Along the Meditteranean Sea in Twelve Days

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A long overdue travel post but better than never.  I do regret that I never wrote a recap on my trip to Italy and France in 2008.  Well, since then I haven’t traveled out of the country until this year during late May,  I was fortunate to share my travel memories with my friend again, Michelle Ng whom I have known since Kindergarten.   Four years later we realized how much of a better traveler we have become but also how much we have yet to explore.  This time we visited Greece and Turkey.

So why Greece and Turkey?  Sure, Greece economy is not doing very well these days and the media portrays the country in a lime light with riots and petitions.  But to be honest during New York City Occupy Wall Street was much more worst and disruptive than the current Greece economy slump.  It’s actually a great moment to travel to Greece because so many foreigners are avoiding to visit it thus it is less crowded even during high travel season which makes it a perfect getaway.   We were part of a tour REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated) which may have contributed to my opinions on the country.  It was a 9 days (5/26 – 6/3) Greek Island hiking tour and we visited the city Athens followed by the Greek Islands in respective order: Tinos, Naxos and Santorini.  Of the three Islands Naxos was my favorite, after all they are agriculturally famous for their Naxos potatoes!  And to my fancy, little did I know it was a hiking and eating tour, which are two of my absolute favorite things.  Normally, I would dread traveling with tours as they are on a time schedule but it helped that our tour guide Dimitri and Christiana who are Greek natives were young, energetic, and are Greek food connoisseurs.  Also given I regularly organize events for a career, it was nice for a change that someone did the planning and where I sit back, relaxed and went with the flow.

Prior to our visit to Greece Michelle and I traveled on our own for 3 days (5/22 – 5/25) in Turkey, Istanbul which has been on both of our minds for quite sometime.  Istanbul is a city like no where else in the world.  With the iconic mosque in art history slides, textiles that paints the city and with peddler who are the faces and sounds of the city; it is a modern city in an ancient world.  It’s a magical city with a cross cultural influence from Asia, Middle East and Europe and an unworldly experience I will never forget.  There is so much culture in Istanbul from the food, arts, architecture, language (literally the street peddlers are multilingual), to their religion.  Istanbul, Turkey is a heavily Islamic populated country where people are devoted and still pray five times a day.  It was so amazing to observe how a religion shapes the way people live and how respectful people are in their belief.  It was remarkable to experience and to participate during a prayer.  Of all cuisines, Middle Eastern is probably one of my top favorite cuisines based on New York City, Mamoun’s Falafel and Halal street meat only.  To my surprise, Turkey is a heavily meat consumed country, with various grilled meats, kebabs, kofte, dönor and endless Turkish delight and baklava you can imagine.  Here is some of my favorites from what I ate along the Mediterranean Sea:

5.22.2012 (Day 1, Istanbul, Turkey): We arrived at the Atatürk airport late afternoon and at the customs we were greeted by a wave of people in head wraps covered with only the eyes peaking through and signs in Arabic.  We have arrived in a Middle Eastern country.  We took the metro to our hostel and being two young Chinese girls we had stood out regardless of looking lost, although admittedly we were lost.  We were assisted with directions and approached by at least seven Turkish men before finding our hostel and some who appeared untrustworthy and being from New York City we are custom to trust no one.  Finally, when we found Cheers Hostel, located in an alley way it was a sign of relief. Let the adventures begin!  We were still in US time zone and without much of an appetite, we settled for some Turkish tea at a tea house tucked in a cemetery where I had my first sage tea and have since been obsessed with the herb. On our way back to our hostel we nibbled on baklavas.

5.23.2012 (Day 2, Istanbul, Turkey): Our hostel was only walking distance from Aya Sophia and we made sure to arrive early to beat the tourist crowds and without a doubt there was a parade of tourist and surprisingly a lot of Asian groups from cruise tours that docked for an Istanbul excursion. Seeing Aya Sophia in person which is one of the most famous mosque was breathtaking.  It use to operate as a place for prayer but now operates as a museum.  The structure is nothing like anything I have seen with the rocket like towers known as minarets and used to call for prayer. The interior is why the Aya Sophia is so iconic and it is absolutely beautiful.  The ambiance has a a feeling like the Grand Central Terminal with its own uniqueness.  With chandeliers, mosaics, and Farsi scripture, Aya Sophia is a true work of art.  From the Aya Sophia to the underground palace, Basilica Cistern where hidden are two mysterious medusa head sculptures. We then walked to one of our highly anticipated places to visit, the Grand Bazaar.  In the Grand Bazaar it consists an overwhelming 700 and more shops, restaurants, and vendors selling anything and everything you can imagine from leather, rugs, purses to pepper grinders.  With some vendors more aggressive than others speaking in multilingual and a guessing game of my friend and I, ethnicity: Japanese! Korean! Chinese! Ni hao!  Ah! The shopping built up an appetite, at a corner, a man was  shaving off meat and wrapped in a pita and for a dönor kebab at Cardak Büfe.  What I enjoyed most about the Grand Bazaar was not quite the shopping but observing how important Turkish tea is to their culture where there is the the usual afternoon tea delivered to shopkeepers.  Later we walked to the Spice Market where I found the shopping experience much more relaxed and enjoyable and best of all sampling!  This was where I stocked up on Turkish Delight at Malatya Pazari which their customer service is above and beyond.  I bought a couple of boxes of Turkish Delight as souvenir and told the sales associate that I will be traveling for a week before heading home and he vacuum sealed it for freshness and waterproof. We visited the New Mosque, then walked across the Galata Bridge and made our way to the Galata Tower for a bird eye’s view of Istanbul.  We concluded our first full day in Istanbul with dinner from a street cart.  We were in the part of Eminonü and read about the least expensive way to eat seafood was from a street cart for a grilled fish sandwich (similar to a Vietnamese banh mi)  was like observing a masterchef perform on the streets without the fuss. Watching the chef skillfully deboning the fish and seasoning it with spices was incredible.  The 5 Turkish lira sandwich (US$2.50) was a steal and a deal and we finished off with Turkish tea and coffee at Karkoy Gulluoglu.

5.24.2012 (Day 3 Istanbul, Turkey) Across from Aya Sophia was another mosque known as the Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Mosque and is still a place to practice their religion and for prayers. The courtyards and the minarets is what makes Blue Mosque distinctively different from any other mosque.  The gold Farsi scriptures on a beautiful teal colored is eye popping. We then visited Topkapi Palace which was once lived by the royals during the Ottoman Empire.  For the afternoon we decided to pamper our feet and took a cruise ride on the Bosphorus River.  We ended the day back near the Spice Market and stumbled upon what became the highlight of our trip a kebap house: Ocakbasi Dürüm Ve Kebap Salonu (no website but here is another blog).  Without a menu we were dictated what options we had and we just decided to go for everything.  We were seated in mini stool chairs with a big round tin like table and we watched the chef grilled the meats.  We were presented with a platter made for a Sultan with a variety of meats: chicken wings, lamb kofte, beef skewers, and pork skewers on fragrant rice and some onions, peppers, tomatoes and on the side flatbread.  It was grilled to near perfection and seasoned well.  It was by far one of the best meals we had in Istanbul, Turkey and to this day I am still salivating.

