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ISLA MUJERES

ISLA MUJERES

In March, we returned to one of our old homes — the island of Isla Mujeres, Mexico where we enjoyed a vacation with family ...


ISLAND LIFE

SNORKELING

 

VISITING RUINS (COBA & TULUM)

EXPLORING CENOTES

VALLADOLID

VALLADOLID

TULUM

TULUM

DIY GIN

DIY GIN

For Christmas, my brother and his family gave us our very own DIY Gin Kit. Turned out to be the perfect accessory for a So Cal roadtrip ...

TRAVNIK

TRAVNIK

A glorious day at Travnik, a 14th-century mountain town and once the seat of Ottoman power in Bosnia ...

One of the traditional weavers at the Travnik fort's cultural museum showed us her handicrafts before sending us off with hugs.

Exploring the Travnik Fort ...

—   THINGS WE ATE   

In the middle photo: Ustipci!  Traditional fried bread eaten sweet or savory. In this case, it was served with tomatoes, cured meat and kajmak, a fresh unpasteurized cheese spread. On the plate to the left—krumpir, Bosnian mashed potatoes.

Below the Stari Grad in Travik there are three large words painted in blue on a wall: "Never Forget Srebrenica".

On July 22, 1995, the Serb army led by General Ratko Mladić stormed the UN Safe zone around the town of Srebenica in Eastern Bosnia and killed 8000 Bosniak men and boys in a mass execution. Their aim was to rid the area of Muslims. The killings took place in abandoned factories and forests; some of the victims' mass graves are still undisovered. It was Europe's worst atrocity since WWII.

SARAJEVO

SARAJEVO

Welcome to Sarajevo, city of saints, survivors and innovators. The war of the 1990's is integral to the fabric of this city and will never be forgotten. It is only one aspect of this intriguing cultural & architectural melting pot, however. There are surprises, it seems, around every corner of this ancient-modern-new-old city.

We never tired of the view from our apartment on Alije Nametka, a fifteen-minute walk up the hill from the Bascarsija, Sarajevo's 15th-century historic bazaar in the old city. The front of the flat was a wall of windows that faced a beautiful panamora (below, left). In the mornings, sunlight illuminated the mountains to the south where Olympic skiers competed in 1984. Each evening, around 10:38 PM, the call to prayer would begin and gradually, all the mosques would join in. Each night, we stopped to listen as their voices spread across the city like sparks on the wind.

TITO WAS A GREAT MAN

We heard this echoed by several Bosnians. This gentlemen (right), peddling trinkets and souvenirs from a cart on Marsala Tita street was no different. In his hand, he holds a 1961 medal of military distinction from the Yugoslav army. As we sat on stools, paging through his bulging book of Soviet-era and post-war pins, he called his friend over from another shop to join the conversation. "The time of Tito were best years," this second man exclaimed, hands in the air. "My children do not know this, but me, my parents, my grandparents—we know. In those days, we have food and jobs. All people live together: Christian, Jew, Muslim. Bosnian, Croat, Serb. They are happy times, good times. Tito was a great man." 

Before we left, the man flipped through his book one last time. He extracted a small, silver pin from the 1984 Olympics. "For you," he said, handing it over with a flourish. "So that you always remember Sarajevo." 

As if we could ever forget.

—   THINGS WE ATE   

While we found less seafood in Sarajevo, we hit the jackpot with meats, vegetables, soups and sauces. One of our favorite meals was Sitni Cevap (left), a dish of savory veal in a sauce of carrots, garlic, onions, parsley, tomatoes, sugar and paprika, served with tomato and cucumber salad and flatbread. Another dish that won us over was Klepe (middle), minced meat or vegetable dumplings (similar to ravioli) in a creamy garlic sauce. Also enjoyed but not pictured) was Punjene Paprike, Bosnian stuffed peppers. Fresh fruit (right) was plentiful at the stands near the Sebilj, the landmark wooden fountain at the heart of the the bazaar in the Old City. We paired this seller's juicy apricots and berries with pastries and bread from the pekara each morning for a cheap, delicious breakfast. (Note his excellent T-Shirt which made us feel right at home!)

BOSNIAN COFFEE

Pure delight comes in the form of Bosnian Coffee! Served on a tray with tiny accoutrement—ceramic cup, copper džezvas, spoon, sugar cubes and rahat lokum (known by Westerners as "Turkish Delight"), Bosnian Coffee is made and drunk in a very specific way. In preparation, the coffee (ground with mortar and pestle) is heated with cold water in a džezva on the stove until it foams. When it is ready, the drinker first eats a piece of rahat lokum then, takes a sip of water to cleanse the pallet. Next, the foam is spooned off the top of the džezva, coffee is poured into the cup and the foam is added back on top. Lastly, a bite of sugar is taken and the rest of the cube placed beneath the tongue to dissolve as sipping continues. Some Bosnians can linger over one little cup of coffee for hours. Clearly, the pleasure lies in the ritual; the savoring of time as much as taste. We were so smitten with this Bosnian tradition that we brought back a handmade coffee set to enjoy at home.

