1
Mar

This is the Apartment That I Wanted

I wanted to find a one bedroom apartment quickly, so I went about it the only way I could think of that would net me quick results. I went online and did a search for apartments in Medford MA, and I was able to find several complexes that were right in the area that I was hoping to move into. After looking at all three websites though, there was only one that I really wanted to move to. It is not that the others were bad, but it is that the Arlington 360 is just that good.

When I looked at the floor plans for the different units, I was so surprised to see the wide variety of floor plans for all different sizes of apartments. There are studio apartments as well as ones that have one, two and three bedrooms each. Continue reading

25
Feb

I Am Enjoying Living in Revere Close to the Beach

I work with a guy who went to school in the Manhattan area. He rented a small apartment with three other guys, and his portion of the rent was more than what I pay for a studio apartment for myself in Revere, Massachusetts that is right next to a fantastic beach. I found it when I was looking for a luxury apartment for Boston when I was accepted for a job I applied for. I have a studio apartment, and I have a nice balcony. The closets are big, and there is really enough room for two people to live very comfortably here. If you want a bigger apartment, they have luxury two and even three-bedroom spaces available. I plan on staying here for a good long time, and I will get a bigger place here as my career develops.

I have tall ceilings, secured access and my kitchen even has quartz countertops. Continue reading

18
Feb

Finally, We Have Nice Everything at Our New Apartment in Arlington

We have been investing as much as we could over the last 10 years in order to have a steady return to be able to support living where we want and doing what we want. Since we got married, we have scrimped and saved to put money into investments to be able to do more in a few years and even retire early. The first thing we were going to do now that we reached a financial goal was to look for apartments for rent in Medford MA area. We were going to be very happy to be moving out of the apartment we had been living in. We found a really nice place in Arlington called the Arlington 360. They have apartments and town homes that are available, and the whole community is brand new.

This was a huge improvement over where we were living, and now we could move and not have to struggle to meet our monthly lease. Continue reading

11
Jan

An Insider’s Guide to the Classic Flavors of Catalonia

An Insider’s Guide to the Classic Flavors of Catalonia

Popular Online Food Guide| An Insider's Guide to the Classic Flavors of Catalonia

Bordered by the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, Catalonia is a region of Spain that is fiercely proud of its unique culture, especially when it comes to food. While travelers most often flock to Barcelona, a colorful seaside city with a world-class drinking and dining scene, the lesser known province of Girona holds its own gastronomic wonders.

At its heart lies Olot, a small village nestled among volcanos with a long standing history of producing some of the area’s best cured meats – a staple in Spanish cuisine.

We asked Ignacio Rodriguez Sáez de Ibarra, General Manager with Espuña Tapas Essentials and dedicated amateur chef, to tell us about the pleasures of the palate that await in Catalonia.

When you think of Spain, what is the first flavor that comes to mind? The first aroma?
Spain is loaded with multiple flavors and aromas, which vary greatly from region to region, so naturally a lot of things come to mind:  intense, herbaceous, and spicy smells from the Mediterranean basin; fresh grass, rich dairy, and meaty flavors from the rainy North; and the salty, fishy smells from the seas in the South. There are also the scents from the dry, hilly interior where rosemary and sage impregnate the air.

That said,  if I had to pick just three flavors that are representative of Spanish cuisine they would be:

  • Garlic: without it, there would be no aioli, gazpacho or sofrito, the base for so many dishes.
  • Paprika or Pimenton de la Vera: which is the definitive ingredient of true Spanish Chorizo, what gives flavor and the deep red color.
  • Saffron: the necessary condiment in every paella dish.

These three flavors are the backbone of so many classic Spanish and Catalonian dishes and recipes.

Popular Online Food Guide| An Insider's Guide to the Classic Flavors of Catalonia

How does Catalonian cuisine differ from the rest of Spain? 
The Catalonian cuisine is purely Mediterranean, drawing flavors and influence from the geography of the territory, including the hilly interior of the Pyrenees. This diverse geographic influence is what sets Catalonian cuisine apart from the rest of Spain.

In a small area, you can experience an abundance of very different ingredients – from olive oil to anchovies, from plums to Marcona almonds, from terroir wine to pork – all of these different flavors and ingredients combine to generate the true Catalan mélange of flavors.

Spanish cuisine is known worldwide for such classics as Spanish Serrano Ham, Chorizo and other cured sausages, tapas, and Paella. But there are myriad more flavors and dishes that others will hopefully experience on their travels to Spain.