5.25.2012 (Day 4, Istanbul, Turkey)  It was our last day already in Istanbul, Turkey before our 9 day hiking trip in Greece.  So to conclude our stay in Istanbul, Turkey we made a visit to Taksim Square for some last minute shopping and had lunch at Sultanahmet Koftesi which is a famous luncheonette kind of dining with celebrities signed autograph photos on the wall that reminded me a New York City old school diner. The menu was very limited and we ordered their signature kofte which are meatballs, a piyaz which is a bean salad and a corba for lentil soup.  So to prepare ourselves for the hike ahead, we pampered ourselves with a traditional Turkish bath/ spa at Cemberlitas Hamami where we were given a head to toe bath and oil massage.  It was my first experience in getting a massage but the best part was being inside of the ancient bath house where the architecture is a must see on its own.  After being fully cleansed we ended our trip in Istanbul with a sacred dance performance at the Hodja Pasha Arts Center: Whirling Dervish which was exactly what it appears to be a lot of spinning but it was very tranquil and peaceful.

5.26.2012 (Day 1: Istanbul to Athens) After a whirlwind trip in Istanbul, we took an early flight to Athens.  We arrived to the hotel and crashed. We met up with our REI group in the early evening and surrounding us were the people we will be traveling together for the next 9 days. We had dinner near the Acropolis called God’s restaurant and we were offered family style platters of authentic Greek dishes one after another and it was a much needed transition as we ate vegetables for the first time since the trip!

5.27. – 5.28. 2012 (Day 2 & 3, Tinos: Τήνος) The next morning we started our morning tour of the Athens Olympic stadium in 2004 and a visit to the Acropolis which the history and the ruins was miraculous.  Shortly after we made our way to the Rafina Port for lunch at the Galini Seafood restaurant before boarding on a high speed boat to our first Greek Island: Tinos.  The Rafina Port was filled with several seafood shops selling fresh, seasonal catch and amongst the shops there were of course seafood restaurants which was delicious and fresh.  But one of the best meals of the whole trip might possibly be in Tinos at Nefeli, located near the ocean breeze. The restaurant can easily be a home-run if the establishment was in New York City.  One of my favorite dishes was effortless but complex with flavors was a rice and chicken baked in parchment paper. The rice was aromatic with herbs and the baked chicken had a nice rotissarie crispy chicken skin, and fell right off the bone.  It was cook to perfection.  On day 3, we finally started our hike and the view was picturesque with dovecotes, white washed houses and a four legged friend who joined us on our trail from our restaurant lunch pit stop.   That evening, we ate at an elegant restaurant Portioli famous for their shellfish pasta.

5.29 -5.30.2012 (Day 4 & 5, Naxos: Νάξος) Our second island was Naxos and it was my favorite of the three islands. It was one of the most fertile and agriculturally abundant also known for their Naxos potatoes. Our hotel was only a walk away from the beach which was awesome.  Hiking, eating, and swimming…life does not get any better.  As soon as we arrived in Naxos, we immediately started hiking.  The hike was unlike anything in the Northeast of America with the vast mountain landscape and the stillness of nature and the percussion of goats. These trails led us to a small village where local artisans handcraft distillery, goat cheese and weaving was a nice break from a hike.  Follow by our first dinner in Naxos at a kebab garden seating restaurant, Yanni’s. We ended the day with a nice sunset and an ocean breeze at the beach by our hotel.  The next day we had our epic hike to Mt. Zeus and were rewarded with an in house authentic Greek picnic prepared by our guides Dimitri and Christiana.  That evening we went to town of Naxos for dinner but the highlight was probably the ice cream!

5.31 – 6.2.2012 (Day 6, 7, 8 Santorini/ Thira: Σαντορίνη/ Θήρα ) Before we depart Naxos, that morning Michelle and I took a last stroll at the beach and absorbed the beautiful deep blue ocean view and met a couple of local fishermen preparing their fish net for the day’s catch.  Off to the third and last island and probably the most touristy of all, Santorini.  It is the most popular islands of all for it’s spectacular sunset and at every corner and for every photo taken was like a computer desktop wallpaper artwork or a postcard. Hiking through Santorini was probably the oddest because everyone looked so fabulous with white colored clothes, and rather than a conventional hike it was more like property shopping…if only.  We stopped by at an untitled restaurant for lunch where we had gyros or pronounced as yeeros.  One thing I love most is fast / street food with fresh ingredients and the gyros was spot on.  The flatbread was freshly baked and the meat (pork or chicken option) was cooked to perfection.  The gyro is worth traveling to Greece for.  We ended our second day at Santorini with a sunset view dinner at Ellis.  The next day we did an optional hike and was accompanied with our guide’s friend who owned a restaurant in Santorini, Doris.  She owned a bistro and more than a restaurateur, she was also a forager. Hiking through, she picked wild herbs: thymes, rosemary, sage for her own pleasure.  Also she pointed out Santorini was rich in natural pumice stones which I saved a couple.  We ended our hike and our trip at the Black Beach before taking a late afternoon flight to Athens.

6.3.2012 (Last Day, Athens)  Everyone we met from the states were heading back home and Michelle and I had one extra day to explore the city. We visited the Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009 with an extensive collection from the Acropolis and to learn the history.  A must visit while in Greece. We ended our adventure back were we began nine days earlier at the peak of the Acropolis over looking the city of Athens with all the memories I had experienced within the past twelves days sinking in.  Pinch me because it still feels surreal to this day.

Thank you to REI for this valuable experience and to our amazing guides Dimitri and Christiana.  And to my awesome friend Michelle who accompany me as a travel buddy, where to next?  The list is endless.

Fat Tuesday, Indeed.

