After we dumped our luggage at our Airbnb apartment in Santiago we headed out onto the streets.  We were walking through a business district, and I couldn't help but notice that a lot of people were accompanied by a dog as they were out and about.  Coming from a place where dogs are pampered and are regarded as children, I naturally thought "Wow - they bring their dogs to work here too!"  Only after I noticed a particular dog trading "owners" did I realize that these were stray dogs.  They are not your average mangy, flighty stray dogs, however - oh no - they are sociable and quite smart.
They have figured out that to cross a street, they need to go to the corner and cross with a crowd of people when the light changes. They also will attach themselves to a person or group of people and become part of the"pack" for a few blocks.  We joined a walking tour halfway through one day, and the dog that was with them had joined them at the beginning of the walk 2 hours earlier, and had waited for them to come out of the points of interest they had gone into.  The dogs seem to be at least partially looked-after, as none looked like they were starving and some even had old shirts on to keep them warm.  Most of them would let you pet them, then they would just go on about their business.
This is my favorite picture of one of the dogs, taken in the Mercado Vega.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wine tasting in Chile

On our recent trip to Chile, we managed to tear ourselves away from eating our way through the Markets for a day to go wine tasting in the Casablanca Valley.  I had no idea how to even start to research what was offered for tours, so before we left home I went straight to TripAdvisor and searched for wine tours.  There are an amazing amount of tour operators working out of Santiago!  One guy kept getting rave reviews, so I sent an email and just like that we were signed up with Chilean Wine Lovers tours.  Here's the link, in case you are inspired  -
True to the reviews, we had a wonderful, personalized tour of some very interesting and boutique-ish wineries.  The best part?  Lunch was a tasting menu devised by our guide Mauricio and the chef at one of the wineries.  The food was amazing at Viña Morandé, and the wine pairings perfect.

Besides tasting lovely wines, we learned a lot about the different wine regions, the different grape varietals and the growing organic movement.  We feel like we now have some clue about what to look for at the wine shops!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I'm Still Traveling, and Certainly Still Eating!

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have last posted anything...  I must make up for that!  I was distracted by one of the most beautiful summers we have seen in Seattle in years.  My time was spent tending a small garden and sipping rose' on the patio.    
We did not however spend all the summer lolly-gagging around the house - there were some trips taken and some excellent food consumed.  I shall be sharing those experiences, as they are way more interesting then me talking about my tomatoes.
We decided to travel to South America as neither one of us had ever set foot on that continent.  Something new!  Something different!  It turned out to be something unexpected for sure.  We started out in Santiago, Chile, a place we really knew nothing about.  Our Airbnb apartment had an awesome view of the Andes, and we were lucky that the early springtime weather was clear for most of our stay so that we could actually see them.

We found Santiago to be quite a walkable city, and spent a lot of time just exploring different neighborhoods on foot.  The main market Mercado la Vega and the fish market Mercado Central were our favorite destinations.  We saw - and ate - seafood we had never seen or heard of before.  We chose Tio Willy's restaurant in the Central market, as it was just across from a fish stand that had something we wanted to try but didn't know what it was.  We brought the server out and pointed to the piure.  They looked at us like we were crazy, but said they would bring out a taste for us.  Apparently it is an acquired taste, as it is very briny and somewhat gritty.  We polished off the plate they brought out, to prove we were not wimps, and felt pretty proud of ourselves for trying what we later learned is a type of sea squirt.

Other than our seafood feasts in the market, we found ourselves really searching for "native" Chilean dishes to try.  Strangely, what we wound-up eating most often was billed as Peruvian cuisine.  We did finally find a place that specialized in traditional Chilean food at Galindo, and I found my new favorite soup - Caldillo de Congrio.  I probably won't be replicating that at home, as conger eel is just not an ingredient you see in your local US supermarket...

We also dined on some other Chilean favorites which I WOULD try at home - Santiago's version of a hot dog, called an Italian, and their version of poutine, with 3 different kinds of meat and onions grilled with egg.  Delicious!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Day of Champagne

(I'm still re-living my Paris trip, and have more stories from it.)  As this was a birthday celebration, was there anything better to do than drink Champagne?  Of course not!  And where is a good place to drink it?  Why, at the places that make it!  And so we set off on the train for a day trip to Epernay, an hour and a bit outside of Paris. According to my friend who has done quite a lot of research, this is where the savvy people go, instead of going to Reims.  It was her birthday, and I was not going to argue.  Epernay is a very charming town, with almost everything within walking distance of the train station.  There are Champagne houses where you can walk in off the street without reservations and pay a few Euros for a tasting, such as the giant Moet et Chandon, along the aptly-named Avenue de Champagne, and Collard-Picard, where we stopped for a pre-lunch tasting. They had a beautiful courtyard with little cafe tables and we thought it looked like a perfect spot to sip champage.  As it was a Monday and early in the day, we had the place to ourselves so we all opted for the 3 "premium" tastes for 15 Euros.  All three were delicious and I will be looking for that label when I shop here at home. 

