Dear New Zealand

Dear New Zealand,

As you know, people travel to New Zealand for your magnificent scenery and adventure sports, certainly worthy highlights, but they are not what we miss most, it’s the freekah, the labneh, the Afghans, and the Bauernbrot!  It’s about your FOOD!

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House made granola, lentil pie & flat whites.

It’s not just what you eat, it’s the whole food culture that was such a pleasant surprise to me.

P1010635Judging by the widespread use of organic, fair trade, pasture raised, sustainable, and local products, most Kiwis seem to expect quality ingredients and care about where they come from. So many have their own gardens, and stock honor boxes in their front yards to share the bounty.

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“Honor boxes” – take what you need, leave the money in a can!

In many areas we saw beehives stacked along the roadside, and bought, or were given, local honey. And the BREAD – I was so excited to find the bakers in NZ know how to make my favorite German sourdough rye.

Bauernbrot and soup

Bauernbrot and soup

Where I live, the “farm to fork” movement is gaining momentum, but in NZ, it’s just a way of life, no catchy names or movements necessary. Do you realize how lucky you are??

Afghan cookie

Afghan cookie

 A flat white and a slice…

I never would have thought that New Zealand would have the best espresso in the world. We became connoisseurs, sampling from one end of the country to the other, even developing favorites (the Italian style roasts at All Press & Havana). I was impressed how often we saw “fair trade” promoted, and that Havana uses their own, “Real Trade” designation to educate consumers about economic fairness and sustainability. I learned so much from you Kiwi foodies!

drooling yet?

drooling yet?

Aside from the espresso, the food selection in your café’s is so creative, fresh and a good value. We had real muesli, “veggie stack”, frittata, grain & kale salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then of course we couldn’t resist the “slices” and “Afghans”.  It’s refreshing to find so many places where everything is made from scratch – no bulk batters, packaged mixes, bottled dressings.

P1010077As far as I am concerned, there is only one major blemish on New Zealand’s foodie nirvana cafes – for crying out loud, how can you serve those McDonalds-style, deep-fried patties and call them hash browns? I was crushed. One chef I questioned said that they used to make real hash browns, but the Kiwis prefer the packaged ones.

Real potato pancakes at the Courthouse Cafe!

REAL potato pancakes at the Courthouse Cafe!

My favorite breakfast of the whole trip was at a place in Golden Bay that made real potato pancakes topped with avocado, spinach, poached egg and hollandaise. I still dream about it. Maybe the esteemed district councils could outlaw the frozen hash-slabs and require real, grated potato hash browns?

Now that's a sandwich!

Now that’s a sandwich!

I thought maybe our experience in NZ was unique – we just got really lucky and happened upon fantastic meals? But then I noticed that people who have traveled in New Zealand, always mention the food, before I get a chance.  That’s when I knew I had to write, to make sure you realize that your culinary culture is special. Please, continue to appreciate the healthy options you have and protect them, don’t take them for granted. Bigger and more is not better. Pay attention, be diligent, don’t let your food supply become corrupted in the name of “advancement” and profits.

Missing New Zealand!

fresh berry ice cream!

fresh berry ice cream!

Julie & David

Travel Tug of War

DSC_0034It has taken me many miles and months of travel to recognize the tug-of-war that begins on day one, and lasts well into my second or third week of a trip. I could label it jet lag, but it’s more complex than that. It’s that slow process of letting go and embracing what is new, and now. And that doesn’t come easy for most of us, hence, what I call the internal “travel tug-of-war” – one foot in one world and one in the other – straddling the abyss between comfort zone and the unknown.

I think most people are only vaguely aware of this battle going on inside them because they travel at the same frenetic pace they live by at home, so not much changes, you just see a lot of new stuff – you acquire knowledge about another culture, but you don’t have time to experience it, or share with the locals on a deeper level. That takes time.
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On the plane, I immediately jump into the transition – no Western food for me! I order the Bento Box breakfast. The flight attendant passes me three times carrying my meal, looking quizzically at her colleague, I am sure thinking – that blonde woman in 7A can’t be having the Japanese b’fast? I try to convince David to choose the Bento, but he stubbornly opts for the “egg benedict”, which turns out to be a mistake – a cold egg with artery-clogging tasteless sauce. (I mean, come on, it’s difficult enough to make a decent poached egg and hollandaise sauce in a proper kitchen!) The bento box was amazing. If you fly Japan Airlines, for sure order the Japanese b’fast!

IMG_0006Whether you ease in, or dive in, on your next trip, pay attention to your internal tug-of-war and the feelings that arise as you slowly let go of your comfort zone, give up control, and let the new culture flow through you.