 

at Cafe Du Monde, photo taken by my sister

What a better start to the year 2012 than a trip to a city on my list of places to visit for awhile, New Orleans!  Last month my sister and I flew to New Orleans for a four day food trip (1/5 -1/8) and it is the ultimate foodie city.  The cuisine in New Orleans is distinctively unique with a lot of bold flavors and bizarre food; care for some alligator jerky or posums? As much as I am an adventurous eater, I am not that daring.  I like proteins I am familiar with and craft well with a lot of soul and in New Orleans you’re in luck.  New Orleans cuisines are known as Cajun or Creole and  in a nutshell is the influence from the once colonized of the French, Portuguese, Spaniard and the African slave trade all into one melting pot.   Thanks to my friend/ co-worker Matt gave an exceptional guide and recommendation of where and what to eat while visiting and below are my favorites:

January 5, 2012 (Day 1 French Quarter)
We got off the plane and we wasted no time and headed to the French Quarter, our first lunch spot: Coop’s Place.  New Orleans is saturated with bar one after another especially on Bourbon Street.  Unlike any other bar I’ve ever been to, the food is amazing at Coop’s Place and I mean real food like entrees, not just you’re average starters like nachos and fries.  It’s a bar that takes their food as  equally serious and love as their alcohol menu.  I wanted to try everything but knowing I was going to be in New Orleans for a few days I had calmed myself and ordered, you guessed it Fried Chicken!  It came with slaw and jambalaya and  3 pieces of fried chicken for only  $10.95!  An amazing deal and amazingly good!  The fried chicken was lightly battered and seasoned so well, without needing any excess condiments like ketchup, hot sauce or honey, it was by far one of the best fried chickens I’ve ever had.

Later that afternoon, after admiring some Gallier architecture which Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt apparently owns an estate in the French Quarter, we had our afternoon coffee and beignet at the famous Cafe Du Monde. It may appear to be a touristy spot but it is a confectionery- java heaven.  Cafe Du Monde is open 24 hours and it is brilliant for a breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between kind of pick me up.  The menu is rather simple with less than essentially two things on the menu: cafe au lait and beignets, the pairing is a match made in heaven.  Unlike the orange tin can of ground coffee of Cafe Du Monde you can purchase at a supermarket, the coffee and cafe au lait is exceptionally good and without the need to add any sugar, the sugar powder dusted on the beignets sweetens the coffee.

January 6, 2012 (Day 2 Epiphany ):

Epiphany is the start to carnival season leading to Mardi Gras also known as Fat Tuesday (February 22).  The one thing you eat is the King Cake, which is a tri- colored (purple, yellow and green) cinnamon like cake.  In a king cake there is usually a plastic doll hidden in the cake and whoever finds it is a symbol for luck.  I had a slice of king cake but no doll, nonetheless, I felt pretty lucky.  We started the day at 9am and joined a local kayak tour with Kayak-iti-yat and did a 4 hour trip on the historic Bayou St. John.  Our tour guide Sonny was a friendly fellow and gave us an incredible tour with historic facts, on the local hot spots and the appreciation of wildlife. Highly recommended for anyone who visits New Orleans and wants to escape the touristy areas.  We made our way to Parkway Bakery and Tavern after our 4 hours kayak trip which was around the corner and was a well- deserved lunch of po boys – oh boy! and chili cheese fries – hell yes! This place is amazing, the food and the decor.  There is indoor and outdoor seating and for a fine day in the mid-60s  in January, who would not opt for the outdoor seating?  Parkway Bakery and Tavern was one of the many who were devastated during the Hurricane Katrina.  There were photos of the restaurant submerged into water but I am glad they have recovered and are doing well, even President Obama made a visit shortly after his inauguration.  We ordered the catfish po-boy and the grilled smoked hot sausage pork link po-boy and an order of chili cheese fries along with two vintage bottled of Barq root beer.  I am drooling and getting very giddy as I am writing and recollecting memories of Parkway Bakery.  If this place existed in New York City and specifically in Brooklyn, it would be packed with hipsters but gladly it was not,  just locals, food fiends, and families.  The ceiling fan, the vintage wall bottle opener, to the paper wrapped sandwiches and paper boat fries, what makes this place so cool is of course the food but also the great southern hospitality and the authenticity and you cannot get this anywhere else other than making a visit here.

January 7, 2012 (Day 3 The Saints Come Marching In )

My co-worker had recommended to me to visit the Vietnamese farmer’s market because I would like it since I work for one!  This time around I really wanted to go to Asia and Vietnam was on top of my list but since my sister and I were both expecting the arrival of our second niece we couldn’t travel out of the country with all due respect to our brother..ugh but I’m glad we literally came back in time after our trip to New Orleans and welcomed, Alyson Nora Yeung to the family (January 9, 2012 – more January babies in the Yeung Family – yipee!).

Oddly, there is a large population of Vietnamese in New Orleans since the 1970s as refugees and what they brought with them from Vietnam, of course is their cuisine and this community farmers market. There were live poultry, fresh caught fish, and scents of lemon grass.  Around the corner, we stopped by for a bowl of Pho for breakfast and got a to- go Vietnamese po boy/ bånh mi.  Later in the afternoon, we drove into the inner city for a swamp tour in the honey islands and every now and again I see this poster in New York City of the history channel, Swamp People I think of the lady who has a peacock, two dozens of chickens, a dog and a cat as an animal sanctuary, this makes a lot of sense in why it’s a reality tv show.  The drive to and back from the swamp was just absolutely magnificent.  The drive was across a bridge which the view was just clouds and a body of water, no billboards, no flashy lights, no industrial buildings, it was the purest and scenic view we both intake while driving, the beauty of road trip.

That evening was apparently a huge football game, the home team, the Saints were playing at the Superdome in their home turf..who knew!  We went to the French Quarters for dinner and it was paraded with Saints fans, everywhere you turned people had Saints jerseys on and every restaurant/ bar you went to had the football channel on.  For someone who never follows sports nor interested other than the Olympic games this was extremely bizarre to us.  Although, I’m glad we chose to have dinner at a cafeteria style restaurant, Mother’s, which was the perfect kind of restaurant to go to without any comprehension of the game.  Although, the people you are surrounded by and the cheerful spirit from the fans, it’s hard not to get into the game as it is rather contagious.  For every touch down the Saints made, a staff at Mother’s would rang the bell.  They’re the different kind of fans and I must say very sober which I find very ironic considering all the bars and the liberty to drink on the streets.  I was getting to understand football a little more but I was fixated more on the food which we ordered a feast!  It was our last night before we headed back to the frigid cold and we celebrated with a table full with softshell crabs, crawfish etouffee, famous baked ham, collard greens, grits, and lemonade and bread pudding!  The food was a little salty for my taste, sorry for the criticism – but the vibe of the restaurant on a game night is definitely a winner.

January 8, 2012 (last day)

One of my favorite things to do when I’m on vacation is watching television in bed and it’s usually at a hotel since we don’t have that kind of luxury back home, so we stayed in a little later.  We went back to town, which the football madness continues with their college teams Louisiana State University vs. Alabama.  By this time we knew it was time to head back to reality but before heading home, the last item I needed to have was a muffaletta which is an Italian inspired New Orleans kind of wheeled sandwich.  The place my friend had recommended, Central Grocery was closed on Sunday which was lame and so disappointing, so we went next door to a place called Frank’s for their muffaletta which probably is not as good as Central Grocery but will do for this first visit.

