Restaurant Review: Abacus

Dallas, Texas. The land of enormous steaks and smoky barbeques. Although this is good at the right time, my husband Stan and I love seafood and fine dining. I wanted to take him to dinner for his birthday and was looking for a fine dining place with beautiful food, good service, attention to detail and the right ambience. We certainly found it in Abacus. I searched high and low for the right place. There were only four restaurants on my list. One was closed for renovations, two we had already visited and then there was Abacus. It became the chosen one.

From the moment we arrived, we realized that this was the perfect choice. A valet whisked the car away from us into the parking lot. I was immediately impressed. I dislike roaming around parking lots with a passion. I lifted my hand to open the enormous doors and before I could touch it, it swung open as if by magic. The staff was expecting us. We were met by the manager, the Maitre D and an impeccably dressed young woman who took us to our table.

Danny, our server, came over with our food and drink menus. He immediately recommended the 2016 Bieler Pere & Fils Bandol Rose from France. Danny described the intricate flavors with such fervor that we immediately ordered a bottle.

The food menu is interesting with an extensive Suchi section. We were spoiled for choice and each of us ended up with two choices. Danny quickly asked what our choices were, as he could help us make a decision. Stan was stuck between the duck and the lamb. Both looked exceptional. Danny recommended the duck and described the flavors. Since the menu changes on a regular basis, chances are the duck won’t be on there forever. Decision made.

We received our Amuse Bouche. The purpose of an Amuse is to give the diner insight into the chef’s approach to the art of cuisine and literally means “mouth amuser.” Well, our mouths were immediately entranced by the chef’s approach. It was a Spanish Chorizo that came with a little red chili heat, which was cooled and balanced perfectly by the accompanying sweet fig and a dollop of creamy goat’s cheese.

Time for appetizers. Stan ate charred octopus, on a base of grilled leek aioli, Spanish Chorizo, creamer peas, cucumber and heirloom tomato broth. We each had a taste of each other’s appetizers and the base of that octopus was incredible. I could’ve eaten a whole plate only of that. I had flash fried calamari steak with julienne peppers, tomatillo mojo, chili powder dusted yucca fries and scallion. The calamari was tender and the mojo delicious. It was a generous portion, so I chose not to eat the fries in order to have enough space for a main and besides, the bread that arrived when we sat down was baked in house and it took all my willpower not to eat the entire basket, it was so delicious.

Stan’s pan roasted duck arrived with pipian rojo, tostones and a papaya-mango salad. Pipian rojo is a luxuriously creamy sauce from Mexico made with peppers, pumpkin seeds and various spices very reminiscent of Indian cuisine, my favorite. I immediately fell in love with the sauce, but then I had the diver’s scallops with ratatouille tortellini, sweet corn basil broth and squash blossoms. This is my first squash blossom experience and what a taste delight. The plate looked beautiful and every element on that plate was totally delectable.

My stomach groaned. It was time for espresso and dessert and I ordered the Red Velvet Fairytale to share with the birthday boy. Fairytale indeed with red velvet mascarpone mousse, red velvet cake, chocolate mud cookie puree, chocolate green tea crumble, candied lemon strips and cream cheese ice cream, all presented as a fairy tale forest that was almost too pretty to eat.

All too soon the evening came to an end and it was time to go home. The manager checked in to make sure all went according to our expectations and we could safely say these were certainly exceeded. All the staff do an amazing job at this restaurant. We were met with friendly smiles and eye contact. Our every culinary need was met by an outstanding chef. Danny, our server, knew the ever-changing menu back to front, showing passion for the dishes that made us want to eat and he delivered, without fail, exceptional service. The ambience was soft and romantic and we couldn’t have asked for a better birthday venue. The final personal touch was a birthday card.

The restaurant has received numerous awards, including being a James Beard semi-finalist for outstanding service. This is most certainly very well deserved. It was such a pleasure being served with such great passion that comes entirely natural all the way to the busboy. Our empty dishes were whisked away at just the right moment. The water re-filled at just the right moment. The wine was taken away from the table and we never had an empty glass until the moment when the bottle no longer contained any wine.

We cannot wait to come back to this restaurant with our children visiting from Israel. My only regret is that I didn’t have my Canon Rebel T6 with me to do the food justice with beautiful photos, so it was all taken with an iPhone. Not really my favorite way to take photos, but I post them anyway for you to get an idea. To see how the food really looks, follow this link to the Abacus website. The food you see on the Abacus site, is how it is truly presented in the restaurant, so hurry and make your reservation. It is as the website says: “A truly remarkable dining experience.”

http://abacus-restaurant.com

Side Note: There has been a little progress with my book. Check it out

https://foodsoftheworld2017blog.com/book/

 

The Leopard of Namibia

It is sweltering. The heat feels like it is slowly peeling away the skin layer by layer. We’re standing in the badlands of the Kalahari desert in Namibia on the west coast of Africa. The Kalahari desert spans 359 075 square miles and covers parts of Namibia, regions of South Africa and much of Botswana. We live on the edge of this desert in Botswana and will be leaving soon to move to Aruba. We had to get in another quick trip to yet another African country before we left the continent. We chose Namibia because of its close proximity to where we lived in Botswana.