Which ingredients play a starring role in the region’s cuisine?
Catalonia is too diverse to point out just a few ingredients, however, pork in all of its forms, combined with the flavors of olive oil and garlic, is a top contender. Seafood is also one of the most popular ingredients used in Catalonian cuisine.

Popular Food Guides Online | An Insider's Guide to the Classic Flavors of Catalonia

Does the region have a signature or defining dish?
Pa amb tomàquet (Bread with Tomato). Simply prepare a slice of bread, cut a tomato in half and rub it over the bread. Add a hint of salt and olive oil and enjoy.

Originating in Catalonia, this dish is a truly simple, yet delicious recipe you will find all over the region – not only in restaurants but in every household. You will often see that it accompanies meals alongside local dry-cured sausages like Fuet.

A famous Catalan writer and gourmand, Manuel Vazquez-Montalban, loved to compare Pa amb Tomaquet with the Neapolitan Pizza. Both are peasant ways to enjoy the dough and the tomatoes that are so popular, and so good, both in Southern Italy and Mediterranean Spain.

In addition to the Pa amb tomaquet, you will also find a long-standing history of producing dry-cured salamis such as Fuets and Botifarra.

Popular Online Food Guide| An Insider's Guide to the Classic Flavors of Catalonia

Photo credit: Espuña Tapas Essentials

What can the local cuisine teach us about Catalonian culture?
Catalan people love to socialize and meet up with family and friends around food, which is why most classic Catalonian dishes are designed to be shared and enjoyed around a big table with plenty of wine and laughter. In Spain, these bite-sized dishes are known as tapas and are a definitive look into the Catalonian culture.

How can a curious visitor connect with the people who produce the food? 
The best way would be by visiting local bars and restaurants, which is the most direct way to experience our local gastronomy and those who produce it. Take a look at what the locals are eating and ask your server or bartender for the local specialties.

Also, most of the food manufacturers and wineries will have guided tours available, especially the smallest family-owned, rural-based manufacturers, who would love to show you around and share their love for what they do.

What food or food customs are unique to the area? 
From the Leridan or Empordá olive oils of the Arbequina variety to the Salchichón de Vic (dry cured sausage), or the rice grown at the Ebro´s delta, food customs abound in Catalonia.

Also unique to Catalonian gastronomy are calçots – grilled green scallions with Romesco sauce. Once the season arrives, calcots provide a great opportunity to enjoy friends and family while eating outside beside a fire.

There are also the Coc or mona de Pascua, a bakery item that, combined with any topping you can imagine, is usually had as a snack during Easter. A fun fact: a godfather often brings his godson the mona on Easter Sunday.

Of course, the wine list is huge too. From the Cavas of Penedés that are enjoyed with meals (contrary to the rest of Spain, where Cavas are mostly enjoyed as an after dinner drink) to the tiny terroirs of Priorat, where a visionary wine family started to extract small batches from vines that are 150 years old. For those not into wine, there are also some local spirits like the Ratafia which is obtained from macerating green walnuts.

Popular Online Food Guides | An Insider's Guide to the Classic Flavors of Catalonia

What food/dishes do you recommend? 
Of course, you can’t miss the aforementioned Pa amb tomàquet with some dry-cured Salami – the staple in every Catalan’s diet.

Another local specialty would be the Mongetes, local white beans most commonly pan-fried or stir-fried with grilled Butifarra, the local recipe for fresh pork sausage.

And of course, anything that carries the signature mar I montanya (sea and mountains) – a truly Catalan way of combining ingredients from the sea and the mountains in the same dish.

What restaurants, bars, cafes do you recommend?
The list could be infinite. Mediterranean cuisine is very present in most of the bars, restaurants, and cafes.

To give some representative examples in Barcelona, I would suggest Cervecería Catalana for the Tapas, 7 Portes for the Catalan cuisine, Moncho’s for the Paella. But, as I said, the list is very long.

Basically wander around, do like the locals do and see what looks tempting.

A very good tip would be to visit the local markets as they always have great spots either within the market itself or very close by. Even La Boqueria, the Gaudí designed market in the middle of Barcelona´s Rambla, a hugely touristy place, has great eating spots within it. Don´t miss Quim de la Boqueria for breakfast!