NOSHING IN REDMOND

NOSHING IN REDMOND

Whenever Jill and I are together, there is much feasting and rejoicing ...

GRANADA

GRANADA

Andalusia is the Spain one dreams of—sunny and dry but not arid, plentiful with palms painted against a backdrop of azure skies. Everywhere in Granada, the intoxicating confluence of Europe and North Africa is evident in the food, architecture, and people. Street life unfolds in a whirl of exotic aromas, sounds and textures and in the hills of Sacromonte, the gypsy culture thrives where the locals live—as they have for centuries—in houses built into ancient caves ...


Raquel's Cave House ...


More photos of Granada ...


Bonus Footage: Raquel's pet turtle trying to chase and shell-butt us ... 

BARCELONA

BARCELONA

Of all the dazzling Spanish cities, Barcelona checked muy, muy boxes. After ogling eye-popping architecture, meandering markets, idling in fairytale parks and cooling our heels at a string of beach cafes—we ate. And then? We ate some more ...

SIERRA ENGARCERAN

SIERRA ENGARCERAN

From Sitges, Jill and I drive south to Valencia. Our destination is the tiny village of Sierra Engarceran in the province of Castellón. We arrive late in the day, our Smart Car rolling through the narrow, shuttered streets like a marble in a maze. Slowly, people begin to appear—an old man with his matted, brown dog, boys unloading a truck, a cluster of women chatting on a side street.

I park in the plaza and phone Rob, our host. He arrives moments later, unfolding himself from a blue Citroen as his dog peers out from the back window. His hands and jeans are dusty with clay as he kisses us gruffly on both cheeks. He is an artist, an almond farmer, a joyful transplant. We follow him on the serpentine road out of town and are rendered speechless by the late afternoon light that folds down across the hills like giant, gold wings.

*

We stand in the stone piazza outside his masia—his farmhouse—and gaze at the craggy peak at its back, the steep incline bursting with herbs.

“Remember, you are in rural Spain," Rob says, in his gentle British lilt, when we ask about Wi-Fi and the nearest amenities. His nonchalant shrug signals that we will be far from pretty much everything for the next week. Life will move at a snail's pace; there will be mist and fog and drizzle and possibly—storms.

Each detail of his property seems plucked from a novel: the tidy terraces of almond trees, green, sunken pool in the garden, the living room’s snug, stone fireplace. In the kitchen, we linger beneath low-slung beams and admire the postcard view of the village framed by a large window. Rob’s dog, Idgie weaves between us excitedly, her black body sleek as a raven’s wing.

Rob begins to list off possible points of interest—we could hike to the saddle of Tossal de l’Om (the mountain behind the masia and the site of a 14th Century Muslim encampment only recently unearthed by archaeologists). Or, we might drive to the nearby towns of Ares and Morella—ancient, walled cities topped by medieval castles. As Rob talks, I fat-finger notes into my phone and finally—after building a fire in the living room and showing us a stash of leftover wine—he departs, Idgie trotting at his heels. 

Left to our own devices, we realize that we are in need of supplies. We return to town and following my muddled notes, drive in circles until we finally locate the carnisseria. Entering, we dodge the swish of beaded curtains, and are greeted by Ima, the shop owner. She is aproned and curvaceous with an inquisitive face framed by brown curls. Briskly, she beckons us inside.

“Qué te gustaría?” She asks, feet and hands spread wide. What would you like?

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Words leave my mouth in a slow stream and her tiny counter begins to fill: oranges, avocados, bananas, broccoli, apricots, tomatoes, thick slices of ham, cream, mayo, eggs, cheese, a loaf of bread and three bottles of wine—two tinto, one rosa.

As she deftly taps numbers into a calculator, she unleashes a barrage of Spanish. Where are we from? Are we staying at Rob’s masia? Is fair-haired Jill Rob’s daughter? The last question makes us laugh. Aside from the fact that they are both Caucasian, Jill and Rob look nothing alike.

In a flurry, Ima bags our purchases. The entire haul will feed us for a week and costs nineteen euros, wine included. Before we leave, she imparts snippets of local information—the bakery is open from six-thirty to two most days, never on Sundays and on Saturday, hours vary. The farmacia is around the corner and Bar Salvador sells wine, beer, cigarettes and occasionally, food.