We rented a guide to take us into the desert for the day, because should you get lost in this vastness, you may disappear without a trace in the harsh landscape. I am astounded at the amount of life the guide points out. His knowledge is incredible and I didn’t expect to find any living thing in this remote part of Africa. The sun starts to go down and the view is spectacular. It is time to go back and spend the evening on the beach in Swakopmund where a breeze from the cold Atlantic blissfully cools us down. The beach is beautiful, but the ocean is too cold to swim in, even in this heat.

Namibia used to be a German colony and German is widely spoken. The German influence is also prominent in the food. Here we get to eat my favorite ocean fish, Kabeljou. It is a cob/drum type fish found in Southern Africa, belonging to the scientific family Argyrosomus Coronus. The meat is moist and flavorful and is highly valued as a table fish in Southern Africa, especially on the west coast.

The following morning we head out to kayak with seals and that afternoon we visit a traditional African game farm. I greatly regret this visit. We walk into a whole load of testosterone and boasting. This is not what I was hoping for. The goal was to learn more about conservation and what steps are being taken to stop poaching. Well, this is what the brochure advertised. Instead we find a leopard in captivity the moment we walk in. The ranch owner jumps into the enclosure and starts rough housing with the leopard. Something feels wrong here. I’m still trying to believe the best, thinking that this leopard must have been rescued and that they are rehabilitating it. Things get rougher and rougher. I have to turn my back and walk away, as this scene is starting to disturb me. Eventually Stan calls me back and I get to talk with the ranch owner: “Did you rescue the leopard? Are you busy rehabilitating him to release him back into the wild?”

“No. I went looking for a leopard cub in the bush and found him with his mom. I wanted a leopard as a pet and to attract tourists. I shot his mom and stole the cub,” he says boastfully with a smug smile on his face.

I felt the bile rise in my throat. Time to go. I need to get back to our farm in Botswana where there are not too many humans around. 

I will never forget the sounds of the leopard and its incessant pacing along that fence. The unnecessary capture of a magnificent animal for the sake of lining the pockets is an incredible injustice in the eyes of Mother Nature and a horrible example of the human condition.

To see more photos of the desert and beach in Namibia, please follow this link to my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.193303290744804.46959.100001954022091&type=1&l=f6c8c0e53f

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written, but summer’s here & it is time to tend to the garden and work on some summer salads & smoothies. Don’t forget to check the Decadent Healthy Recipes page for the summer recipe series.

 

Fun in Fort Lauderdale

“RASTAMAN LIVE UP!” They’re singing Bob Marley like Bob Marley, and the reggae band is to blame for all my good intentions that fly out the window. I don’t like reggae, I love it (10CC) and the sound of reggae is inescapable throughout the entire Fort Lauderdale. I’m in reggae heaven.

I came here with very good intentions. Low key, healthy, exercise, catching up on long lost sleep. We walk into the Siren’s Table restaurant immediately after arriving, for a drink at the bar and this band starts up. We were going to go out for dinner, but remain for the music. The food is great. We eat Tuna Tartare, Fried Calamari & Sea Scallops with Morel Mushroom & Asparagus Risotto. There’s no space for my beloved key lime pie and before long, dinner is over and it is time for tropical cocktails. Mine arrives and it is brutally strong, but the music is good, the dancing’s started up and conversations with strangers give the evening a new edge and we’re having fun. More cocktails arrive and all my good intentions get flushed down the drain within hours of arriving. Oh well. It is my happy place after all and tomorrow’s another day.