Espuña Tapas Essentials

Any tips on how to snag a reservation at El Celler de Can Roca?
It’s easy and difficult at the same time, as you are trying to book at one of the best restaurants in the world.

Bookings at El Celler de Can Roca have to be made 11 months ahead of the desired reservation. What’s the tip? Connect on the 1st of the month at midnight (Spanish local time) and you’ll succeed.

What would you like our readers to know about Espuña Tapas Essentials?
The experience of Espuña dates back to 1947 when they started producing sausages using traditional recipes on a small farm in Olot. Today, Espuña has state of the art facilities that serve customers all over the world, while still keeping artisanship and craftsmanship within the DNA of the company.

The Espuña Tapas Essentials line of cured meats is now available in Canada so consumers can experience genuine Spanish flavors and taste from the comfort of home. A perfect way to do so would be to head to your local Metro or Longo’s Store and pick up your favorite sourdough bread. Grate a fresh Ontario tomato right over it and then drizzle some salt and olive oil on top (we won´t complain if it is Italian), add some slices of Espuña Fuet D´olot on top for the best way to travel to Catalonia without leaving your kitchen.

Espuña Tapas Essentials

Photo credit: Espuña Tapas Essentials

Visit Espuña’s website or find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Need a place to rest your head (and your tummy) when visiting Catalonia? Hotel Omm delivers and will only enhance your visit. Located in Barcelona, Hotel Omm is a very chic hotel, designed more for the trendier visitor. But its Michelin starred restaurant and rooftop pool and terrace appeals to everyone.

11
Jan

The École Ritz Escoffier – Too Haute to Handle?

The École Ritz Escoffier – Too Haute to Handle?

 

Notre Dame de Paris | Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

I’ve been obsessed with Paris for as long as I can remember.  I’ve also developed a desire to learn everything there is to know about French culinary technique (a lofty goal, for sure). It seemed the best way to get started was to pack my bags and go straight to the source.

My first lesson took place at La Cuisine Paris where I got my feet wet learning how to cook duck confit from an English-speaking American chef.

From there, I progressed to the venerable Le Cordon Bleu where I attended two wonderful culinary demonstrations, both taught by a French chef with full translation to English. In the first class, we learned about pairing French food and wine, and in the second we learned how to use classic French culinary technique to transform seasonal market fresh food into an elegant feast.

And finally, I graduated to the École Ritz Escoffier, the epitome of haute cuisine.

Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris

Mural in the kitchen at the École Ritz Escoffier

The 4-hour culinary workshop took place on a Saturday afternoon in October, in the kitchens deep below the Hôtel Ritz Paris. Chef David Goulaze spoke only French as he guided the class through a menu of seasonal recipes. The chef’s assistant, Sophie, provided some translation but she had plenty of other responsibilities that kept her busy (setting the table, uncorking the wine, assisting Chef David) and she was often out of the kitchen. Even if she weren’t, it would have been impossible for her to translate verbatim since Chef David never stopped talking long enough to give her the chance.

This wasn’t a problem for most of the students since the class was predominately French-speaking. Only me and a young couple from London didn’t speak the language. If I were to take a guess, I would say that only about 20% of what the chef said was actually translated for the benefit of the English-speaking students.

We prepared the meal much like a kitchen brigade where each student assumed responsibility for certain tasks. Unbeknownst to me, the cutting board you positioned yourself behind at the beginning of the class determined which tasks you would inevitably be assigned. I had unwittingly volunteered for the role of garçon de cuisine (kitchen boy) when I chose to stand by a bowl of apples and a hotel pan filled with potatoes.

Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier in Paris

 

Having lived in the Okanagan Valley for the last twelve years, I was reasonably sure I knew my way around an apple, but I was wrong. Once I had removed the peel and sliced the apples in half, Chef David showed me how to use a cuillère Parisienne to spoon out the core. (In my life before Paris, I referred to this little tool as a melon baller.) The Parisienne spoon left a very small and tidy hole where the core had been.

I had also walked into the École Ritz Escoffier somewhat confident with my potato-peeling skills but Chef David still found a thing or two to teach me about spuds. In rapid-fire French, he explained how to trim the peeled potatoes into tournés. I didn’t understand a word he said but I watched spellbound as he carved a perfect barrel-shaped potato with seven sides and two evenly pointed ends. He demonstrated just once and then moved on to help the next student. Sophie explained that I should copy his potato so that all the vegetables were exactly the same size, ensuring even cooking while being aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It took me most of the afternoon to turn that pan of potatoes into little torpedoes.