After that aperitif, it was time for lunch and we headed to La cave a Champagne on Rue Gambetta for what would be one of the best meals of the trip.  We all ordered off the 3-course prix-fixe menu and were delighted with every dish.


With full stomachs we wandered up the hill to our first tasting appointment at the Champagne House of  Charles Mignon, a family run winery.  We were taken on a tour by the daughter of the winemaker, a fifth-generation Mignon.  They even had a short video in English for us that explained their history and their process.  The champagne was tasty and I bought a bottle to bring home.  Our second appointment was at Charles Ellner, chosen because they were located close to the first tasting, and because I apparently like the name Charles. This place was beautiful, our guide/hostess very charming, and the champagne was quite distinctive.  We could have stayed there all afternoon!

 Alas,we had a train to catch back to Paris, so we reluctantly left and made our way back to the station.
 I was very pleased with the Champagne Houses for our tastings; I chose them fairly randomly off a map of Epernay.  They were close to each other, but just enough up the hill that I thought they may not be visited by a lot of the day tourists to the town so might be a little different.  Plus, they answered my emails right away, and both spoke English.  When you don't know a lot about the Champagne region, sometimes that is all it takes!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Picnic by the Seine

During our Paris dinner cruise we saw people lining the river banks, picnicking.  We decided that as this was what the locals were doing, we should too!  We were staying in an apartment in the 9th Arrondissement, very close to Rue des Martyrs which is an awesome street full of all types of food shops.  There are Boulangeries and Patisseries, Fromageries and Charcuteries and all sorts of produce shops.  We were set!  We purchased a beautiful hard sausage, of course cheeses, some lovely radishes and figs, and the obligatory baguettes.  We packed it all up and took the Metro to the stop by the Louvre, meeting up with other very important members of the group who had brought the wine,  and picked a spot on the walkway that had a lovely view of the Musee D'Orsay.  It was a truly beautiful evening, and one of the highlights of the trip.  And you will be happy to know, we waved to all the dinner boats.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Paris in Spring

I love my girlfriends!  How cool is it to decide that you want to celebrate a significant birthday in France, then make it happen.  AND have 8 friends join you!?!  I did feel just the tiniest bit guilty last week for jetting off to Paris without my Aussie husband - it is after all the city where he proposed to me.  However, this was most definitely a GIRLS trip and he would not have fit in.  Except maybe during tastings in the Champagne region... but I am getting ahead of myself.
About half of the ladies had never been to Paris, so we signed up for some touristy things so that they could get some sight seeing in.  One of those was a dinner cruise on the Seine.  We had some misgivings, but the cruise was lovely and the food surprisingly sophisticated.  Here is my foie gras first course-

The wine was also quite good, and as they left the buckets for the white wine right next to me and there were several bottles of red on the table, I had ample opportunity to taste them.  =)
It made for some very interesting photos of the Eiffel Tower at the end of the cruise!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Girl's Trip to Paris!

I am very excited, as I will be in Paris next week to celebrate a girlfriend's significant birthday.  There will be quite a group of us and we are planning all sorts of fabulous things to do.  My Aussie husband is excited too, because he gets to stay home and do guy stuff while I am gone.
We will see who has more fun! 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

It is all in the Presentation

They say people eat with their eyes first, so how you present a dish is every bit as important as what you put into it. We see it all the time in all the cooking shows we watch.  I'm not sure I completely buy into that, but I can attest to the fact that the appearance of a dish is directly related to my anticipation level for eating it. When we have our TFS dinners, everyone always looks forward to CB's dishes because they are always presented so beautifully.  Mine on the other hand, are merely functional.  I have been trying to step it up in recent months, studying plates at restaurants carefully to see how they are constructed.  I now have a collection of pictures of them, taken before anyone is allowed to touch their meals.   I even practice when it is just my Aussie husband that I am serving to. 
It is bordering on an obsession.
I have also decided that food can't possibly be presented correctly on our existing dinner plates - oh no.  We need special plates, plates of different shapes and sizes so that I have options when creating my masterpieces.  (well, masterpieces might be a strong term for them - now)  My Aussie husband thinks I need to calm down.  I think I need to buy more rectangular plates.  Doesn't the food look impressive served on them?