The following morning we head to the Ritz Carlton for breakfast. Time to hydrate. I don’t feel very strong, but thank goodness for a great smoothie menu. The tropical banana smoothie and some Huevos Rancheros set me right just a little bit and we head off to the beach for an 8 mile walk and then a swim in an ocean that’s as warm as bath water and that looks like an azure blue swimming pool. We try to get some sleep before dinner, but the hotel is noisy and eventually we give up and husband offers to buy me a beer at S3 restaurant. This restaurant belongs to the Hilton and like the Siren’s Table has a wonderful setting across the road from the beach. More cocktails follow and we decide to stay put for dinner. This is a tapas restaurant and we order a bunch of small plates to share, but it being America, the small plates are not so small and we fill up pretty quick. We remain wise and head to bed early. The next morning we are refreshed and walk over to Steak 954 restaurant in the W hotel for breakfast. The breakfast and service is good, but the location is not nearly as nice as the other places we’ve tried and the food pales in comparison to the rest. We decide not to come back to this one, and the following morning, the reggae band is back at the Siren’s Table for Father’s Day brunch, so back we go. Things become a bit of a blur. I know we walk a lot along the beach. A quick calculation gives me about 24 miles in 3 days and by Monday my feet are begging for mercy. This may be a good thing. The weather turned bad and I hit the spa. I’m not a great lover of the spa experience, but this was wonderful. Husband works and I dine alone, but he finishes early and we head to the bar for our final drink before departing the next day. Lo & behold. Conversations with strangers struck up again & before we know it, the subdued intentions are once again out of the window. This impromptu party gets us drinking more wine than we should and we are the last people to leave the bar. I know I will regret it in the morning when I have to get ready to go to the airport and yes, I had morning after regret, twice, but no, I wasn’t sorry we did it. We had a wonderful time, amazing food, good music and we bonded with complete strangers. Before the flight I had another quick smoothie to set me straight and away we went.

Back home, summer has arrived in full swing. My herb garden has scorched to death and I was glad that I received so many smoothie ideas in Fort Lauderdale. It feels too hot to cook and eat and all I crave is ice cold drinks, so will be experimenting with smoothies for a while until I’m ready for a hot breakfast again. I would love to share my ideas with you. They’re quick & easy to make, very nutritious, healthy, sugar free and non-fat, the base ingredients remain the same with variations in the fruit and great to grab and go for busy people. For the recipes that will appear over the upcoming days, follow this link: https://foodsoftheworld2017blog.com/healthy-nutrition/ 

For more Florida photos, follow this link to my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.396173560457775.89317.100001954022091&type=1&l=fded5f11ca

 

Welcome To Miami

It’s a gorgeous day. I’m sitting at a beach side cafe overlooking a pretty stretch of beach and a calm ocean. My heart’s full of longing for foreign lands and shores. “One day, I’m going to see Miami,” I tell my partner. He makes a hissing sound through his teeth: “You and your stupid dreams. Come back to earth already!” I’m 19 at the time and although the USA is as inaccessible and unthinkable to me as it is to him, I feel deflated by his attitude. Dreaming never hurts.

In the now: Here I am in Miami for the 3rd time. My soul city. It is 27 years later. That dream did come true. We’re with our good friends Joanne and David on a culinary tour in Calle Ocho, Little Havana, Miami. The day before we spent walking around Ocean Drive in South Beach. We did a little shopping before going to our lunch venue on the beach at the Ritz Carlton. The outdoor restaurant was closed due to rain and we felt disappointed, but since we are spoiled for choice, it wasn’t really a big deal. There are rows and rows of restaurants in Ocean Drive and we found another beautiful location at Il Bolognese overlooking the palm trees and beach. Life’s good. We eat lobster ravioli with large chunks of lobster enveloped in soft pasta pockets that melt in the mouth. The sauce is creamy with the acidity from added tomato cutting a little through the richness. Freshly ground pepper rounds it off beautifully and a crisp white wine makes the day a little lighter. There is shrimp quesadilla served on tile and a basket of juicy cheese burger & fries with beer for the more traditional North American palate. We linger and take to the streets where we land in an ESPN bar to drink a pitcher of cocktails & test tube shooters. We take to the streets again and the sound of Despacito suddenly blares at us. Joanne loves the song. I pull her into the bar and for a few seconds we dance a little and feel like we’re a part of the rich and famous of Miami beach. After a quick dip in the warm ocean it’s already dinner time and we stroll over to Stone Crab Joe’s restaurant for…you guessed it…stone crab. It’s not in season at the moment in Florida so they import it from the Bahamas. The claws are enormous and contain a lot of sweet meat. We shared the food. It was lamb lollipops grilled to perfection, a potato dish that knocked the socks off, oysters and decadent desserts to the likes of lava cake in a cup, key lime martinis & key lime pie, also known as crack pie, due to its addiction factor. Strangely enough, tonight the key lime pie pales in comparison to the decadence of the lava cake.