Every travel is a growing experience and surely my waist but I felt like I really connected with my heritage as an Asian American, and nothing is more American than football.  I had the privilege to take this trip with my sister and ate our way through this wonderful city.   The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the impact of the Gulf Coast oil spilled have definitely scorned the city but similarly to New York City, the strength of the communities and the uniqueness is what makes New Orleans so special and I highly encourage everyone to visit for a taste of the warm Southern hospitality.

Until my next chapter in travels,  stay tuned for my whereabouts in my home New York City.   Happy Mardi Gras!

Coop’s Place /// 1109 Decatur Street  New Orleans, LA 70116

Cafe Du Monde /// 800 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70116

Parkway Bakery Tavern /// 538 Hagan St New Orleans, LA 70119

Mother’s /// 401 Poydras New Orleans, LA 70130

Frank’s ///  933 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA

Central Grocery /// 923 Decatur St New Orleans, LA 70116

In Pursuit of Eating

2011 can be summarized as the year of the oysters.  I even learned to shuck a few, all under the influence from work in planning for an oyster saloon and also the trend in seeing bivalves on the menu and oyster bars opening across New York City.  Sure, they’re great finger food but  oysters was once a New York City delicacy.  It dates back to the 1800s when New York City was once an oyster bed, hence the street names such as Pearl Street and was once commonly eaten by everyone at a very affordable cost and for these reasons it is great oysters are back.  Food connects us to our history and more importantly it connects us with people.  As we come to a close for 2011, below is my annual recap of my favorite finds this year and with the special people I shared a meal with:

Prune

Prune /// Brunch is one of my most favorite meals because I don’t do brunch enough in New York City other than when I go on a road trip so I find it always a treat.  It’s my preferred meal to cook at home during the week when I have the time and besides the wait for brunch in New York City is too damn long.  Rarely, do I ever like to wait in a line for anything but Prune is definitely worth the wait, promise.  For my sister’s 31st birthday (wow!) I treated her and pampered myself and indulged in a 3 hour meal (this includes waiting time).  The place is small which is another reason for the wait.  Renowned chef Gabrielle Hamilton created a creative brunch menu with many methods to cook an egg and is very well done and exceptionally delicious,  all for a moderately budget friendly cost.  It’s not your only typical scramble or sunny side but on the Prune brunch menu, a fried egg in Monte Cristo and coddled egg baked in a ramekin with savory chickenI’m looking forward to my return soon to try the dutch style pancakes.  Perfect to fuel up for a Saturday afternoon walk from the East Village to Central Park to explore the New York City’s Autumn foliage.

Diner

Diner ///  Every well known poet, writer, artist has a spot where inspirations are drawn from, for my boss it might probably be Diner. I went to Diner twice this year and it has become one of my most favorite New American restaurants in New York City.  The first time with my friend Anneliese for dinner where I ordered a grass-fed beef burger and the second time lunch with my boss, Robert.  I’ve only learned about Diner through Robert since he had given the restaurant rave reviews as a pioneer in the food industry and I cannot agree more.  To order at Diner, you must listen very carefully as the waiters recites to you and as soon as I heard fried chicken sandwich, I had to have that.  I have a serious achilles heel for fried chicken and partially it runs in our family genes as I recalled my grandfather would always snuck in the back kitchen with fried chicken wings which my grandmother would prevent him in having due to health concerns.  The sandwich came with a pickled farm fresh egg, ramp mayo, lettuce, boneless fried chicken on a brioche roll and fries.  To finish off the meal, a seasonal bartlett pear tart.  A delightful, local, and amazing lunch was where Robert had drawn a sketch of the last market of the year on the table cloths of Diner.   Later that afternoon, we had a personalized tour at Mast Brothers Chocolate and that evening I attended a free book signing and talk by Michael Pollan at Barnes & Nobles !  It was the ultimate foodventure.

Brooklyn Bowl /// This year all my 86′ year born friends turned 25 and a making through a quarter of a life is rough which calls for a celebration!  Being born in January, I inaugurated the year of birthday celebration at Brooklyn Bowl since I love fried chicken and bowling, there are no place other than at Brooklyn Bowl that has both.  This fall I joined a bowling league that met once a week through NYC Social Sports Club which is not meant to be competitive at all but a great place to meet new people and throw a ball at pins at the end of a stressful work day which I have revisit Brooklyn Bowl multiple times since my birthday.

The Green CupParker Pie ///  In late March this year, my colleagues and I made a trip to Vermont and had one of the most memorable and well-fed supply of cheese, beer, and maple syrups.  It was important to make these behind the scenes food production tours to witness small food start ups are creating and are in the movement to change our food systems.  During our visit there we were recommended by our local friends in Vermont  to both restaurants: Parker Pie and The Green Cup.   I was amazed to find amazingly delicious pizza in Vermont.  Parker Pie had a wide selection of creative and appropriate topping like local maple syrup and local cheeses from Vermont dairy farms.  The weekend trip had concluded with a farewell brunch at The Green Cup which similarly to Prune is heavily focused on egg dishes.  I was sad to learn, The Green Cup was devastated by Hurricane Irene in August and are currently seeking for donation of help to get its feet back on.  To help please visit: http://www.greencupvt.com/

Mermaid Oyster Bar

Mermaid Oyster Bar /// Oysters are suppose to  be eaten in the months with “R” but heck with that, at Mermaid Oyster Bar it’s happy hour & half every day 7 days a week from 5:30pm -7pm and if you say “yelp” you get a free appetizer, though the limited time special offer is now over.  Regardless, this place is a lot of fun with a group of friends.  My friend Sandra had recommended and it was a nice Friday night dine out spotI especially like the touch, ending the meal with a surprise chocolate pudding and a conversation piece, fortune miracle fish.

Radegast Hall & Biergarten /// Besides oysters, this was the year in which I have consumed the most German food.  Of all the three restaurants: Loreley, Heidleburg, I really enjoyed Radegast Hall & Biergarten in Williamsburg, Brooklyn the most. The pretzel is my favorite, soft baked in house with a few condiments presented on a butcher block, made for sharing.  Bratwurst and sausages are grilled and topped over a paper boat of fries and slaw and the best spaetzle which is a German version of mac n’ cheese.  And what kind of beer garden would it be without good beer.  The decor transports you to Medieval times, with long communal tables and benches and truly qualifies to be called as a Hall.

Porchetta /// I rarely eat alone and when I do I am either at work or at home and under the sun by the waterfront when possible.  Meals are meant to be shared with someone but at Porchetta because of limited stool seating and meant to be a carry away restaurant, I was happily satisfy to be eating alone.  Named after the sandwich, I rebelled and went with their special of the day and order a lasagna and a mushroom soup instead which was perfect on a frigid snowy day to make a lunch pit stop.

Hakata Tonton ///  I had to roundup my annual recap with at least one Asian cuisine and that is Hakata Tonton which is Japanese soul food and pork (tonton).  They’re best known for their hot pot dish but frankly I was really disappointed with how shallow the pot was and salty it tasted.  Rather, the appetizers are the real highlights to the meal reminding anyone who has traveled to Asia of late night street food bites. 

