Category Archives: Travel and traditions

A Tomato Plant Grows (slowly) in Geneva

For years I have been theoretically committed to learning how to grow some of my own produce. I can’t think of a good reason why not to! It involves dirt, fresh produce, it is a more sustainable means of food production, you can better control what you eat, and urban gardening is just the coolest concept of our time – RIGHT?

But I have not been known for my green thumbs, and I’ve got a very whiny inner couch-potato. Plus, with the travel schedule I maintain, growing anything has been next to impossible. Yes, I could get a neighbor to help water my plants while I’m away… but that would involve meeting the neighbors. Which takes effort. Etc. And if that’s not illustrative enough, I should report that my attempt at an herb garden last year turned into a miniature graveyard within two weeks, no joke.

So this year, when I tripped over this announcement by Tomates Urbaines, I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand, once again, at making things grow at home.

It was April when I received my seeds from Tomates Urbaines. After first spilling the seeds all over the floor, I swept them up and managed to sprinkle them into the bottom of a small plastic bin to get them started (I can’t say for sure if a few other things that I picked up off the floor didn’t get planted as well….).  You cannot possibly imagine my childlike excitement when they first sprouted!  Who needs the whole tomato? Just this tiny little sprout was enough to make me feel accomplished.

my first little sprouts!

my first little sprouts!

Well, not really. I do want the tomatoes I said to myself, to which my inner couch-potato sighed.

Next, my travel schedule kicked in – two weeks solid without being home, and no one there to water my little babies. I took a chance and put the bins outside, crossing my fingers that nature would do its thang. I was convinced I would come home to mud. But lo and behold! My little sprouts had grown up to be proper toddler plants!

The time soon came when I needed to pot them. But I didn’t have any pots. And it was a Sunday, in Geneva, which means: nowhere to go to buy pots. Foiled again, this time they would die for sure.

But then, lifesaver, my partner reminded me of the old plastic bottle trick. With my inner couch potato kicking and screaming, I spent my afternoon sawing off the bottoms of the bottles (with some help from the muscle man in my life) and viciously stabbing holes into their bottoms for drainage.  Then I nervously pricked the roots out of the dirt with a pencil, and placed them into new little pots. And wouldn’t you know, they didn’t collapse and die in the process. Amazing!

I WAS SUPPOSED TO TAKE PHOTOS BUT CLEARLY COMPLETELY FORGOT.

My eight tomato plants looked like a much messier version of these (photo taken from http://www.insideurbangreen.org)

In May, I once again had to abandon the kiddies for nearly two weeks. I bid farewell to them, leaving them outdoors again, assuming (again) that they would die a miserable death either by drowning or dehydration. But by now, I think you know how the story goes: when I got back, they were totally fine!

The month of June has gone by like a flash. I re-potted them since they were getting super tall. Tomates Urbaines had announced I should be seeing leaves growing out of the armpits of the branches by now, which I should prune. But why were there no little leaves in MY plants’ armpits?? I freaked that my babies were falling behind the pack. What would it take? Special ed classes? More parental supervision? Love?? Yes to all is what I was guessing.

This is kind of what they looked like at this stage.

This is kind of what they looked like at this stage.

 

So, a bit behind schedule, I finally bought bigger pots, tons of soil, sticks, and wire, and finally made the move to put them outside permanently. Their stems are thickening and I’m pruning those little leaves that grow out of the armpits of the larger stems and branches. I haven’t bothered to buy fertilizer, which I managed to forget last time I went to the DIY shop. And out of sheer convenience, I’m naively assuming no fungus or disease would dare go near my little tomato elves.

 

no branches from the armpits yet

my pre-teen tomato garden

Now it’s July, and Tomates Urbaines says they should soon be bearing fruit. WHAT FRUIT?? I don’t see even the bud of a possible fruit on my plants! Are they not getting enough sun? Water? Do I really have to haul ass and get that fertilizer?  But it’s summer summer summer tiiiiime! Time for sleeping and reading and lazing around!