Walking Culinary Tour in Little Havana, Miami

https://www.miamiculinarytours.com/tour/little-havana-food-tour/

We were exhausted after our busy day and went to bed at a reasonable time before getting up to go and explore little Havana the following day. Here we did a walking culinary tour  and had an incredible cultural experience made all the more amazing because of the passion of our tour guide, Jennifer. Before we started the tour we had a typical Cuban coffee called Cafe Con Leche. I do not like sugar in my coffee and was surprised by the deliciousness of very strong coffee combined with sugar and cream to make a decadent latte. The tour started and we visited El Pub Restaurant for beef empanadas. I love empanadas and these were spectacular. It is a beef hand pie with ground beef slow cooked to absorb the various spice flavors and then rolled into a crusty savory pastry with edges crimped shut and served with copious amounts of hot sauce. Here we had another shot of coffee, just like an espresso, called Cafe Cubano. Another sweet, strong coffee I enjoyed. My favorite place for the day was an enormous bar with cathedral ceilings called the Ball and Chain: Here we drank Mojitos and listened to a Cuban Jazz band. One of the members was grandfatherly-like and wore bright red shoes. He didn’t dance like a grandfather though. Those red shoes set the floor on fire! We visited Old Havana Restaurant for a Cubano sandwich and walked on to Yisell Bakery where we had guava pastelitos. This is a sweet pastry with flavor and color that represents rhubarb. We stopped at Los Pinarenos Fruteria. It is an open air fruit market and also the location where a part of the movie Chef was filmed. We tried a very refreshing Guarapo (cane) juice before walking to our final destination for the day: Azucar Ice Cream. There was a very traditional and delicious guava ice cream, but I couldn’t resist my favorite: Dulce de Leche.

We were bursting and Joanne suggested a walking tour at the Wynwood Walls to walk off some of the food. This was an incredible experience. The graffiti here turned a bad neighborhood into a work of art and I longed to have seen more. The day was done and it was time to head back for our final dinner. We headed to Jimbo’s Sandbar for reggae and simple, down to earth Floridian food. We shared smoked fish, crab cakes and more. Our time together came to an end. I wish that it didn’t have to and I hope there will be more trips in the future.

All photos taken by me, except the ones I’m in

For more photos of our experience, follow these links to my Facebook page.

Little Havana Culinary walking tour: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1569329786475474&type=1&l=781beadfe2

Insane Grafitti turned a bad neighborhood into a work of art

Posted by Johanna Harlen on Monday, June 5, 2017

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1569344076474045&type=1&l=5ecb53224c

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Cookbook Review: The Performance Paleo Cookbook

This book gets four & a half stars.

I’ve come to realize that half of my life’s journey is over and that I need to be strong for the last half, because I have promised our children that they will never have to take care of me when I’m old and that I will not put the burden of worry on them as far as my own health is concerned. Some things may not be in my control, but there are certainly others I can do something about. The two most important ones is to keep physically fit and to keep my second brain – the digestive system – healthy. These two issues are both in my own hands and should these fall to pieces, there is only one to blame: me.

I have therefore decided that I will go on an eternal quest for healthy cooking and have gone from delicious, decadent, unhealthy and fattening to delicious, decadent and healthy. There are numerous books in my cookbook library. Some I haven’t even opened to cook from and have decided to start cooking through them. I will attempt to make as many recipes as possible, but will probably not cook everything, so will choose wisely and make the healthy recipes that are simple, easy & delicious. If there is a specific recipe I like that doesn’t fall in the healthy category, I will alter the recipe in order to make it healthy. Furthermore, the recipes from these books were written by someone else and I would prefer them to become authentically mine, so will use them as inspiration & guideline only and change/add ingredients and methods where I feel it will resemble more of my own cooking.

The latest addition to my shelf is The Performance Paleo Cookbook. It has 216 pages of wonderful recipes and what I like most about it, is the amount of beautiful photos that inspire. Well, maybe that’s not what I like the most about it. I’m a big supporter of potatoes. They’re power houses of nutrients and I love the taste. Unless you have health issues and/or are allergic to night shades, I have not been able to understand why the humble potato got such a bad reputation. The author of this cookbook, Stephanie Gaudreau, is the founder of Stupid Easy Paleo and she is an athlete in incredible shape. In the book she declares the potato is back. YAY!! Finally!! Somebody writes a Paleo cookbook that makes sense. Her exact words: “For a long while, most Paleo folks avoided white potatoes for reasons they didn’t quite understand – because that’s just what the rules said. Turns out, if your blood sugar regulation and body composition are good, there’s no good reason to keep them out of your diet, unless you are intolerant to nightshades. White potatoes, in fact, are a good source of glucose in addition to micronutrients such as potassium and Vitamin C. One thing you’ll want to do is peel the potatoes, as anti-nutrients are prevalent in the skin.” This of course, doesn’t mean you can slather this great vegetable with rich, unhealthy, fattening sauces, as this will completely defeat the object of the exercise.

The author uses red meat and a few recipes ask for bacon or sausages. There are also recipes that use a small amount of honey to make a glaze. I will avoid those, as I am a heavy sugar addict and even the smallest amount of sugar will set me off on a binge. I believe that lean red meat is good for you, but only about once a month and bacon and sausages are processed, sodium & sugar laden foods that’s not very good for you. Although she doesn’t use it often, I still amend the ingredients where it require these items. I made her Turkey Veggie Meatloaf and fell in love with the almost 100% fat free turkey, so have decided that wherever I can, I will substitute the red meat with turkey, lean pork and lean chicken and will try my hand at making my own skinless sausages where a recipe requires a sausage. I will substitute bacon for Del Duca Prosciutto, which is minimally processed with no added sugars, nitrites, nitrates and no artificial ingredients. If you don’t eat pork, you can use lean, shaved roast beef, chicken or turkey instead. 