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My favorite fall salad…

IMG_2003I look forward to fall for many reasons – the leaves changing colors, the crowds disappearing, and Fuyu’s!I discovered Fuyu persimmons a few years ago and fell head over heals for them.

Fall is for Fuyus!

Fall is for Fuyus!

Fuyu’s are not at all like the other persimmons, you eat them when they are firm and a little crisp, not mushy. And if you cut them thru the middle, they reveal a gorgeous star pattern.

Here’s my “Three P’s Salad” recipe – persimmon, pomegranate & pecans – a light, healthy, anti oxidant-packed addition to the Thanksgiving spread!IMG_3015

Citrus Dressing: Mix olive oil; lemon or lime juice, and/or vinegar; a teaspoon of Dijon mustard; and pomegranate, tangerine or orange juice (to balance the acid with some sweet). Make it as sweet or as tart as you like.

Use one, or a mixture of several – baby kale, European salad mix, spinach, and I love to include arugula. There is a new Earthbound Farms baby kale and asian greens mix called “Zen” that I like.

Toss greens with dressing, add slices of one persimmon, or two. Add 1 cup of pomegranate seeds, preferably fresh (I have not found the frozen ones to be very good). Add 1/2 cup of pine nuts, or pecans. Distribute to plates, and crumble goat or feta cheese over the top.

 

The secret to creamy white bean soup!

Tuscan White Bean Soup

Tuscan White Bean Soup

Once again, I don’t really use recipes, but here are the basics, and my special tip!

You can use any white beans, I prefer dried navy beans – they are slightly larger than some of the other white beans. (You can also use canned beans)

Cook the dried beans in water with a couple of bay leaves and some Italian seasoning, (NO SALT), for a couple of hours, until soft but not falling apart or mushy.

Dice one of each : onion, fennel bulb, carrot, 1 bunch of kale, 2+ garlic cloves, and anything else that sounds good to you.  Also chop, or buy already chopped, Pancetta, or you can use bacon, or ham.

Saute onion on low to med heat (never on high!) for a couple minutes, add the pancetta and let it cook a bit, then add the rest of the veggies as you finish chopping them, kale last.  Enjoy the aroma!

When beans are almost done, about 1.5 – 2 hours, (at altitude, you may need 2-3 hours!) ladle out 2-3 cups of beans and cooking liquid and puree in a blender, then add back into the pot. You can make the soup more creamy, or chunky, by the ratio of pureed to whole beans.

Now, Time for my Secret ingredient!

To the pot of beans, add the leftover rind from a chunk of Parmesan cheese. Boil the beans and rind for about 20 minutes, until the soup is looking thick and creamy.  Remove the rind, and I like to scrape off as much of the melted cheese as possible and add it back into the beans.

Now add in the sauteed veggies, pancetta, and some black pepper. Unless you like a lot of salt, you will not need to add any, the pancetta and parmesan give it plenty of flavor, and saltiness.

Enjoy with a Chianti!

Enjoy with a Chianti!

 

 

 

 

 

Kale Salade Lyonaisse…

I was recently featured in Edible Reno-Tahoe for their annual “Cooks” issue, where I shared my kale version of the French classique, Salade Lyonaisse.  For the full color, photo’s included version of the article, get the magazine, or click the link above.

I never follow a recipe, I just use them for ideas & rough guidelines on measurements. I am always improvising and substituting, based on what I have on hand. I really want to encourage you to be brave and experiment – take whatever you have in the fridge, and make something up!

This “recipe” was inspired by our travels in France, and one of my all time favorite things – salad with an egg on top. We rarely have eggs for breakfast, I save them for lunch or dinner. We have this for dinner at least once a week.  My husband was raised on the all-American meat & potatoes diet, so salad was never on his list of dinner favorites, until now!

The traditional French Lyonnaise salad, on which this is loosely based, is made with Frisee, lardons and croutons.  For my healthier version, I use kale, spinach, mixed greens, and/or arugula; and chopped peppered turkey lunch meat, leftover grilled chicken, sausage, or salmon, and once in awhile I use some bacon!

For the dressing, you can experiment with bacon grease instead of, or in addition to oil. Other oils work, but a good quality olive oil is the best. It’s typically made with red wine vinegar, but for less acid, use cider or balsamic vinegar, and fresh lemon, lime, or tangerine juice.   Please do add whatever fresh herbs you have around – like tarragon, Italian parsley, or dill (dried are fine too), and chopped shallots or garlic, are also often added.