Iris Cafe ///  I should have included Iris Cafe on last year’s list when I was introduced to their cheddar bacon biscuit from Iris Cafe by a dear friend, thanks Makalé!  Their plain biscuit with jam is delicious too.  For many who knows me well, one of my aspiration is to own a cafe, well, if I ever do it would very much be similar to Iris Cafe.  The decor, the vibe, the neighborhood, oh the food especially.  Though, I’ve only had their biscuits and the best Americano in the city, I absolutely adore this cafe and lucky it’s occasionally on my errand route.

Cowgirl Seahorse ///  Sometimes  you yearn for bad food and Cowgirl Seahorse near the South Street Seaport might probably be it.  I’ve been there in a record 3x this year.  The draw of returning as a customer is groupon and amazon had good deals and it’s close to work. The beer battered onion rings are scrumptious and cocktail in a mason jar!  Every now and then there are some derogatory themed nights, like “White Trashed Christmas” with whimsical surf, mermaid, fishnet decor.

Oasis ///  I was always curious about this little Middle Eastern carry away/ dine- in restaurant near the L train on the Bedford stop.  Oasis indeed, it reminded me of a Middle Eastern neighborhood in London where I had the best Middle Eastern food ever.  Oasis is good but not quite the best.  Like most, there are the usual falafel and shawarma sandwiches and platters. The highlight was oddly the soup or lately I’ve been very fascinated with soup which is one thing I have grown to love more and more as I get older. The soup tasted like puree lentils or a harissa soup and was tasteful with subtle spices.

2011 has been a rewarding and a busy year. With many experiences, majority work related have broaden my perspective and knowledge on food on many levels.   Many through conversations shared through meals and people I’ve met.  Everyday has been filled with wisdom, thoughtfulness, and creativity in which I am humbly appreciative, thankful for and truly inspired by.

Looking ahead,  I hope to document in my 3rd year of food journal with more food travels (New Orleans, backpacking through Istanbul, Greece Islands and elsewhere) reviews, shared home cooked meals, and in what I am most passionate is to share my latest food finds.  In pursuit of eating,  let the adventure continue.  Wishing everyone a happy new year!  

 

text and images © iluvpotato 2011



All I want for Christmas is Kitchen Supplies

I finally purchased one of these!  Merry Christmas to me!   It’s been on my wish list for a very very long time.  Recently I discovered a charming kitchen appliance shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn called Whisk Though I did not purchase this seductive red, 2 Quart Le Creuset Dutch Oven at Whisk, it reminded me that I needed one!   I stumbled into Broadway Panhandler on my way home this week and decided to pampered my inner self.   Broadway Panhandleris one of my favorite kitchenware, equipments, gadgets shop in New York City and they offer really reasonable prices.  For this Made in France, (beware of Made in China and Thailand, they may cost a little less but the quality is not as good)  Le Creuset was $118.  It’s quite an investment but irreplaceable and meant to be passed onto generations.  Now onto perfecting my paella, casseroles, cheese fondue action!

Other items I purchased at Broadway Panhandler is: Made in Vermont,  JK Adam Pig serving/ cutting board that I’ve also been sniffing out for.  🙂

Here are my top 5 places (top to bottom) to shop this holiday or any day for kitchen related items:

Fishs Eddy/// 889 Broadway at 19th Street New York City, NY 10003.  Recommend: Storage Bowl Teal Swag, Glass 16 oz.  We have 4 of these at home and it’s perfect to store leftovers or half of a lemon, tomato, or half of something sealed with a lid rather than plastic wrap.

Broadway Panhandler///  65 East 8th Street  New York, NY 10003.  Recommend: Le Creuset pots and pans & Bialetti Moka Pot

The Brooklyn Kitchen /// 100 Frost Sreet  Brooklyn, NY 11211.  Recommend: Cooking Classes

Whisk ///231 Bedford Avenue  Brooklyn, NY 11211.  Recommend: Kyocera ceramic coffee grinder

Pearl River Mart/// 477 Broadway, New York, NY 10013.  Recommend:  teapots

 

REAL CHOCOLATE MADE IN BROOKLYN

Above is a photo of me and my family at the Hersey’s chocolate factory, when we visited in 1999 on our way to Washington, DC.  It was on the Chinatown travel agency tour itinerary that my mother had booked.  Hersey’s is a giant American corporation that produces chocolate and quite frankly an American icon and somehow related to the American history component to the itinerary.  Well, that’s my guess.  I was only 13 at the time and had  enjoyed Hersey’s cookies n’ cremes and occasionally a Hersey’s kisses.  I have vague memories of the educational chocolate factory tour ride but do recalled it was given by computer generated pre-recorded videos, giant talking pixie-glass models, with loud children soundtrack in the background and concluding with a photo op to take home, which we did end up purchasing.  Somehow looking back at the website, times have not changed at the Hersey’s Park.

Twelve years later, a different kind of American craft chocolate company is in motion,  known as the Mast Brothers Chocolate.  I was lucky enough to meet the owners recently, the brothers and chocolate makers Rick and Michael Mast.  They have recently expanded in Williamsburg, North 3rd their production facility and wanted to give us a personal tour.  I was rather star strucked, being fans of their work and chocolate already, I felt like Charlie in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory winning the golden ticket.   When I arrived, the staff was creating an assembly line of hand wrapped Almond and Sea Salt Chocolate.  This is not your perception of a sweatshop assembly line but made for efficiency.  The staff was laid back with soul music on the record player, after all we were in Brooklyn and everyone was hard at work with deadline orders to meet.   Each individually hand wrapped with a gold wrapping follow by beautiful textile patterns  paper designed by friends and family of the Mast Brothers.  It was remarkable to see production in action and I really admire how in a world so many occupations relies on advance technology and machinery for efficiency,  there is simply nothing better and more beauty than the personal touch of the human hands.

In the room, many burlap sacks of cacao beans from their recent sailing trip to Dominic Republic piled in the room and where the cacao beans were roasted surprisingly no larger than a home kitchen oven.  The latest holiday flavored chocolate bar with dried cranberries were in the making poured into their signature chocolate grid mold.  Throughout the tour Rick Mast described the process from bean to bar with  joy in his tone of voice, sharing his knowledge, the care, the thought process, of how direct trade cacao can make an impact in our environment.  For instance, the concept of using the skin of the cacao beans after it has been roasted becomes waste but turning that unwanted waste for the local community garden as compost.  It’s brilliant and more business models should be that way.

The next venture Mast Brothers Chocolate is looking into is expanding their line of chocolates with truffles and bon bons and their plans on the next sailing trip for more cacao.   In the meantime, pay a visit to the Mast Brothers Chocolate tasting room or a take a tour of their newly expanded production facility, it may not be given by the brothers themselves but it’s definitely worth it.