I love the sugar free (and this includes sugar substitute free) shakes, desserts and gluten free items such as plantain pancakes and home made tortillas. There are things such as the tortillas, that I’m not very good at making, but I’m certainly going to give it a try. The dessert that interests me the most is the Cherry Cashew Protein Bars. One of the ingredients is cricket flour. Cricket flour? As in the bug? What on earth? Yes, as in the bug. The flour contains ground up crickets. Well, I guess I’m most certainly going to substitute here, as I cannot see myself eating crickets! Perhaps I’ll try coconut flour instead.

Another new ingredient for me is coconut aminos. This is a great substitute for people that are gluten intolerant and cannot eat soy sauce. It’s not readily available in the grocery stores where we live, but it is available on Amazon.

There is a good amount of interesting salad and vegetable dishes and I cannot wait to make the creamy broccoli soup that is made with coconut milk instead of cream. Cream of broccoli is my favorite soup and I love coconut, so will delight in this healthy substitute for the cream.

This is a great cookbook and when you take the red meat dishes and make one of those once a month or even perhaps once a week, it rates as a first class, five star cookbook.

As I cook my way through the book, I will post the recipes that inspire me under the Decadent Healthy Recipes section of this blog, so will try and write a new recipe on a regular basis.

A note on self-care: It is not selfish. Quite the opposite. Your healthy and balanced life is a gift to your loved ones. Keep healthy. You owe yourself and them a long, healthy life. Remember to exercise, happy cooking and don’t forget to throw in a cheat day every once in a while. Now, I’m off to go and cook my potatoes. Follow this link for healthy recipes: https://foodsoftheworld2017blog.com/healthy-nutrition/

 

 

Zimbabwe & Zambia

A finger jabs me in the sternum: “Stop. Jab. Crying. Jab.”

My fear turns to anger. I do not like being jabbed and the crying is so involuntary that I have to hold my breath to stop. This same finger will soon push me off the bridge. I have an irrational and inexplicable fear of heights and have tried everything to overcome it. Jumped tandem out of a plane at 10 thousand feet with a 60 second free fall before the parachute opened. Rappelled down a cliff with a 60 meter free fall next to a thundering waterfall in Oribi Gorge, South Africa. Went hot air ballooning. Flew tandem in a flex wing trike. Did a zipline course high in the trees of Antigua. Did a rope course with my husband and son in the tree tops of Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada, but this jump was the worst ever and I have since given up trying to overcome the fear.

We’re staying at a gorgeous lodge in Zimbabwe where the food is authentically African and the wild animals roam around free in the gardens. It was another iron butt bike ride, crossing the border from Botswana into Zimbabwe. We walked across the border from Zimbabwe into Zambia to go and do a bungee jump from the Victoria Falls bridge overlooking the raging river below. We were supposed to go white water rafting, but there were floods up at the river’s source and the river was a raging torrent. The white water outfitters weren’t operating, so we opted for the bungee. This is the highest commercial bungee site in the world and the bird’s eye view from the bridge is spectacular and so frightening that it takes my breath away.

They secure all the ropes and protective sponges around our ankles. I want to go first, because if I see my husband jump, I will immediately chicken out and I just want to get this over with. This was after all, on my bucket list of things to do before I die. Everything’s tied and I have to bunny hop to the edge where I put my arms out crucifixion style and close my eyes. This might be my last day on earth. What was I thinking? Before I can think any further, the finger jabs me between the shoulder blades and I fall over the edge. I am not a screamer, but the air pushes out of my lungs, out of my throat, out of my lips in a blood-curdling scream that leaves me hoarse for days. The rope pulls tight around my ankles and whips me up into a standing position in mid-air. This must be over now, but it is not. I fall forward again. This time my eyes are open and the raging river beneath me looks like it is going to meet me head on. It doesn’t, because I’m whipped back up again into the weird mid-air standing position. “Oh dear Lord,” I pray. “Please make this stop. I don’t think I can take another fall.” I fall again and I take it. This time when I whip upright, there is someone next to me. They winched down a recovery person that wraps his hands around my waist. I cling to him like my life depends on it and for the first time, I understand how someone on the edge of drowning panics and could potentially drown their rescuer, but it is only air that surrounds me and my rescuer is safe. They winch the both of us back up to the bridge. My legs feel like Jell-O and I hyperventilate for a few seconds. I sit down on the little metal bench, refusing to look down. Someone asks: “Would you like to go again?” “Are you !@#$%^ kidding?!!”