But I can’t give up now, no! I’ve come this far. Couch potato or no couch potato, I will make tomatoes happen. As soon as I’ve finished watching this YouTube clip of the hamster eating the burrito…

 

 

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Le Petit Lac: where even stunning views can’t distract you from the bland food

It was a glorious Sunday afternoon, sun blazing above us in a dark blue sky, a soft warm breeze in the air….  what an incredible relief after all the rain we’ve had dumped on us this year! Euphoria! And after a week of eating at home to save some cash, the inevitable finally happened: we deserved a reward!  And we wanted filets de perches du lac! What a feel good way to end a feel good day, right?

With such short notice, we got concerned about getting a reservation. On a Sunday evening. On a sunny terrace. In June. In Geneva. To have good perches du lac. Surely it would be a challenge. We acted fast, scanning through the handful of restaurants that are known to have all of the above qualities, and snagged a table overlooking the lake at Le Petit Lac in Corsier-Port. We breathed a sigh of relief knowing our cravings would soon be satisfied.

But they weren’t. The restaurant may be in a beautiful (really, stunning!) location, with a fantastic (really, breathtaking!) view… but they know that’s the main attraction. With a view like that, why bother making an effort on the food? The proof is in the plate: what comes out of their kitchen is slow, bland, and overpriced.  150chf+ for two starters, two mains, a dessert, and 3 glasses of wine. Granted, for Geneva, maybe not so shocking, but for that poor quality?  I’d rather pic-nic by the Jet d’Eau (But the location is gorgeous!)

See? Just goooorgeous!

First, a little background.

For those of you who have not been around Geneva very long, “filets de perches du lac” may mean nothing to you. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that I was told by a foreign friend of mine that where they come from, perch is a fish only served to cats! See if HE ever gets invited to dinner again!  Because here in Geneva, the perches du Lac is the canton’s darling dish.

Let’s remove the veil of ignorance though, shall we? In reality, filets de perche du lac is of the simplest dishes you can find: small perch, lightly battered, pan fried, and – traditionally at least – served under a sauce meuniere (that’s butter, lemon and parsley to you francophobes). Oh, and lest we forget, the dish comes accompanied by a plate of ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS GENEVA FRENCH FRIES!

They say the simplest of pleasures are the best, but any really good chef knows that it is the simplest of dishes that is also the easiest to screw up. If one thing goes wrong, there is no place to hide. And if you thought all filets de perches were made equal, well, think again my friends. To a discerning diner like myself, there is much to take into consideration.

1. The perches

The most important matter of debate, for any well-versed Genevan, is the origin of the perche.  Heaven forbid they come from any other lake but our very own Lac Léman. In fact, locals are so fussy about it, that restaurants have gone so far as to lie about where the fish is from. Hate to break it to you folks, but if you see a sign for filets de perche “du lac”, it probably is from a lake – just not this particular lake. Most likely, they are from Estonia. And let’s be honest: that is probably not the end of the world. (The difference? Foreign fishy is smaller, local fishy is bigger.)

Still, when I got my swiss passport, I vowed always to ask before ordering, and so I did. In fact, the waiter was so kind as to fess up immediately: the protected season for perche from our lake was extended this year because of the weather, and so they are only serving the perches from Estonia. Fine. Good man for being upfront. But were they frozen? No, he assured us, all products are fresh. Ok. Bring it!

....

….

2. The sauce

It may seem like just butter, but it’s not. A good filet de perche comes in a lightly fragrant sauce that lifts up the delicate flavor of the fish. Butter, yes, lemon, yes, parsley, yes, but all combined in perfect harmony, with the right consistency… I’m not sure what the secrets are, but it is somehow pretty easy for cooks to screw it up.  So in addition to the traditional sauce meunière, restaurants also usually offer their own twists on the sauce, adding a touch of cream, maybe a squeeze of orange, a white wine base, or other ingredients.

3. The FRENCH FRIES!

Yes yes, the fish, the sauce, fine, but what we really came for, and what we will really judge a restaurant for, is the quality of their french fries!  THAT is the main criteria from differentiating between one restaurant and the other.

See? They even LOOK stale, bland and boring

See? They even LOOK stale, bland and boring

Putting it all together

I ultimately ordered the filets de perche du lac (d’Estonie). Le Petit Lac offered a variety of sauces, as expected, but I went for the classic, always intent on judging a restaurant by its core, not by its bells and whistles. The dish that came out was a disappointment on sight. The perches were very small, and battered in a mix that was obviously to heavy on the flour, leaving the texture of the fish cardboard dry. The sauce meunière was tasteless, as though it had been watered down, or if they somehow skipped the butter.  And the fries had that exaggerated yellow, square look. Come to think of it, they might even have been machine cut and frozen, they were so tasteless. But I was hungry, so I added a bunch of salt to everything and down the hatch it all went.