“Entiendes?” She looks at me pointedly. Do you understand?

I nod. "Your words come so fast. Como un viento.” Like a wind.

She laughs and with the cadence of an approving mother, tells me that it’s good that I speak Spanish.

“Lo intento,” I reply.  I try. 

I will always try.

*

Back in the masia’s cozy kitchen, Jill chops piles of vegetables next to a roiling pot—heaps of broccoli, garlic and tomato. She tests the pasta, dumps the vegetables in. Fragrant steam fills the air. Splashes of cream, butter, a pinch of salt. Her elbow lifts and points as she stirs industriously with a wooden spoon. She moves with the grace of a dancer, happier than I have ever seen her.

We draw chairs up to the rough-hewn table and slurp noodles topped with fresh cheese, every so often refilling our squat, clay glasses with wine from a label-less bottle of tinto. A local map is spread out and our eyes rove the topography of Sierra Engarceran. As night shrouds the farmhouse, we become full and sated. Warmly tipsy. The iPhones come out and we play our favorite songs, loud as we please, singing along in the glow of the kitchen.

Photo May 06, 5 32 55 AM.jpg

The next day, we hike. Fog moves in a winged froth, chasing us up the rocky embankment behind the masia. Higher and higher we climb, pink-cheeked, shivering; flanked by hillside troves of hyacinth, thyme, wild lavender and mint. At the pinnacle, Jill buries her face in a feast of purple rosemary while somewhere below, dogs in the valley bark and whine. Seated on a pair of large, flat boulders, we munch sandwiches until a thickening mist sends us down through the shrubs and rock fields. Our steps, careful and precise, as if we are brittle and small and not people at all—but figurines made of glass.

*

We return late to the village one evening, sapped by the desperate, indecisive hunger of strangers in a strange land. Squinting out the car windows, we search for signs of life—a cluster of voices or the furtive glow of lamplight. But darkness has settled over the village like a solemn prayer. All is quiet.

"Bar Salvador?" Jill asks as we slow to a stop near the only place that appears to be open.

We glance at each other and shrug.

Inside, heads swivel as we enter. The dim room is lined with men watching sports, drinking beer, smoking. Murmurs trail us as we walk past.

The proprietor is tall and lanky, somehow younger than we expected in his tracksuit and dark-rimmed glasses. "Bienvenidos," he greets us.

We order wine and I ask if there is food available. He waggles his head for a moment and raises a finger as if to say, I don't usually do this but

"Mama!" He calls loudly. 

A slice of silence and then, the curtain behind the bar ruptures and a woman steps through. Like Ima, she is aproned and rotund with a benevolent face. He speaks to her in a flash of Catalan but the meaning is clear. She nods at us, smiles; disappears behind the rippling cloth.

File Oct 25, 12 50 20 PM.jpeg

We pull up chairs at a nearby table and sip our wine. Moments later, the bartender brings us two of the largest baguettes we have ever seen—mighty, hinged planks of crusty, soft bread layered with tomatoes, ham, cheese and olive oil. It is comfort food of the highest order. We devour the simple, savory flavors in rough mouthfuls, scarcely stopping to speak. Or breathe.

Blurry with fullness, we settle our bill, pantomiming our satisfaction with exaggerated gestures.

"Fuen perfecto," I say. "Y gracias a tu mama, tambien!" Thanks to your mother, also.

"De nada, de nada." The bartender dips his head with a smile. "I will tell to her!"

The curtain behind him darts and flutters, but does not open.

FIN


More Photos of Sierra Engarcaren

SITGES

SITGES

Jill, my friend of twenty years, joins me in Barcelona. Our reunion is an immediate return to our twenties; we scream when we see each other outside arrivals then, drive down the serpentine coast to Sitges where the sea blusters and roils, changing hue as if it is one, large, liquid chameleon. It is a town in which it feels as if we have gone backwards in time, backwards within our own selves. The light is soft, painterly, and we take to the skinny, cobblestone streets like teenage girls. Strolling arm-in-arm as we ogle handbags and jewelry; double-fisting gelatos as we follow our noses to one tapas joint after another.

The beach, however, is our favorite haven and we rent 6 loungers for one glorious day until the man shoos us off of them at six o'clock. We stay with our rears and soles and elbows in the sand, chair-less but happy, watching locals chase their dogs and children through the crashing waves until the last of the sun squeezes through the clouds, eventually returning to our tiny seaside apartment where, we sing and howl with laughter. All the while, eating continuously from a hastily-assembled charcuterie board of gas station staples—Iberian ham, goat cheese, berries, crackers and a surprisingly delicious bottle of rioja.

