La Vida Ibicenca

I recently returned from sunny Ibiza and everyone I have told about my trip is shocked to learn that I did not go to a single club. (WHAT?) I know, it seems absurd to visit the party island and not party.  There were two factors that led to my early bedtimes:  first, I was there with my parents and had no one to be my partner in crime, and second, I was sick as a dog.  The day I flew to Europe I came down with terrible flu symptoms to the point where I was afraid I would not be allowed on the plane (and this was before Ebola struck the US).  Not willing to lose my beach holiday to aches and fever, I raided my medicine cabinet and woke up in Spain.  A few hours of bloody noses later, I was on the beach and enjoying three-hour lunches every day.  I had no gourmet ambitions for my trip (six months in Madrid had tempered my expectations), and even though canned white asparagus is still considered a delicacy, I was delightfully surprised by the quality of the food.  Our main meal was lunch, which we ate at a different chiriniguita (beach cafe) every day, and we always had several bottles of rose and our server would bring us hierbas Ibicencas (“Ibicencan herbs”) as a digestive.  As I learned, hierbas Ibicencas is the local aguardiente made from whatever herbs are growing on the island (mainly anise) that are fermented with sugar.  One bar we went to served homemade hierbas Ibicencas (see photo below).  As for the actual food, fish, of course, was a staple.  I live in a land-locked state so when I’m on an island I go a little overboard with the seafood.  Hands down the best dish I ate was an octopus scramble with potatoes and blood sausage.  It was not a visually appealing dish, but I’m posting it anyways because, my god, it was outstanding.  A salt-baked fish (very ubiquitous) is also posted below:

Home-Made Hierbas Ibicencas

Home-Made Hierbas Ibicencas

View from a chriniguita on Playa Es Caballet

View from a chriniguita on Playa Es Caballet

Grilled calamari at one of the chiringuitas on Playa Es Caballet

Grilled calamari at one of the chiringuitas on Playa Es Caballet

Hierbas Ibicencas served at the chiringuita on Playa Es Caballet

Hierbas Ibicencas served at the chiringuita on Playa Es Caballet

Salt-baked fish

Salt-baked fish

Pulpo! Drool... my octopus scramble that I still dream about

Pulpo! Drool… my octopus scramble that I still dream about

In sum, it is possible to have a wonderful time in Ibiza without raving at the clubs until sunrise.  Stop and taste the octopus.  Salud 🙂

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Popsicles, Beach Food, and the Best Ceviche in Cartagena

I had the good fortune of being able to visit Cartagena, Colombia in September and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food.  The best part was the ceviche, which we had every single day we were there.  Of all the different ceviches we tried, the very best one was the ceviche from Club de Pesca, which we had the first day.  While on the pricier side, we were the only tourists in Club de Pesca and it was in a pleasant setting among many boats in the harbor.  I would not advise walking there, however, as we did after we were assured it was “just right down the way” by several people.  However, it was at least a 30 minute walk from the walled city and across a bridge and some not so pleasant sidewalks in the blistering heat.  Just take a cab…  And without further ado, here is the said best ceviche in Cartagena:

From the Club de Pesca

From the Club de Pesca

 

One of the next great finds we discovered in Cartagena was a “popsicleria”, La Paletteria.  For this one, the pictures speak for themselves:

La Paletteria

La Paletteria

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The last highlight I want to show you is the wonderful lunch we had on the beach at La Playa Blanca, which is about a 40 minute boat ride from the city, but well worth the trip.  La Playa Blanca was the most quintessential Caribbean beach we went to, with pristine sand and bath water-like ocean (although the beach was very narrow).  We were served fried fish with coconut rice and plantains, and then a woman came by selling various flavored coconut sweets:

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La Playa Blanca

La Playa Blanca

 

And one last tip:  order limonda de cocos everywhere you go.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Limonada de Coco

Limonada de Coco

Cheers!

 

 

 

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Afternoon Tea at the Windsor Court Hotel, New Orleans

What do you do after running a half marathon? Gorge yourself on carbs, of course.  Or at least that is what I did in New Orleans after running the Rock N Roll half marathon in February.  We made reservations for tea at the Windsor Court Hotel after the race, and enjoyed a proper afternoon tea.  I will say I was frightened by the appearance of the hotel from the outside – it looks like a cement monstrosity and it is not in a very charming neighborhood, but as soon as I was in the lobby I was assuaged by the lovely decor and the live harpist.  We also had excellent service and the seating was very comfortable.  Feast your eyes below:

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Sandwich Plate

Dessert Plate

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Bloody Mary Basics

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Bloody Marys are quintessential for daytime drinking.  Whether you are imbibing them to get the fun going, or for a hangover cure, (or both), you can always feel good about the nutrient boost from the vegetables.  Plus, the garnishes make for a lovely healthy snack.  I like mine extra spicy, so I make sure to get a few extra shakes of hot sauce and perhaps garnish with a pickled jalapeno.  I am by no means a “mixologist,” but I have made my fair share of bloodies and think they taste pretty darn good. 
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The basic building blocks of a good bloody are:  1) quality vodka (I prefer Kettle One, Belvedere, or Stoli), 2) tomato juice (like V8), 3) Worcestershire, 4) hot sauce (like Tabasco), 5) horseradish, 6) black pepper, and 7) garnishes (typically just celery, but this element you can go crazy with – like anything pickled, bacon, olives, etc.).  The ratios are really up to your personal preferences.  I put about two ounces of vodka in each glass (big glasses), then fill three quarters of the way with tomato juice, and stir in a big spoonful of horseradish and shake each of the Worcestershire and Tabasco at least four or five times into the glass.  Then I crack some fresh black pepper over the top, stir with celery, and perhaps add ice.    Taste and adjust to perfection.

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CHEERS! 

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Brunch at Commander’s Palace

Commander’s Palace is a New Orleans’s institution.  (http://www.commanderspalace.com/)  Located in the Garden District, this historic restaurant has been serving rich, mouthwatering New Orleans cuisine since 1880.  From the service and decor to the cocktails and of course the food itself, everything is uniquely and exquisitely high class New Orleans (meaning charming and decadent).  Better to see for yourself:

Bisque with plenty of French bread

Beautiful Benedict

Shrimp and Grits a la Commander’s Palace (Fancy)

Dessert (as if the meal wasn’t rich enough)

After this scrumptious brunch my friend and I attempted to walk off a few bites by gawking at all the historic mansions in the Garden District.  We also gossiped about the fact that we saw Joan Rivers at Commander’s Palace and she looked just like she does on TV in person (sorry, no photo).  Anyway, Commander’s Palace is a must if you happen to find yourself in the Big Easy.  Your taste buds, if not your waist-line, will thank you.

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Hearty Eating in Taipei and Hong Kong!

I recently returned from a trip to Taipei, Macau, and Hong Kong to visit a friend living abroad.  I was eager to try the food because Taiwan is known for dumplings (which I’m obsessed with) and Hong Kong is the birthplace of dim sum, one of my favorite meal-traditions.  My expectations were definitely met, if not exceeded by the scrumptious and wallet-friendly dumpling-paradise that I ate my way through.  Dumplings, however, were not the only tasty morsels I came across.  I had a fantastic Japanese-style in the food court of the famous Taipei 101 building:

Taipei also has great dim sum (not quite as good as Hong Kong) but very similar. One of the most famous places to have dim sum there is a popular chain called Din Tai Fung.  We went to the location in the basement of the Sogo department store, which is surrounded by a wonderful up-scale grocery store full of interesting bites to sample and gawk at.  Here are a few of our dishes from the meal:

Din Tai Fung was really good, but the dim sum we had in the mecca of dim sum definitely trumped it.  Without too much struggle, we found a very nice dim sum place I had read about called Fu Sing.  When we arrived, we discovered it specializes in shark fin, but don’t worry, we did not try that out. Luckily a member of the wait staff spoke a bit of English and we were able to order quite the assortment of my fav dim sum items:
While the BBQ pork really knocked our socks off, it was the steamed pork buns that really stole my heart.  Best steamed pork buns I have ever had.
And of course I can’t talk about food in Taiwan without mentioning bubble tea, which is a Taiwanese creation.  My first night in Taipei we went to one the night markets, which was a very stimulating scene but unpleasantly marked by the stench of stinky-tofu (I think it’s similar to nato).  I did enjoy a large traditional bubble tea – just the milk tea flavor:

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IMPROVISING

How do I eat for a week without buying groceries?  Improvise! That’s a fancy way of saying scrape the bottom of the barrel of whatever I have in the kitchen. My best improvisation by far was a take on the Post Punk Kitchen’s vegan brown sugar muffins at http://www.theppk.com/2009/04/brown-sugar-peach-spelt-muffins/.  I, however, not having half the ingredients, IMPROVISED and used regular whole wheat flour instead of spelt, extra oil instead of applesauce, and omitted the peaches altogether.  They turned out surprisingly well (and made my kitchen smell gingery and sugary and delicious):

I call them my vegan brown sugar improv muffins.  And I ate the whole batch in three days…. oopsies 🙂

The next improvised meal was just brown rice, peas, and a fried egg covered in siracha.  The last egg in my fridge – it went to good use.  I call it my improv-siracha-don:

The last MAJOR IMPROVISATION happened while camping over Labor Day.  What do you do when you are in the middle of the woods with five pounds of ground buffalo, a camping stove, and zero/zip/nil cooking utensils?  Improvise! This extreme improvisation consisted of cooking buffalo burgers with a machete.  Yes, a machete.  Pretty bad-ass, right?  And it turned out to be delish~ we topped them with spicy mustard, bleu cheese, baby arugula, and red onion.  YUM

So cheers to winging it – it usually turns out pretty yummy in the end.

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