Last chance dessert

Struggling to overcome my disappointment, I gathered my forces and asked about another Geneva classic that warms my heart: a Coupe Danemark. They had it on their menu, but the key to a good coupe Danemark is in the chocolate sauce. It must be bittersweet chocolate, melted on the spot, served very warm, and have just the right amount of fats in it so that it doesn’t congeal upon contact with the ice cream. (I know: i’m a discerning b*tch). I asked, as always, if the sauce was made fresh, or if it was out of a squeezy bottle. The waiter looked at me a little offended: But of COURSE it’s freshly melted. Fine, I’ll have one of those then.

Note, the sauce was served in the cup already. A telling sign that it wasn't made fresh. (It's usually served on the side)

Note, the sauce was served in the cup already. A telling sign that it wasn’t made fresh. (It’s usually served on the side)

It was unsurprisingly far from what I expect from a good Coupe. The chocolate sauce was cold and way too runny – like the butter sauce, as though it has been watered down. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Bon.

Yes, it makes a difference.

Especially when dishes have such a simple design, the quality of products and balance of ingredients makes a huge difference. So if you want good perches, try to stick to the Geneva lake ones, if for no other reason then because they will be fresher. Added bonus that they would not have been shipped, reducing your carbon footprint for the meal. As for restaurants, go to Rolle, to the Café du Port. They are on the same lake as us believe it or not, it’s a lovely trip there, and you will eat perches and fries like you’ve never done before.

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Parisian Pain au Chocolat Safari

What better way to experience Paris’ finest pain au chocolat than on a scooter at 3am in the freezing cold? (No, I mean it, that really is the best way.)

It was my 30th birthday awhile back and my bestest partner in crime surprised me with the ride of my life to taste test one of my childhood favorites: the pain au chocolat.

Let me take a few steps back to explain just why this was the best birthday excursion ever: pain au chocolat’s were what I looked forward to every morning when I woke up as a kid. But it breaks my heart to say that I have a hard time finding a good pain au chocolat in Geneva these days. Older generations might say the drive down in quality happened long ago, but in my lifetime, I can trace it back to the late 1990s when the bakery chains took over our beloved local, individual owned shops. (Pouly and company be damned!) This pushed me to acknowledge, finally, that the best pain au chocolats very well might be in France (whither my Swiss pride…).
So IMAGINE my glee when my 30th birthday turned out to be all about tasting Paris’ finest pain au chocs! The mission? Finding the pain au choc I have come to idealize in my memories: a good pain au chocolat to me is buttery, a bit flakey on the outside, a bit doughy in the middle, and with two strips of dark chocolate cooked “al dente” – in this case meaning that the bars are pretty consistent, keeping a slight bite to them, and not just two strips of smudged chocolate as I see so often nowadays.
The Safari kicked off at the ungodly yet oh-so-savory hour of 1am, when bakers around Paris are up and at ’em stirring up and baking the stuff our tastiest dreams are made of. The fine folks of Boulangerie Pichard had been asked (and cordially agreed) to let us two mere mortals observe them as they artfully rolled up croissants, folded over pain au chocolats, layered gallettes des rois, and confectioned fruit tarts. So in the middle of the night, after a sweet cocktail, we boarded our safari vehicle of choice – a scooter – and zipped through the streets of Paris to Boulangerie Pichard, guided by the light of the Eiffel tower and the whiff of baked goods.
Frozen as our bodies were upon arrival, my oh my was it worth the icy cold scooter trip over there. For two hours, Pichard Jr took us around, showed us the ropes, told us about how the industry has changed over the years, how they are the only bakery in town that gets the kind of butter they get (which of course makes ALL the difference!) and the best way to roll a croissant so it has space to puff out, but not so much so that it unrolls. We even got to help roll them out after a few tips (and apologies to the next day’s clientele who surely observed some oddly shaped croissants as a result).
Official ingredients of any good cooking: butter, butter and moooore butter!