Side note- thank you for your patience while I learn how to navigate around our new Win8 laptop.  Apparently I can still learn new tricks, although it takes a lot longer...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Seven Deadly Meals in One Weekend

Do I like to cook? Yes! Do I like to eat? YES! Do I like to spend time with other people who like to cook and eat?  Of course I do.  And that is why my Aussie husband and I spent a long weekend away recently, with a dozen other like-minded people, in a rented house chosen for just such a purpose.  It was in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do except cook, eat, drink, repeat.
We actually had a theme for our meals - "The Seven Deadly Sins" - and everyone did their best to represent Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Wrath.  We ALL exhibited Greed, then Sloth after each meal.  It was a very extravagant weekend, with food such as Beef Wellington,  foie gras, and caviar on tiny little quail eggs.

And of course, desserts.  We had beautiful chocolate-dipped strawberries, an insanely rich and delicious 2-tiered chocolate mouse with a perfect meringue on the side.  And Port and Sherry and Madeira to drink with those lovely desserts.

We are already planning next year's weekend!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Treasured Items

Well that last post was a little lacking, I think.  I didn't even try to convey the excitement of being a part of the whole Olympic experience, the excitement of seeing the best in the world compete, the excitement of scoring a pair of the Team Canada mittens that were the must-have, absolutely HOT item!  All it took was one wave of an athlete's hand during the televised Opening Ceremony, and all of North America wanted The Mittens.  We arrived in Vancouver in the afternoon and headed for Robson Square, where there was all kinds of entertainment, all day, every day.  We were watching an interview of a downhill ski racer on the big screens when I noticed that the woman next to me had the coveted items.  I very quietly leaned over and asked where she got them.  In an even quieter voice, she said "the 5th floor" and pointed at the big department store 2 blocks away.  "Go straight past the Olympic display on the 1st floor and take the elevator.  They are back in the corner of the 5th floor."  I felt like I was some kind of operative, receiving clandestine information.  We slipped away, followed her directions and were rewarded.  Ta-Da!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Going for the Gold

So this past week I have been glued to the TV, watching the Olympics.  I love the winter games – the skating, the hockey, the insane ski cross, and the curling.  I am crazy about curling!  It is like shuffleboard but with a 40 lb stone.  We were introduced to Olympic curling 4 years ago at the Vancouver games and I have been looking forward to watching it in Sochi.  We tune in to the Canadian station to get better coverage, as I’m not sure the US really knows anything about the sport.  CBC on the other hand, gives us exhaustive reporting of every throw and zeros in on the frantic sweepers.   It may not look like much on the screen but live, it is quite exciting.  We also went back to Vancouver to watch curling in the Paralympics and were astounded at the athleticism demonstrated by the wheelchair-bound curlers.  I hope they televise the Paralympics from Sochi too.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gizzards - Not Just for Gravy Anymore

We have lately been seeing gizzards pop up on local menus, in various preparations and mostly as appetizers.  I am betting that they are the new darling of the trendy, more avant-garde chefs.   
We have had fried chicken gizzards with a Creole honey  mustard,  duck gizzard meatballs, and my favorite, gizzard confit.   This is my favorite because it reminds me of the absolutely stunning salads we had in France, in the ducky region of the Perigord.  They have elevated gizzards to a high art form by cooking them in duck fat until they are unbearably tender, and serving them on a salad with a slab of foie gras.  The pictures never do the food justice…

Update - we have just had what may be the best preparation yet - confit duck gizzards cooked in a ragu, served with seared duck breast.  Totally awesome!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Australia Day

My Aussie husband thinks we should celebrate Australia Day today, even though the day is technically almost over in the actual country.  Who am I to argue?  We might have to adjust the activities slightly, as they usually involve going to the beach or gathering outside at someone’s pool.  It has been unseasonably warm and sunny in Seattle this weekend, but still not quite beach weather.  We will get together with friends and eat and drink, but there will sadly be no pool time like his relatives had for their day!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cooking In Foreign Countries - With Friends

After our group trip to Italy, we started planning more trips to interesting food regions, and we started planning them with friends.  France seems to be our chosen destination for obvious food reasons, and because my Aussie husband speaks French (and I can read the menus!) so it is easier to eat there.  Plus, they have awesome Markets.  We have made a point to stay in places with large kitchens so everyone can get in and cook all the great food we have just purchased from all the different vendor stalls.  On our first trip to the Dordogne region, we shopped in Sarlat-la-Caneda, and made this fabulous roast chicken dinner.  It was our own version of the Poulet Roti we saw everywhere.   

On this last trip, we were traveling with some of the same friends we cook with at home with our TFS group, so it seemed only natural to cook on vacation. We shopped in markets in little towns in the Languedoc and bought things to make this meal. 

It was sometimes a challenge to find out what the market days were in each town, until we found out that all you had to do was ask someone who lived in the area.  Chances are they could tell you not only the days, but the times, which ones were worthwhile, and what stalls to shop at once you got there.    

We have other friends who speak Spanish and also like to cook, and I think it might be time to start planning a group trip to Spain.  Perhaps to Galicia?  I might need to learn how to cook percebes, the barnacles eaten in that region…