Sometimes I use grilled asparagus, roasted Broccolini, or Tru Roots “sprouted Bean Trio” instead of meat. And I love potatoes in this salad – you can reheat some leftover roasted potatoes (kinda like croutons if they are crispy), saute diced potatoes, or for a lighter salad, use boiled potatoes. (Add them to the salad warm!)

Top with a poached egg, or if poaching is too much trouble, a fried egg is perfectly acceptable! (Traditionally the yoke should be soft and runny)

To make the dressing:
whisk together with a fork (I never measure, just taste, add more of whatever)
Olive Oil
Red wine vinegar
Dijon mustard
a dash of hot water, S & P,  herbs, shallots or garlic

(As a starting point: roughly 1/4 C oil, to 3+T vinegar & 1T Dijon – it’s best to develop your measurements based on your own taste, size of your salad, and how “wet” you like it)
If using kale, chop it up & sprinkle with some of the dressing (or vinegar & oil) and let it sit for a while to “relax” while you prepare the other stuff.

Add dressing, chopped meat, warm potatoes or beans, and whatever else sounds good, to the greens, toss well, divide onto plates, and top each with an egg.

If you are into presentation, you can decorate with avocado slices, maybe some asparagus spears, with the egg artistically placed on top. I usually opt for serving a delicious, jumbled-up mess with the egg on top. Works for us.

before the egg

before the egg

Have fun experimenting!

Exotic burgers…

Moroccan Meatballs

Moroccan Meatballs

When we drove around Morocco, I fell in love with the bbq’d lamb meatballs, sold at roadside stands, grilled on a hibachi. For dinner tonight I recreated something in between meatballs and burgers, and they were YUMMY! Sorry, can’t give you real recipe – I always wing it – but hopefully this will get your creative juices flowing and encourage you to give it a try.

I used spices that sounded right to me – ground cumin, fennel, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, dried mint, crushed garlic, harissa, and a little plain kefir for moisture (no egg or breadcrumbs). Just google harissa if you are not familiar. I made it myself, but you can buy it.

As a side, I mixed couscous and lentils with harissa and similar spices mentioned above, with a little cinnamon and nutmeg added, then felt it needed a little ‘brightness’, so threw in some fresh chopped tomatoes at the end.  And for veggies, I roasted some broccolini in the oven – 350 for 30 mins, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, (let it get a little crispy!) and grilled eggplant coated with harissa on the bbq with the mini-burgers.

Give it a try, it was YUMMY!

*Yes the “burger” is tiny, by normal standards, but we tend to eat 3/4 veggies and grains, and small portions of meat. I had 3 more burgers which were saved for lunch tomorrow!

*I used Hulsman Ranch (sustainably raised, grass fed) ground lamb, which I think I got at our local health food store “New Moon”.

 

 

“Elevation Elation”

Elevation Elation: That giddy feeling of exhilaration that overcomes you around Colfax, as you climb highway 80 into the Sierras. Symptoms are more pronounced after dark, and include an uncontrollable urge to roll down the window, stick your head out and inhale the heavenly mountain air, followed by a desire to scoop up the stars, kiss the moon, hug the trees, and jump for joy. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like Tahoe!

SO grateful for all I have, and where I live!

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Seeing the world, with new eyes…

The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees.  Marcel Proust

Gaucho with smiling eyes!

Gaucho with smiling eyes!

Travel helps me to see the world, and my home, with new eyes.

My minimum travel  time is three weeks, and a couple of times, we were able to do a six-week trip, but this time,  after exploring Chile, Argentina & Uruguay for three months, I am really noticing my “other eyes”.

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Guanaco enjoying their view

The longer you are away, the more acute your awareness becomes when you are once again surround by the familiar.  “Home” is so much more interesting – suddenly I’m living life in a hyper-aware state – I find myself noticing all kinds of little things about people, places and our customs.  I’m going to try my best to maintain this travel hangover for as long as possible.

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Alpaca shearing with the Galileos at Estancia del Zorro

A frequent comment we get is: “Wow, three months, was that too long?”  No, not at all for us. I think it’s like anything in life – it’s what you are used to.  We love to travel slowly – parking ourselves at a homey B&B, connecting with locals, getting to really know a place – this enables us to feel more “at home” wherever we are.  We hang out until we are sure we’re ready to leave, even if that means skipping something we had planned for the end of the trip.  For us to be ‘tour-ists” – to have a set schedule, get a taste of places, and then hurry on – would be very frustrating, and exhausting.