Official ingredients of any good cooking: butter, butter and moooore butter!

rollin' with a pro

rollin’ with a pro

Bakers they may be, but pastry chefs too! Their apricot pies were layed out on decadent looking almond paste and flakey puff pastry...

Bakers they may be, but pastry chefs too! Their apricot pies were layed out on decadent looking almond paste and flakey puff pastry…

The experience was a dream, and I can’t wait to try to make the pain au chocolat at home. In the meantime, we zipped back on our scooter through the cold damp dawn to get a few hours of sleep before we headed back out on the scooter for the pain au chocolat safari, consisting of four stops at Paris’ finest award winning bakeries.
First stop, Boulangerie Pichard again! (What do you expect, we HAD to taste the magical little pastries we had just made). This time we went in through the front door and got to see the shop front in all its golden glory.
Baker's billion

Baker’s billion

King's cake! (or galette des rois, which Pichard sends out to half of Europe in January...)

King’s cake! (or galette des rois, which Pichard sends out to half of Europe in January…)

1. Boulangerie Pichard
The pain au chocolat at Boulangerie Pichard was perhaps the nicest dough we tasted – it was so buttery and flakey, a bit doughy on the inside, and had a nice herby/flowery perfume in it that must have come from the butter itself. Indeed, irreplaceable! Only complaint was the chocolate, which tasted great, but just did not have the consistency I look for.
Two turtle doves of baked deliciousness

Two turtle doves of baked deliciousness

2. Dominique Saibron
From Pichard, we scooted over to Dominique Saibron. Here, the chocolate bar was bigger and had more of a bite to it, which made my inner girlie girl giggle with delight. The dough didn’t have quite the character we tasted at Pichard, but it remained beautifully flakey.
Dominique Saibron's good pain au choc, but not the best

Dominique Saibron’s good pain au choc, but not the best

3. Du Pain et des Idées
After Saibron, it came time to have some “real” food, which involved a stunningly good lunch at Anne Sophie Pic’s restaurant, La Dame de Pic… but I digress. The pain au choc at Du Pain et des Idees required us to wait for a good 20 minutes in line, in the humid cold. We didn’t eat this one until we got back to the hotel, so the goods may have been a little shell shocked from the long scooter ride home…. nonetheless, the dough was the most flakey we had had so far, with lovely layers, crisp on the outside… almost like a flakey pie crust. In flavor however, it also could not match the flowery creamy taste of Pichard’s.
Du Pain et des Idées... frencher than french!

Du Pain et des Idées… frencher than french!

Du Pain et des Idées

Du Pain et des Idées

4. Blé Sucré
Last but not least, we stopped by Blé Sucré to try out their pain au chocolat. Here, we found the best consistency and taste in the chocolate – substantial and dark and with just a little bite to it. The pastry however paled in comparison to the previous four. But let’s be honest, it was still a great pain au choc by any measure.
Blé Sucré

Blé Sucré

And the winner is…… anyone you want! My personal favorite was either Pichard’s or Du Pain et des Idees, but honestly, you would love breaking the bread off any of them. Bon app indeed!
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What’s to Love about Julia Child?

If you are a foodie of any kind, I surely do not need to tell you that today we celebrate what would be Julia Child’s 100th birthday!

I was reflecting on the importance of this woman culinary history. She was in the OSS (former CIA) during World War II, They say she was just an amateur, a self-made woman who pushed and grunted her way through the Cordon Bleu at a time when women were relegated to the simple side of cuisine. And that she brought the art of french cooking to the United States (if only the art had established itself…)

My admiration for her in the end is twofold, and I share it here partly because I haven’t written in months and I need some motivation to get a few big pieces off my desk 🙂

First of all, this is a woman who had an innate ability to test recipes repeatedly until they were just right. Where on earth she found the time and the patience, I don’t know, but I love her for it. It was a revelation to me when I discovered, by reading her biography, that there is indeed a difference between the creams you find in France and in the US, and that the difference can be bridged in most cases if you follow her instructions. Julia Child was tireless and fearless, and I’d give my left arm for that kind of focused dedication to a passion..!

The second aspect that just makes me all giddy every time I think of it is her stubborn appreciation of the importance of fat in French cooking. Butter, butter and more butter! Margarine is no substitute! Concerned about your health? Of course, and so am I. But in the words of the fearless female leader, born 100 years ago today:  “I would rather eat one tablespoon of chocolate russe cake than three bowls of Jell-O.” 