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ADDRESSES:

MAST BROTHERS CHOCOLATE /// 105A North 3rd Street  Brooklyn, NY 11249

text and images © iluvpotato 2011

Fall is the season to learn something new

What I like about the first day of a new season is the opportunity to start fresh.  The fall season in particular is a good time to reflect but more importantly take those to-do list and put them into action before another year creeps up to you.  Few months ago, I met a Japanese woman and she was writing a guide book on specific neighborhoods in New York City.  She had asked me for some suggestions on places that I would recommend and so I did.  Few weeks later she had took my suggestion and did a coverage at the location and was very pleased.   She had then asked me for more recommendations in which I did not mind and quite frankly I was rather flattered that my opinion mattered and I enjoyed sharing the places I find that are uniquely New York.

This week I finally checked out The Brooklyn Kitchen with a modern day hip butcher shop in the back The Meat Hook.  I went to an afternoon of hard cider making and tasting and history crash course at The Brooklyn Kitchen. Where we were treated with several sips from Farnum Hill and Eve Cider.  My first hard apple cider ever was from Finger Lakes, Bellwether Cider.  Hard apple cider is very much like sparkling apple cider but for the grown ups with the alcohol content.   It was only recently, I’ve begun to notice hard apple cider on the shelves and even at the corner of the bodega store for a less classy version, Woodchuck produced in Middlebury, Vermont.  I bought a bottle for $1.75 and it’s a great Sunday pre-dinner kickback drink with reruns of a television sitcom and a nap is the formula to satisfaction.

The Brooklyn Kitchen, located near the Brooklyn, Queens Expressway is one amazing place.   With a general store atmosphere in the front and upstairs where you can find modern kitchen ware from authentic Le Creuset pots and pans (Made in France not Thailand!), pasta maker, to coffee pour overs.  Another section is a cute touch, their limited quantity of produce, cheeses, and fill your own olive oils.  Right in the back is a butcher shop The Meat Hook with a variety of meats, sausages and charcuteries from local farms.  What makes The Brooklyn Kitchen so well known is their well-designed workshops.  There is a class for just about anything and for anyone as long as you love food.   Upcoming scheduled classes includes pasta making, knife skills, pie making, cheese making, you name it!   Prices for each class ranges from $35 – $150 per class and it is taken place in their test kitchen, which is a dream kitchen with all the tools and gadgets provided.  I know I’ll be back very soon.

As we enter a new season here’s a preview on my to- do list this Fall:

TO DINE AT:

April Bloomfield’s The Breslin, Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster, Brunch at Roberta’s

TO MASTER IN MAKING:

Ravioli, Pie Crust, Chocolate croissant

KITCHEN TOOL I WANT MY HANDS ON:

Le Creuset Dutch Oven, Pasta maker, Hario hand milled coffee grinder

MISCELLANEOUS WISH LIST:

Leica Digital Camera

PROJECTS ON THE HORIZON:

To embark on a coffee column.

Meet Me at Montauk

One of my favorite  films is “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind” (2004)  and there is the infamous line, “meet me at Montauk.”  Ever since, I’ve been dreaming of  taking a trip to the very East End of Long Island, but have always postponed it until this weekend.

It was a relaxing Saturday with a visit to the lighthouse, scavenging for naturally eroded rocks, and a sidewalk dinner.  An amazing way to bid farewell to Summer.  Here is a photo recap of my trip to Montauk:


 

Summer is fading…

I rarely make travel plans during the summer.  As much as I dread the heat, the rancid smell of city streets and dodging tourists, I like summer in New York City a lot.  It is an expensive city to live in, with high rent, fare hikes, and cost of food inflation.  Though, if you’re a savvy New Yorker, there are many freebies hidden treasure or cheap finds all over, especially during the summer months.

NYC Summer Streets

My latest obsession is biking and it all began when I became a second hand -used  Columbia bicycle owner where I bought on Craigslist.com last summer.  When my former colleague had described “biking will change your life!”  It certainly has.  Summer is a lot more fun with a bicycle and you will see New York City in a whole new perspective.  NYC Department of Transportation and Transportation Alternatives collaborate annually and for the 4th year organized NYC Summer Streets.  From 7am – 1pm for three consecutive Saturday weekends (Aug 6, Aug 13 and Aug 20) the streets along Lafeyette from downtown Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall to Upper East Side 72nd Street and Park Ave are closed off to cars driving and parking; where joggers, strollers, pedestrians and bikers rule the streets!   This year with food sponsors like: Wholefoods, Chipotle, illy espresso, Stonyfield Farm and Brooklyn Salsa Company.  The highlight of Summer Streets is the midpoint of the route.  Whether biking, walking or jogging through the closed ramps normally driven through by yellow taxi cabs  is the Grand Central Terminal.  There are many exquisite and breathtaking architecture in New York City and Grand Central Terminal is one of few that remains.

Kings Crumb at Smorgasburg

I recently visited the latest or the trendiest outdoor street food market across in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is the Smorgasburg.  I went to visit to see what all the hype was and the result was an over indulgent and guilty but not pleasurable biscuit fried chicken sandwich with ranch dressing from Kings Crumb.  Very hospitable and friendly service but I’m concern this dish will need to be accompany with a Pepto Bismol.  And not to pigeon hole Kings Crumb, many dishes I was able to observed may need a Tums beforehand. A lot of food trending was sliders, tacos, grassfed beef hot dogs, lobster rolls, and fried food, well, it’s American street food, except here is in moderation unlike what we see on Man vs. Food.   I recommend to share the biscuit, fried chicken sandwich and many other food with a friend but my greedy self ate it all in one sitting on the curb of a street sidewalk.   Smorgasburg or Williamsburg is a place to check out.  It’s not completely hipster-fy but many interesting and creative business are booming.   Walk down on  Bedford Ave., Berry Street or on North 3rd, and a few of my favorite shops where I can spend hour(s) at are:  The Brooklyn Art Library, Blue Bottle Coffee, Mast Brothers Chocolate, Sprout Home and Bedford Cheese Shop.  In many ways, Williamsburg is one of many parts of Brooklyn already gentrified but the feeling is still very industrial and creative.  It’s definitely worth a visit and it was not until last fall after living in New York City for my entire life that I had first walked across the Williamsburg Bridge and ever since it’s been one of my favorite bridge to take a stroll across, well second to Brooklyn Bridge.  One of many things I love other than eating, yes I have hobbies other than eating, is taking long distance walk and Williamsburg Bridge is safely divided from pedestrians and bicyclers, though what’s beautiful about Williamsburg Bridge is towards the center it merges, which is very unusual.  I have yet to ride by bicycle across the Williamsburg Bridge and it’s on my list of things to do before the Winter chills return.  Any takers on riding across the Billyburg Bridge for a burger at the Williamsburger?