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So many people welcomed us into their homes, and families

If you want to try a longer trip, but are hesitant, don’t worry, just do it! Expect to get antsy, or home sick at around two weeks, if that’s what you are used to. Just ride out those emotions, they will pass. For the first couple of weeks, I struggle to let go of that “have to be doing something productive” drive that always seems to stowaway in my backpack. You will be amazed how hard that is to shake, it is so engrained in us, and when it does start slipping away, you get the inner voice saying “geeze, you’re getting so lazy”.  When you can reply “good, that’s what I am here for – to become a human being, not a human doing!”, congratulations, you’ve had a breakthrough.P1030849

This will be followed by the big payoff.  You will settle into a new rhythm, you will begin to understand what “slowing down” really feels like, you’ll take the ups and downs of travel with a shrug, knowing that you need the lows, in order to fully appreciate the highs.  When you begin to see mishaps and disappointments as benefits, you are really on your way! As the Buddhists believe, your life’s challenges provide opportunities for growth, and I believe, the same applies to travel. (Not to mention, we have had some of our best experiences, as a result of a things going “wrong”.)

Family weekend at the estancia.

“No plans? Great! Join our family reunion!”

Another benefit of extended, independent travel is the mental stimulation – I’m convinced it’s an alzheimers-buster. Every part of your brain gets a workout, every day, all day – calculating prices, deciphering menus, communicating, figuring out driving, bus schedules, maps, IVA taxes (and how to avoid them!*), and the constant barrage of sights, sounds and tastes foreign to you – what could be better therapy to keep those neurons firing on all cylinders?

Travel slow  and see the world, and your home, with new eyes.DSC_0085

 

*I should write a post on the in “IVA” taxes in Chile, Argentina & Uruguay (19-22%) but seeing as we never actually gained any real  clarity on the rules, (and we certainly tried), I will have to just let you enjoy the mental exercise, or the challenge of letting go and just paying whatever is charged. Note: the rules differ in each country, and even the locals are confused. And, the way the taxes are charged (or not charged) varies from city to city, province to province. The good news: the system for getting money back at the airport is pretty well organized, but you only get money back on locally made products, not hotel rooms or dinners.

 

 

 

 

City of Murals – Valparaiso…

… and while you are admiring the artwork, watch your step, numerous stray dogs leave their mark on the city too!

where to look...at the steps, or the walls...

where to look…at the steps, or the walls…

Valparaiso is a great city for walking and taking pictures. As if the steep staircases, hillside covered in colorful buildings and views of the Pacific were not enough, artists paint murals everywhere!

Hard no to have fun with the wall art!

Hard not to have fun with the wall art!

whimsical creatures live in Valparaiso!

whimsical creatures live in Valparaiso!

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Our room at Fauna Hotel

Our room at Fauna Hotel

The view out our hotel room window

The view out our hotel room window

A very artistic breast check reminder?

A very artistic breast check reminder?

Wires? What wires?

Wires? What wires?

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Not the usual decoration on a Victorian

DSC_0964We’ll post more pics from Valparaiso in the next post – hope the murals made you smile!

Vina del Mar, Chile

Fog lifting over Vina del Mar beach

Fog lifting over Vina del Mar beach

Vina del Mar is a popular beach resort ninety minutes from Santiago, and just north of Valparaiso. In fact they are so close, we even walked the 5+ miles one grey day (locals thought we were crazy).

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The main drag, northern end of Vina where the beach areas get a bit more swanky.

Most of the walk is along a very busy road, and a bit unnerving, due to the buses that come screaming by, but we enjoyed getting some exercise, had lunch at the fish market midway, and really got a feel for the area – just another of our non-touristy days!

Nice beaches for a tanning fix, but nothing special if you are from California.

Nice beaches for a tanning fix, but nothing special if you are from California.

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Freighters can be seen crossing the bay in transit from the busy port in Valparaiso

Our plan was to stay in Vina for 2 nights, to relax on the beach, then move over to Valparaiso.  Our hotel in Vina was the Cap Ducal, designed to look like a cruise ship. DSC_0886It was an experience – the staff was very nice, the restaurant good and the rooms were, well… funky, musty-smelling, 1980’s with a killer view, all for $120 a night, (which is not bad for Vina in high season.)

The view was definitely the best thing about the room!

The view was definitely the best thing about the room!

It felt like you were on a ghost ship from the 50’s – we never saw another guest in the hall, but the hotel said they were full!

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The view from the bed made up for the squishy mattress!

After the bright sunshine and balmy nights in Santiago, we were not prepared for cool, foggy weather in Vina, so our plan to lounge on the beach was replaced by a lot of walking and munching.

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Happy Hour overlooking the promenade

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Romantic dinner ‘aboard’ the Cap Ducal

We were however very lucky with our timing, as we had spectacular views of the moon over the Pacific every night of our stay at the coast. Continue reading