London’s Muncheable Markets

Wax stereotypical all you want about English food, London will keep you stuffed and satisfied with flavors from every nook and cranny on the planet. And I’m not talking fish and chips or bangers and mash (those are good too, natch). Nor am I talking about the city’s famed luxury restaurants. Nor about what seems to be the edge of pop up restaurant culture – also very cool. Not even talking about the throbbing local/slow food ethos that seems to have cut into the very mainstream of food service.

Somewhere between this, that and the other, there lies the origin of this cornucopia: London’s markets. The places where food has been bought, sold, eaten and chased with booze for a good millennia.  The places where all those other places got the produce and products they need to make their own magic. And after centuries of crisscrossing and exchanging and learning and cooking, they now bring to you some of the most delicious, popular street foods from England and around the world.

And boy do they know how to do markets. While there, I got to traipse around the most famous of them all, Borough Market, and Brick Lane – a perfect Saturday/Sunday pairing. Want more salt with that? Read on.

Borough Market (under the bridge downtown)

It’s known as the oldest of London’s Markets, and yet still one of its trendiest – and that’s certainly the vibe you get when you get there. Atop the grit that could only come from centuries of rotting vegetable clippings are classic 21st century fixtures waiting and ready to serve the throes of market goers. Tucked under an elevated tube station, the market doesn’t cover a massive surface area, but boy do they pack it with variety. Of course you have the traditional colorful vegetable stands and the stands made of towering enormous loaves of bread and focaccia. Nestled between the fruits and veggies is where you fin the real gems: espresso booths serving up smooth blends with picture perfect foam designs, oystermen shucking oysters to order, and fresh pressed exotic juices.

Craving something with a little more…. Umph? Sweat not, this is your weekend hangover paradise. Try an English toasty made with raclette cheese and onions, or go fully traditional and grab a banger in a bun. I personally tried one of pork sausage with bacon, fried onions, lettuce tomato, and spicy mustard…. But if you’re REALLY hungry and feeling adventurous get all that plus blood sausage, cheese and pressed potatoes!

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Brick Lane (international hipster smorgasbord)

Looking for something with a little more bite? You can get your fill at Brick Lane Market, a veritable international crossroads of street foods set to the sounds of a human beat box and double bassist playing live. I tried counting, but I’ll be honest, counting is not my strong spot. Let’s just say there are foods from lots and lots and lots of countries. Here’s the short list of what was on offer: Thai pad thai and curry puffs, Chinese pot stickers, Malaysian crepes, Korean pho, Japanese onigiri, Cuban ropa vieja and deep fried sweet plantains, Jamaican beef stew, Barbadian jerk chicken, Turkish spinach and feta crepes with yoghurt and mint sauce, Moroccan tajine, Ethiopian injera and wats, Spanish paella, Italian panini, German curry wurst , Mexican burritos and fajitas, Peruvian saltados….. but why belabor the point?  Pictures below.

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What’s the Matter with Cuba(n Food)?

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Welcome to 2012!

From the explosively good flavors of the Basque country, I hopped on a plane and flew to the always impressive diverse culinary scene in New York City. Call me crazy, but I feel like every time I go back there, the food options have gotten quirkier, more specialized, and more particular, hitting every note on the taste bud spectrum. Hell, it even hit notes I didn’t even know existed! And that’s the amazing thing about the cooking tradition in a place where pretty much no one is from the land they stand on. Centuries of cultural mixing, clashing and swirling around in such a concentrated space, and VOILA! You really do get the great American melting pot.

But that’s a whole other story. After four unbelievable brunches (sigh… how I miss thee NYC brunch with your kooky cocktails, poached eggs and pancakes…), I found myself in what just might be the exact opposite of NYC’s flavor spectrum- Havana, Cuba.

Havana would be impossible to capture in this posting- the city is vibrant above and beyond any I’ve seen before, with music coming out of the cracks in the sidewalk, the crumbling walls and the peeling paint. The streets are bustling but unlike in NYC, the chaos doesn’t breed anger. Artists’ studios spill onto the sidewalk, and – yes – old couples dance salsa together on the square at sunset. The stereotype is all true: Havana is a city of resplendent and vivacious culture!