For those who do not own a bicycle, take a free ferry ride for the free bicycle rentals on Friday at Governor’s Island.  The ferry departs from Lower Manhattan from the Battery Maritime Building.  To make your trip even more fulfilling, pack a banh mi sandwich from Chinatown for lunch.

Enjoy the remaining dog days of summer eating and biking.

summer has only begun…

Summer of 2011 has been eventful so far and I admittedly love it!   It’s always been one of my most dreaded season of the year because I do not do well with heat, humidity and  did I mention summer in New York City rancid smell is unbearable.  This may sound depressing to some people but the only thing I ever looked forward to during summer is longer daylights and juicy watermelon.   Since working for a non-profit local, regional farmer’s market, New Amsterdam Market, I’ve been enlightened and introduced to many amazing food, from fresh seasonal produce to dining at restaurants who cooks and source ingredients mindfully.

Things I ate at the market today 7.10.2011 includes:

Maple Sugar on Pretzel Stick Cotton Candy from Liddabit Sweets 

Sour Cherry Soda from P& H Soda & Co.

Avocado Ice Cream from La Newyorkina

Mast Brothers Chocolate Chocolate Cookie from Blue Bottle Coffee

And a specially made a BOMB Mi (Chef Scott Bridi’s interpretation of a Vietnamese Bahn Mi with handmade pate and pork rilette, cilantro, sriracha mayo, and pickled garlic scape ) from Brooklyn Cured. – it’s da bomb!  yeah Breuklen

In addition the market highlights a lot of fresh, vibrant and seasonal produce.  Today was a  fruit day.  I end the day with  5 types of fruits to carry home and perfect for any fruit salad, jam, tart, yogurt, honey…  Or simply enjoy the fruit on its own with a gentle wash under running cold water.

Blueberry from Flying Fox

Hand picked apricots and blueberries from Flying Fox

Peaches and sour cheeries from Toigo Orchards

And the smallest plums I have ever held and tasted from Do Re Me Farms

I am fascinated by the abundance of fruits and the variety that grows in the NY State and in the Northeast region.  The vastness and richness of what our region provide is a gem and we need to appreciate it more and it starts by supporting and eating local.  Come say hello at New Amsterdam Market.  Every Sunday 11am -4pm near the Old Fulton Fish Market.  South Street,  (Between Beekman St & Peck Slip)

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I apologize I have not been writing as diligently as I like to but all that will change soon or at least that is my goal.   As a recap of my summer thus far :

Rockaway Taco: Fish Taco and Chorizo with Guac Taco

7. 9. 2011 – Sunbathing at Far Rockaway Beach and a bite at Rockaway Taco with friends.  Far Rockaway is an example of gentrification as it continues to with new restaurants and food concession opens on the boardwalk.   The neighborhood feels less threatening, much safer and a lot more trendier than 2003.  And the beach is fairly clean comparably to any beach within New York City with waves suit for a surfer.

7. 2. 2011 – Hiking and foraging for mushrooms at Bear Mountain in the Hudson Valley region with family.  My mom has her eyes on fungi.  She spotted a number of different mushrooms which we only photographed and left it untouched in the wild. 2 years later the Appalachian trail which cuts through  here from Maine to Georgia have completed building steps along the trail making the hike extra leisure and easy but still mesmerizing to walk through with tranquil sounds of nature.

6. 29. 2011: Celebrated my awesome mom’s 55th birthday at a vegetarian Korean restaurant, Hangawi,  with an elaborate menu.  The decor of the restaurant transports you to Korea and the floor seating design will make anyone sitting in lotus position look like a master yogi.  What I enjoyed most was to eat barefooted as it is an dining etiquette.

6. 28. 2011:  Shake Shack  now closer to home.  Visited their newest outpost in Financial District.  Shroom burger is the best option for any vegetarians.  Wash it down with  a milkshake or concrete!

6. 24. 2011:  Used my novice oyster shucking skills at my friend Anneliese’s birthday home-cooked party.  On the birthday menu included East Coast Oysters, Seafood Paella, Greenmarket tossed salad, baguette with cheese and quince (YUM), and Adirondack ice cream affogato!

Radegast Hall & Biergarten: Pretzel, Grilled Sausages, Sauerkrauts and Fries

6. 23. 2011:  Took advantage of the free East River Ferry from Pier 11 to North 6 Williamsburg to celebrate first week of summer solstice with friends at Radegast Hall & Biergarten with draft beers and sausages and sauerkrauts.  Pretzel is freshly baked and soft with unique condiments on the side.  A great comfort dish is their Spatzel with gouda cheese, cabbage and Hunter’s bacon like a classic mac n’ cheese.

Bobo Lamb salad at Edible's Seven Ingredients Festival

6. 18. 2011:  Attended the Edible Local Seven Ingredients event during their Eat, Drink, Local Week.  7 ingredients: Rhubarb, Strawberry, Peas, Chives and Green Garlic,  Oyster, Lamb and Yogurt.   Appetizing appetizers all evening long.

6. 9. 2011:  Volunteered at Tasting Table Lobster Rumble (General admission: $130; VIP admission: $250; Volunteered: FREE)  17 different lobster rolls to sample from and all  intrinsically different.  Some lighter than other, other more mayo, more butter, more bun…mmm  I helped two chefs from Boston, MA,  B & G Oysters & Menton to griddle countless numbers of hot dog buns and ate countless of lobster rolls.   The team I helped out B & G Oysters were of course the best!

6. 7. 2011:  Grand Opening restaurant, Casa Nonna Party.   American food meets American Italian food.  Cute petite cup sized milkshakes.

And summer in New York City has only begun…

Addresses:

Casa Nonna ///310 West 38th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenue) New York, NY 10018

Radegast Hall & Biergarten /// 113 N. 3rd Street Brooklyn, NY 11211

Shake Shack /// Multiple locations: 215 Murray Street New York, NY 10282

Hangawai /// 12 East 32nd Street New York, NY 10016

Rockaway Taco /// 95-19 Rockaway Boulevald, New York NY 11693

New Amsterdam Market /// South Street Between Beekman Street & Peck Slip, New York NY 10038

text and images © iluvpotato 2011

The Wild Wild Southwest

The idea of going to Texas happened while walking across the Williamsburg Bridge  after having dinner with my friend Anneliese at Diner recently.  And by the way Diner is delicious and where I had my first grass-fed beef burger or a beef burger in a very very long time.  I was blown away with the quality of the food, the use of local, seasonal ingredients and the way how the menu was presented to us.  It is not your average roadside diner you pull up in your car.  Diner, Williamsburg Brooklyn is fresh, simple, sophisticated new American cuisine.  The dining experience transports you to how I felt a blissful destination.