There are many people who enjoy this experience and for the life of me, I cannot understand why. Each to his own. I’m not sorry that I experienced this, but I will never attempt it again and have since made peace with the fact that I will fear heights for the remainder of my life.

At a later point, we take our son to Oribi Gorge to go and do a gorge swing. “Why don’t you do a swing with me,” he asks.

“There’s not enough money in the world that will make me do something like this again,” I replied and we went to lunch. Food is a better adventure!

This week I’m focusing a little more on healthy nutrition. Take a look at the Healthy Nutrition section of this blog. Today’s recipe is a toad in the hole with a difference. Tomorrow will be a fragrant and nutritious low fat Lebanese potato salad and who knows what the rest of the week will bring along the lines of interesting healthy recipes, so be prepared for some healthy cooking until Friday.

Also take a look under the Foreign Lands section for a link on Segovia

Tuna In The Caribbean Leewards

“YOU WILL EAT THIS!!”

“I WILL NOT!!”

Thirteen pairs of eyes stare at me expectantly. We’re doing a ten hour sail from the island of St. Martin to Nevis. Nevis to me is the epitome of what the traditional Caribbean is like. It is sleepy, lush & tropical with a gorgeous landscape and the sound of heavy reggae comes from everywhere. The sail is incredibly beautiful on an azure ocean with the perfect wind at our backs. We’re moving along rapidly and our captain – Luke – had thrown a line overboard and caught an enormous tuna. He promptly cleaned it, cut it into bite sized slivers and threw it into some soy sauce.

I have never eaten raw fish and if I was going to save face with these 13 American teens, I’m going to have to cowboy up and swallow it down. I pinch my eyes shut and swallow the first piece whole. Wait a minute! This flavor is amazing! I took another bite and this time I chew and close my eyes in ecstasy. The fish has the texture of silk and the fresh taste of the ocean plays with my senses. I see ocean all around me. I feel the spray on my face. I smell the fresh watermelon smell of the water, I touch the warm ocean next to the catamaran and now I taste the sea as the flavor explodes on my tongue. Thus begins my taste journey with raw fish and in time I will learn to sear the perfect tuna.

At the end of my contract I will spend 2 weeks on St. Maartin with my husband. There I drag him to an obscure little restaurant so small that I can’t remember its name. Linton Kwesi Johnson plays on the jukebox and I know I’m in the Caribbean. I want to introduce Stan to the delights of the raw fish, but like me, he is hesitant and pulls a face. Never! Come on, just a small bite from mine. He relents and his reaction is the same as mine and we will continue to eat tuna like this on a regular basis.

I’m working for three months teaching scuba to American teens on a 48 foot Leopard catamaran based in St. Martin. We’re sailing and diving the 6 leeward islands and there are some challenging moments for me. I’ve never lived with so many people in such a small space. Thirteen raucous teens and three staff members. We do have our memorable moments though. In Saba we climb the 1062 steps to the top of Mt. Scenery, the highest point in the Caribbean. In Nevis we have a beach party and dance around the bon fire with the kids. In Gustavia, – St. Barths – we eat burgers at Jimmy Buffet’s Hamburger in Paradise. In St. Kitts we visit an old fort with a gorgeous view. We dive some unspoiled sites that commercial outfitters don’t visit. We sail into gorgeous little bays, see incredible sunsets, full moons and interesting sites. I learn how to walk again on land after being on a boat for too long. It is a strange sensation. My legs feel like rubber and I feel a little seasick and long to get back to the boat. Every night the 3 of us cram into a small space to have a quick overview of our day and to plan the following day. We’re about to get to the island of St. Eustatius (Stacia) to visit a marine biology center that does turtle research and conservation and we will be doing a hike through the crater of an inactive volcano. Chris told the kids what our program will look like the following day and Jesse looks seriously concerned: “What if it erupts?”

“We will give everyone steel umbrellas,” deadpans Chris.

Jesse believes every word and is appeased. I laugh until my tummy hurts and the journey continues. At the end of the trip, we all gather in a circle to play our last game. A line gets thrown to the person you feel you learned something from. Jesse throws me the line and says with a big smile on his face that he learned from me that even though you’re an adult, you can still behave like a child and enjoy it. I feel surprised by this, as I’m not sure what I had done to make him see this. It also makes me grateful that perhaps I’m not always as serious as I feel and that there is some frivolity lurking behind the serious me. Unbeknownst to me, the kids had taught me to let loose my inner child and I enjoy the notion that an adult can learn something from a child.

By the end of the trip I realize the Caribbean and an insistent captain gave me raw fish. I cherish the moment.

If you’d like to know how to sear the perfect tuna, click on the Recipes section of this blog for tips.