But if you don’t know already, there is also a widespread rumor that Cuban food is bad. There is practically no debate about it in fact: the consensus is that it is simply bad, and bland.

Now, as an avid lover of rice and beans and friend plantains, I assumed the rumors were being spread by prickly tourists who simply can’t appreciate the local food. On a mission to prove the world wrong, we tried food at a state restaurant, a semi-private restaurant, a resort, at the historic Hotel Nacional and even got to try a typical Cuban home cooked meal. But I have to admit, the rumors were pretty accurate: the food was bland. And overcooked. Consistently.  And yet, Havana, much like New York City, has a history as a port and as a crossroads, where cultures wove in and out, creating a diversity of culinary traditions. Cuban cuisine traditionally ranges from Spanish-imported paella and ropa vieja (braised beef), to lobster drenched in mojo (garlic and butter sauce), to simple ham and cheese sandwiches. In fact, I’ve had the chance to taste some old fashioned home cooked Cuban picadillo (a ground beef dish with olives and raisins among other ingredients to the chef’s liking), and it’s unbelievably good!

So what’s the problem? After a fair amount of research, there would be two arguments. One is that they simply like bland food. (…..not convinced? me neither. But Google it, you’d be amazed how many people come up with this conclusion). My hypothesis however, which was confirmed by some websites, is that spices are expensive and difficult to access, discouraging their use in appropriate amounts. With such an interventionist state, a lot of food products are rashioned. Beef, for example, can only be served at State run establishments for example. Perhaps it comes as no surprise therefore that the typical street food is none other than hamburgers and pizzas. Wait, were we talking about New York or Havana???

Of course, there are exceptions, and in all fairness, we were only there for a few days, so lord knows what goodness was waiting for us around the corner. The highlight? Paladar la Guarida, where the dishes are creative, well prepared and tasty yum yum! Not to mention the setting, which is absolutely surreal, with its crumbling walls, abundance of antique posters and decorations, and beautiful chandeliers. And to give Cuban cooks credit, the products are fresh, the food is prepared fresh, and when it’s served to you with such TLC, well… let’s just say that in the absence of packaged flavors, Cubans figured out how to add their own variety of spice.

Where to go: 

Paladar La Guarida, of Fresa y Chocolate fame, is one of the better restaurants in Havana. It is situated in the most breathtaking building structure- that lone is worth the visit.

Casa Colonial – a Casa particular (like a Bed and Breakfast) where the hosts will make you great breakfast of fresh whole fruit, fresh pressed juice, fresh baked rolls and eggs-as-you-like-em. They will also make dinner on request- we had chicken with congri (read: rice cooked together with black beans), plantain chips and salad. Such a homey relief after the devastation of the Varadero resort food!!

Where NOT to go: 

El Museo del Chocolate. Now, I am a full out chocoholic. Yes, I’m a bit picky, but in an emergency, when a true craving hits, just about anything goes. And yet, I found myself incapable of finishing their hot chocolate, and spitting out their stuffed dark chocolates. Believe it or not, they put in WAY too much rum!! Please trust me on this one. The 20 minute lines are not worth it. Skip it.

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Christmas pintxos in the Basque Country

A whole 20 days since my last post! I can’t quite believe it has taken me until christmas to catch up on my blogging. Needless to say, the food experiences haven’t slowed down in the least: after christmas markets and experiments in hungarian cooking, i tested out chocolate chip and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, magret de canard fume on focaccia with a touch of raifort mixed with creme fraiche, and discovered a website mapping out the city’s bakeries (!!!! – more on that soon…)

All that will have to be shared in good time though, because for now i just spent the day touring some of the world’s best tapas joints in San Sebastian, Spain. An unconventional Christmas eve, perhaps, but also one of the best I have had in recent memory!

As it happens, Spain doesn’t celebrate Christmas when and how I am used to. So instead of gorging ourselves on turkey, capon or roast ham, as per the northern American tradition(s), we set out for a walk around San Sebastian’s old town (la Parte Vieja) to taste test what the region is known for: its mostly fish and seafood based tapas, aka, pintxos.

[Brief pause for a historical interlude: the word “tapas” or tapa in its singular form, means lid in spanish. The term tapas was coined when one of Spain’s kings was in the region and was served a glass of wine with a plate of snacks served over it to keep the flies out of it. When the waiter returned, the king reportedly requested another glass with its “tapa” – and thus the tapas was born.]