Bliss.

Hot Tip: Tarragona (45 minutes south of Sitges) has a Roman colosseum with killer views ...

THE KITCHEN HOUSE

THE KITCHEN HOUSE

Photo Apr 27, 10 27 58 AM.jpg

In the morning, I go next door again for my breakfast. I’m to go there whenever I like, Antje has said. The kitchen house is 150 years old; a traditional stone Canarian building that was about to collapse in on itself when Antje stumbled across the property in 1992. Workers on the island helped her bring the crumbling ruins back to life, adding plumbing and electricity and also—refurbishing the dilapidated goat barn in the back acre which, at the time, was nothing but a huge, overgrown jungle. During renovations, Antje lived in her caravan camper parked down in the town of Santo Domingo, 1500 feet of rocky switchbacks below the property. Gradually, the refurbished kitchen house and guest cabin blossomed into being and the goat barn became her home—an artful place of skylights, African cushions, colorful throws and vines curled around reclaimed beams.

Photo Apr 27, 9 52 59 AM.jpg

When I arrive at the kitchen house, I unlatch the blue French doors and step into a woody hive from another era. It is earthily fragrant and totally quiet, save for the ticking of a clock. On one end, wood shelves laden with recipe books, tins and baskets of fresh produce line the wall alongside a side board, gas stove and sink; bundles of herbs hang above in the rafters. On the opposite end of the room there is a lofted bed and beneath it, a sofa and upright piano that Antje brought from Germany. There is also a wood-burning stove, shelf crammed with books and one modern touch—a fish tank where a pair of red, fan-tailed cichlids dart between the rocks.

Photo Apr 28, 10 19 41 AM.jpg

On the table, my breakfast awaits: a bowl of gofio (locally-made porridge) topped with banana slices, on a plate—four green arcs of fresh avocado, a wedge of goat cheese, slices of salami and fresh bread—three coarse and brown, four soft and white. There is also an orange and hot tea. And milk, butter and jam. 

 

I begin with the gofio and then, devour the avocados atop the delicious brown bread. Thinking ahead, I pocket the orange, slice the cheese and with the meat—make two small sandwiches for my hike.

This is the morning in Antje’s kitchen house—sunny, warm and florid with rich aromas.

 

FIN

STELLAR SANDY AT ADMIRAL BIRD

STELLAR SANDY AT ADMIRAL BIRD

Meet my customized breakfast sandy (sandwich): organic egg, arugula, avocado and Admiral Bird aioli on gluten-free sweet potato waffle bread. There's really not much to say other than: I nearly passed out from acute yumness ...

SUSHI IN WEST SEATTLE

SUSHI IN WEST SEATTLE

Sushi. It is our Wednesday night ritual. Kamei is a tiny place, probably a whole 10 tables. Family-run, the service is swift and with a smile every time ...

TRAVELER MESS KIT

TRAVELER MESS KIT

Our favorite way to travel is the "One Backpack" method. Only having one backpack means less to pack, lug and lose and makes for a breezier travel experience all around. The only drawback? With limited space, where will we put the little culinary tools that help make our precious picnics possible?

We decided that if we couldn't find a mess kit to fit our needs, we would curate our own. So we did. What we love about our mess kit most is that it's light-weight, takes up hardly any space and packs FLAT ...

GOOD MORNING, SANDWICH

GOOD MORNING, SANDWICH

Another breakfast win by Jill. It's fast, it's stackable, it's nutritious. This is excellent van fare as well as the perfect, hearty, day-start sandwich ...

APPLE, HONEY, CHEESE SANDWICH

APPLE, HONEY, CHEESE SANDWICH

We happily lived on these while on a budget stay in Mexico. Looking to save some pennies? Just make a quick stop at a market and grab these four simple ingredients. Whether home or away, this is a road favorite that never fails to satisfy. And it gets 10 Stars for Picnic-ability, too!

CRAZY GOOD BREAKFAST SALAD

CRAZY GOOD BREAKFAST SALAD

My lifelong friend and travel buddy, Jill shared this simple, melt-in-your mouth breakfast salad and it's now one of our favorite anytime meals ...

AIDAN ATE WEIRD STUFF IN ICELAND

AIDAN ATE WEIRD STUFF IN ICELAND

After several days exploring the Golden Circle, Breakfast at Le Bistro in dowtown Rekyjavik was the perfect wrap-up. After we had placed a round of rather subdued orders (fruit, toast, baguettes with jam), Aidan led the way by requesting a platter of traditional Icelandic bounty ...