The next day I booked my flight and packed my bags.  A week later I found myself in San Antonio, Texas (5/7 – 5/10).  In San Antonio, Texas I stayed with my friend Anneliese at her family’s vacation rental home in which if you ever fancy in the need to get away you can book your stay there too at the  Lake House Dunlap.   It was Vince’s (Anneliese’s husband) graduation from graduate school weekend party and there I met and spent time with her family and friends who flew in from elsewhere in Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota and even as far as from Taiwan.

GUADALUPE RIVER

May 7 & May 8, 2011 ( Day 1 & Day 2 : New Braunsfel, Texas Lake House Dunlap)

I arrived in Downtown San Antonio, Texas where it’s known for the River Walk,  the Alamo and apparently I learned of this the basketball team Spurs and only 3 hours away from the Mexico borders, hence the derived Tex-Mex cuisine.   It is a vibrant and a friendly city.  The weather was drastically different from New York City as it already was in the upper 90s being it is only early May.  I instantly gravitated towards the snow cones stands all over downtown.  Shaved ice with multiple flavored syrups.  I was curious what chamoyflavor was in what the Colombian lady selling these shaved ice had responded, “it tastes like Chinese candy”…hmm.  It certainly did not taste anything like Chinese candy and it definitely was not a thirst quencher.  I took a sip and it was really hard taste to digest.  It was thick and sour and the most disgusting beverage I had ever had.  I think by Chinese candy she was referring to the medicinal herbal teas my mom frequently makes for me.  One hour into my first food experience in Texas and I found myself disappointed.  I was soon picked up by Anneliese and Vince and made our way to the lake house.  The lake house is located along the gorgeous Guadalupe River that flows into the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a beautiful teal blue calm river where many swims, jet ski, canoe, tube to keep themselves cool from the Texas heat.  Thank goodness for the SPF 100 sunscreen, I did not even know that existed.

HOMECOOKED TEXAN BBQ

That evening we celebrated Vince’s graduation with a traditional Texan BBQ with ribs, chicken drumsticks, wings, briskets, cocktail shrimps and homemade side dishes that included: potato salad, coleslaw, three beans.  The highlight was of course the old fashion homemade churned ice cream a vanilla flavored recipe from the Ben & Jerry recipe book.  It required a lot of churning and everyone took their turn to give it a churn and the result was pure magic.

The next morning Anneliese prepared various bagels and types of cream cheese and lox for breakfast while sipping on High Mountain Coffee from a Taiwan grower and roaster brought by a friend returning from Taiwan.   We later took a plunge off of a 15 feet tall platform into the Guadalupe River which was brisk but perfect.  Later that afternoon we went to the next town, Gruene pronounced “green” to visit an old country saloon, Greune Hall where German working class use to spend time to listen to country music and have a few beers after work and that’s exactly what we did.  In town was a cute little pecan candy shop owned by a little elderly man with a cowboy hat on, Great Texas Pecan Shop.  The pecan are addicting especially the Beer Nuts which is sweet and nutty.  Thank goodness for mail orders.

SALT & PEPPER

May 9, 2011 (Day 3: Downtown, San Antonio, Texas)

I woke up to the sound of chicken clucking and it came from Anneliese’s backyard.  She owns two chicken named Salt & Pepper and they’re cage free chicken  and the happiest I have ever seen.   Thanks to Salt & Pepper, we have fresh eggs for breakfast,  perfect for an out on the porch breakfast for breakfast tacos!  Yes Tacos not Burritos.   The Texans are really serious about their tacos that Anneliese has a heat retaining pouch to keep the tortillas warm throughout the meal.  We later did some sightseeing and shopping in Downtown, San Antonio at the market square where all the vendors sold hand craft Mexican goods.  Nearby the market is a Mexican bakery, Mi Tierra.  I purchased a pound of their Mexican coffee Arabica beans and discovered the story of Mi Tierra.  It is a common story but ultimately what all immigrants who arrives to America to achieve, the American dream.  A Mexican named Pete came to San Antonio, Texas and met his wife, Cruz and they both opened Mi Tierra to share their heritage and baked goods in which they have accomplished their success.  At Mi Tierra, we ordered some pasteles (cookies), a leche quemada (a caramel candy bar), empanada de calabaza (pumpkin filled sweet empanada) and a pan de heuvo pink color (egg bread).   Anneliese and I share a pan de heuvo on location and thought it was tasty and moist and amazingly only 75 cents.  After our light snack we visited The Alamo.  What I was most excited was where Anneliese was about to take me next was San Antonio’s best margharita at La Fogata and I concur!

LA FOGATA MARGARITA DELCIOSO

If you only had a margarita at Dallas BBQ the size of a person’s face is probably the what entices people but the authenticity and presentation La Fogata is the real deal.  Since my gluttony kicked in I ordered one of their popular dishes which is a sampler of a little bit of everything, this included: a drunken beans soup, a quesedilla, a chicken taco, tostadoes, some rice, a salad with guacomole and more…and this is by far the cleanest Mexican food I have eaten by that I mean the ingredients are fresh.

After a long lunch, back at the house we were preparing shrimp tacos for dinner and I had the opportunity to learn to make fresh and healthy whole wheat tortillas with a tortilla press.  It’s a nice simple recipe from La Cocina Alegra, The Happy Kitchen, an Austin, Texas sustainable food community center.  There’s no hassle and no wait for the dough to rise and using the tortilla press is a lot of fun!  Anneliese marinated the shrimps, while we let the flavor sit, Anneliese, Vince and I took an outback scenery bike ride.  Along the way, I spotted some deer, horses and lots of cactus as the sun set.  To end the day we sat  on the outdoor porch with friends and family for my last Texan home cooked meal:  grilled shrimps to go with the tortillas I had contributed with multiple flavor toppings equals Tacos!  For dessert the sweets from Mi Tierra and coffee.

The three days in Texas felt like the lazy dog days of summer.  San Antonio, Texas was not what I had imagined, it’s modernized.  I didn’t spot any swinging doors at saloons or tumbleweeds across the hot sand dunes as I hoped for.  Though, my experience felt like a culture exchange, or woofing  which I have never done either.   With the wonderful generous five star hospitality from the Tanner – Miller family, I sense that my experience was better.  The do-it-yourself attitude without all the fuss is really admirable as it’s a way of life.  Or it could be I was just very lucky to be adopted by the right family for a 3 day weekend.  Go compost, backyard chickens, home pressed tortillas, hand churned ice cream and Guadalupe River!

For a visual recap visit my Facebook page.  I hope you like it!

Addresses:

Gruene Hall ///  1281 Gruene Rd.  New Braunfels, TX 78130

Great Texan Pecan Candy Co.  ///  1633 Hunter Rd. Suite B New Braunfels, TX. 78130

Mi Tierra /// 218 Produce Row San Antonio, TX 78207

La Fogata /// 2427 Vance Jackson Rd San Antonio, TX 78213

text and images © iluvpotato 2011