Follow this link to my Facebook page for more Caribbean photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.164765450265255.39806.100001954022091&type=1&l=96a0a0c64e

 

Mariah’s Lebanese Kitchen

We put on some traditional Lebanese music and away we go into a country that we will probably never get to see in person. Mariah’s cooking and I’m sous chef, plate stylist & photographer. It is only natural that we start with mezze and finish with dessert. We’re both new to this, so we start simple and dream of a few more complex dishes at the next session.

Our first course is red pepper hummus. We can’t find tahini and red peppers in a can, which is probably a blessing in disguise, as we roast gloriously red, fresh peppers and make our own tahini. I make the tahini and the first batch is a disaster and lands up in the trash can. The second batch is better, but there are still a few seeds floating around. I think the blades in my coffee grinder might be getting blunt and I think I missed an ingredient, because I couldn’t find my original tahini recipe and winged this one. Oh well. I toss it into the blender in the hopes that it will smooth out while blending the rest of the ingredients and thankfully it works. Mariah gives me chickpea tips for a smoother hummus: “Don’t use the canned version. Soak the dry chickpeas overnight in water & meticulously peel them the following day before cooking them. This will give you the perfectly smooth hummus you desire. Make sure when you make the tahini that it is smooth and slightly runny. This consistency will help create the final creaminess.” Our final product has incredible flavor when we serve it with pita bread.

We keep our main dish simple and healthy. It is a colorful Lebanese salad that gets us ready for a more decadent orange coconut cake for dessert. The cake gets orange blossom water in it, which gives it a unique taste and interesting texture to the frosting that makes it look almost like glitter. Mariah breaks an egg like I’ve never seen before. It is so beautifully done that it almost feels Zen.

“Don’t touch that oven!” If you open an oven door too early during the baking process, the cake will fail and fall flat. Halfway through the baking I open the oven door. What?! Wait!! Where’s the cake? It is in the microwave above the oven. Well, that is easy to understand. The microwave looks exactly like the oven! Laughing. We quickly move the cake down to the “real” oven and bake it for the required time. It comes out beautifully. Mariah is most certainly a baker. We take the fruits of our labor outside to be met with a glorious day in our park-like garden where we enjoy an afternoon of tremendous and simple, yet oh so tasty, Lebanese cuisine created by our own hands.

“Next time we’re making baklava,” says Mariah.

“I love baklava, but you’re on your own. Way too complex for me. I’ll make our main dish while you create that beauty,” I declare.

Hope next time will be here soon!

Our home made tahini will be in my book, but also appears as a sample recipe under the Recipes section of this blog. For something healthy, click on Healthy Nutrition. Here you’ll find a low calorie beetroot dip inspired by a good friend, as well as by the Middle Eastern flavors we are currently exploring.

Aloo Gobi in St. Lucia

Someone grabs us by the arm and drags us into a small room. “You can take that off. It’s hot here.” We just landed on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean and it is hot. They annexed our luggage and the little room is blissfully air conditioned with chilled water flavored by fruit and snacks to eat while we wait for our luggage to be loaded onto the bus. I remove my sweater to reveal a tank top. Our luxurious vacation has begun. The airport was basic, but clean and the room we walked into owned by Sandals Resorts and therefore beautiful.

We board a small bus and get whisked away across the island through some gorgeous rain forests and a wild ocean on the other side. It is a 90 minute ride that goes by quick. The scenery is beautiful and we smile at the rather strange driving habits.

We get to the Sandals Halcyon all inclusive beach resort and are welcomed with a glass of bubbly. The staff is friendly and the service spectacular. Welcome to the tropics. It is our first ever all inclusive resort vacation and I start to feel like a pampered rich woman on honeymoon.

The resort is small and intimate and the smallest of the three Sandals resorts on the island. It is perfect for what we wanted. The benefit of staying at the Sandals resorts is that going to visit the other two resorts on the island, is also included in the price, as well as the food and drink, so you can visit a different resort every day and enjoy the same benefits. There are two swimming pools with swim up bars. The ocean is bath tub warm. You can eat and drink from morning to night. The beach is gorgeous and there is a small island off shore where we kayak to every day to laze about in a pristine azure ocean. We sail a Hoby and go scuba diving and in the afternoons we sit by the pool and read the afternoon away while sipping tropical drinks and eating cake. In the evening I enjoy dressing up and going to one of the four restaurants in the resort and a special dinner on the beach for a little bit extra. We make sure to go and eat at each restaurant before we left. There is a restaurant built out over the ocean that’s upscale and serves seafood. There is an Italian restaurant with incredible food and great service. The buffet restaurant’s food is versatile and deliciously Caribbean with live music every night and the Sushi restaurant has a fun hibachi grill where we meet new people. Needless to say, when I got back to reality, I had to go on a serious diet!

One night a reggae band started up and there was entertainment every night, including a night with a steel pan band, fire eaters and limbo dancing.