What’s really to love about the food from around here? I would have to say it is the Basque insistence on top quality products served at their freshest. Rather than doused in sauces or left to marinate in complex mixes of spices, food here is prepared such that the true flavor of the ingredient is displayed at its tastiest. So a fresh strip of anchovy on a piece of baguette-like bread topped with a pinch of chopped onions and peppers with a drizzle of olive oil will send you to seventh heaven – as served at bar Martinez on Calle 31 de agosto.

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Other star players include the famous bacalao (codfish), lightly cooked calamari, fresh tuna, fried green or red small peppers, and of course, the jamon iberico. Most of these are just lightly brushed with olive oil, and layered in various combos on a piece of bread. The result? Two bites of mmmm mmmm so gooood…!

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Another discovery I’ve made is a beverage called mosto (must in English). Made of sweet grapes, but very light in flavor, this drink is perfect for quenching your thirst in any weather. Kind of like white wine, but without the acidity and the hangover. Best served with ice, a slice of lemon and an olive, or with a few sprigs of fresh mint instead of the olive.

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Of course, San Seb is also known for its high concentration of starred restaurants. I didn’t have time to try these out, sadly I would say, if it weren’t for the fact that the pintxos alone were totally titillating. Definitely look up these gastro gems though if you are in town!

the where how and when
This one is easy. Go to Calle 31 de agosto and try bar Martinez or A fuego negro for absolutely top notch. Gandarias taberna was also good, but a definite second place overall. Go between 1pm and 2:30pm for a stimulating lunch, and polish off the afternoon with a walk through the old town and along the gorgeously sculpted beach….

And it is a very merry Christmas indeed : )

Go on then- how was it for you??

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Fowl Family Traditions

Whether you are American or not, I am guessing there is a possibility that you will be eating turkey this week. Definitely if you are American, and even if you’re not, I imagine you know an American who is taunting you with turkey this week.

Because yes, it is thanksgiving. And I am guessing, if you are not American, you really don’t get what the day is all about. I mean you know – just guessing.

Of course you have the historical roots. Pilgrims arrived to what is now called the United States. The original thanksgiving dinner was supposed to have taken place at Plymouth Rock in 1621, when the Pilgrims finally had a good harvest thanks to the Wampanoag Native Americans who provided them with seeds and taught them how to fish.

But this history is contested and controversial – The Addams Family might actually provide a more accurate account of what occurred during that period of history (man, who else misses watching kids movies??) And, in fact, it is found that Pilgrims brought the tradition with them a little all over the place, including Canada, Grenada, the Netherlands, Norfolk Island, and even Liberia(!).

At its heart, it’s a celebration of the harvest, and the Pilgrims were giving thanks for abundance they had gone without for awhile. In other words, they ate their faces off because they finally had plenty to eat. (Come on now, wouldn’t you be thankful?)

Today, however, it spells something a little different (though the face stuffing tradition still holds): entire families sitting down at dinner tables for a feast of rare proportion (sometimes peppered with a heavy dose of traditional family tension and argument, but hey, what else is family for?) Although there are the staple elements – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie – everywhere people have made it their own: some do sweet potatoes, some mashed, some put in melty marshmallows; some deep fry the turkey, others wrap it in bacon, and most (sane) people just stick it in the oven and roast it. In the Southern United States they typically serve it with mac ‘n’ cheese (or so I’m told) and have a tendency to serve their veggies up in casseroles. They even throw in roast ham and other meats (gasp!).

Chez moi, we stick to a relatively Northern U.S. tradition: roast turkey (though we used to roast capon…..),  mashed potatoes, broccoli soufflé, mom’s homemade cranberry sauce and stuffing, and good ole pumpkin pie.  Good food, good family, go home full and happy.

In any case, it’s a sure feast. This year I have the good fortune of having thanksgiving twice – that’s alotta turkey, but nothing compared to last year’s four (yup, 4) turkey dinners. Needless to say, for a fair weather turkey eater it was a little rough. But lets face it, when it comes to thanksgiving, whether you like turkey or not – and whether you like your family or not – you just can’t chicken out. (;D)

What’s your twist on it?

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