Our days carry on like this for ten days and it was wonderful not to have to worry about a thing. It was the most stress free and relaxing vacation I ever went on, thanks to Joanne from TravelOnly. She is a superb travel agent that truly cares about your needs and she took care of everything for us, from the plane reservations to the accommodation, to the complex visa questions for South African passport holders. We simply walked onto the plane, landed in paradise and had a spectacular Caribbean vacation to the likes of which I think we will be hard pressed to find again. The service at the resort was amazing and I blinked away a little tear when we said goodbye to the staff and one of them hugged my husband.

At the buffet restaurant I get introduced to Aloo Gobi, a dish with wonderful Indian spices, popular in Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Nepali cuisine. We’re in the West Indies where the use of Indian spice has been perfected. The dish is a cauliflower and potato curry with the perfect spice blend. Then there is the scotch bonnet Baron hot sauce. It stands everywhere on all the counters and the staff call it the yellow sauce. I ladle it on my plate with the Aloo Gobi and is hooked. It produces a fire in the mouth unlike any other hot sauce I’ve ever experienced, but the after taste is like an expensive wine. You inhale and a tremendous party of flavor takes off inside your mouth. I immediately buy a bottle to bring home and was happy to see that it’s available on Amazon and comes in pairs.

When we came home I find the Aloo Gobi recipe in one of my Indian cook books and amended it slightly to place in my own cook book. For a sample recipe from my book, go to the Recipes section of this blog to learn how to make Aloo Gobi. It is so simple and easy, yet it is healthy and the taste is complex and interesting. Also, click on the Books section where you will see a bit of an update as to how the book is coming along and don’t forget to contact Joanne for your travel needs.

For more St. Lucia photos, follow this link to my Facebook page:

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Colorful Colorado

BEAR!! It is summer on top of Conifer Mountain in the Colorado Rockies and we’re inundated with animals. We live at 10,000.00 feet and it is gorgeous. It’s noon and I’m busy making lunch. Something prompts me to look outside the kitchen window and there the enormous beauty stands in our meadow, just outside our bar sliding door. Never have I been this close to a bear and I smile in delight. Not too long ago during the winter, a fox would not allow me to take my trash can down the driveway and I backed away to get the bear spray and a hiking pole for protection, with the intent to chase the fox back into the woods. I discharged the bear spray and a solid stream of mace hit me full in the face. Dang it!! I did not take the wind direction into account and now my eyes and nose are watering and stinging like never before. I know not to touch my face and I’m mad at the poor fox instead of at my own stupidity. I charge the fox, screaming like a banshee, waving the hiking pole, looking ridiculous in my heavy boots and large winter jacket. The fox disappears into the woods. She is of glorious beauty and comes to visit often. We reach a truce and continue to live together in harmony. Little did I know the following April, we will experience the worst snow storm in our 6 years of living in snow in Canada and Colorado. It started on Friday night with a few heavy, wet flakes and escalated into a downpour of magnanimous proportions. By Saturday night we were completely snowed under and by Sunday morning it had reached 8 feet. We were snowed in and it took days to clear the mess. Thank goodness for fun neighbors.

Some of my fondest memories of Colorado are centered around food and friends. A party in September with said neighbors at their cabin on the edge of the mountain overlooking the park, gave us Nathan and Mary with incredibly beautiful cakes and tasty fruit pies, me with home made bake beans and a pumpkin bread and Jack grilling the Brats.

By November, we had Thanksgiving with the Harveys, our Canadian friends living in Denver. None of us had family, so they came over and got snowed in with us for Thanksgiving. I don’t remember much of the meal. It was full scale cooking of a lot of courses and I completely forgot to take photos, but I certainly do remember the appetizer: Saffron & White Wine Mussel Soup. This soup is reminiscent of the hearty soups found at the ski resorts of Breckenridge, Aspen, etc.

Then summer arrived and some friends came over for an Al Fresco lunch. We ate Stan’s amazing rotisserie chicken with healthy sides and a bottle of Mer Soleil brought over by the Saabs. After lunch we sat on our rock with its beautiful view of Pike’s Peak and the 3000 acre Staunton Park until close to sunset. We felt like we were the only people in the world.

When we first arrived in Denver, we continued with a foodie club we started in Alberta, Canada where we pulled countries out of a hat and cooked our way around the world. We found some gems such as Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Mongolia and more. We cooked in places I would never have thought to cook in and a whole new food world opened up for me. I didn’t realize at the time how much I will miss these get-togethers!!

A trip to Colorado would not be complete without tasting Colorado lamb or summer peaches. The state is a beautiful place with lots of wildlife and lots of snow. We lived in my dream home, had my dream kitchen and bar, I worked at a library in my dream job and had a lot of good friends. My memories would not be complete without a tribute to the beauty of where we lived and a tribute to the good friends that contributed to making these memories great. This is for you. You are missed.

For more photos on Colorado, follow these links to my Facebook page

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