While I whittled away, the students who had positioned themselves near the mushrooms focused on preparing the appetizer. At one point, we all stopped what we were doing to watch Chef David give a very lengthy lesson on the intricate folds and turns required to make puff pastry.

Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier at the lxuurious Ritz Hotel in Paris

 

 

Menu d’Automne

Tart with Wild Mushrooms, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts

Stuffed Guinea Fowl with Yesteryear Vegetables

Roasted Apple with Prune Armagnac Ice Cream

 

Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier at the lxuurious Ritz Hotel in Paris

Tart with Wild Mushrooms, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts

We started off our Autumn feast with puff pastry tarts filled with a mixture of goat cheese, cream, eggs, chopped walnuts and nutmeg, topped with sautéed mushrooms, then baked until golden.  We paired the tart with a teacup filled with creamy mushroom soup that the chef improvised from some of the leftover mushrooms. I imagine French children grow up eating this stuff, much like American kids eat canned tomato soup, but to me, it tasted very French and very exotic. It was rich and satisfying beyond belief. I only wish the soup had actually been on the menu because then it would have also been included in the recipe booklet.

Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier at the lxuurious Ritz Hotel in Paris

 

Stuffed Guinea Fowl and Yesteryear Vegetables

To make the main course, we prepared a farce of chicken meat, egg white, cream, brandy and finely chopped pistachios, and then used it to stuff butterflied Guinea Fowl breasts. Using a farce (also called forcemeat stuffing) is a classic French culinary technique where you basically stuff meat with meat (or in this case, poultry with poultry). Once stuffed, Chef browned the fowl in a sauté pan then braised it in ruby port, veal stock, and aromatics.

The yesteryear vegetables fascinated me – a strange-looking collection of root vegetables including parsnip chervil, Jerusalem artichokes, Chinese artichokes, salsify and the more familiar carrots and potatoes – cooked using a method called blanc de cuisson, or white cooking. (If you look at the photo above at about 7:00 o’clock you can see my contribution to the dish, one of my ‘turned’ potatoes.)

Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier at the lxuurious Ritz Hotel in Paris

 

Roasted Apple with Prune Armagnac Ice Cream

For dessert, we poached the apples I had prepped in simple syrup for about 5 minutes, then rolled them in warm honey and roasted them in the oven for another 8 minutes.  We also made ice cream flavored with Armagnac and dried prunes. Although this was a simple dessert, the taste was incredible! Back in the real world, I probably wouldn’t garnish each plate with an entire vanilla bean and a handmade chocolate, but on this day at least, we were dining at the Ritz!

After dinner, Chef David called each of us forward to present us with our Certificates. It was the only time in my life I’d heard my given name pronounced with three syllables, and I loved it!

My Saturday at the École Ritz Escoffier was as much a cultural experience as it was a culinary one. Julia Child once said that “in France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport”, and that was certainly the case with this group. Every time Chef David asked for a volunteer, people clamored over each other for the opportunity.  When it came to cooking, there wasn’t a timid soul in the entire class. The students approached their tasks with confidence and seemed to feed off of the Chef’s exuberance, creating an atmosphere that was energetic and at times even a little chaotic.

I was most surprised when we sat down to eat, and dinner genuinely felt like a family affair. Everyone ate with great gusto while they carried on animated conversations peppered with plenty of laughter. My dinner companions passed the bread basket often and kept my wine glass filled throughout the meal.

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”  ~ James Beard

There were times during the day that I felt like I was in over my head, but that had more to do with my inability to understand French than my lack of culinary skill.  I probably wouldn’t recommend this class to beginners and I would also hesitate to recommend it to anyone who doesn’t speak the language, but knowing now what I didn’t know then, would I do it again? Absolutely!

The Ritz Escoffier School of French Gastronomy
15, Place Vendôme
75001 Paris Samedi Du Ritz

Menu d’Automne Date: October 8, 2011
Cost: 150.00 €
Style: Déguste sur place (Dine after cooking)
Duration: 4 hours Chef Instructor: David Goulaze

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Find out what it's like to take a cooking class at the Ecole Ritz Escoffier at the lxuurious Ritz Hotel in Paris

10
Jan

An Introduction to the Cuisine of Kyrgyzstan

An Introduction to the Cuisine of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan Cuisine

By Megan Stetzel

Nestled in the middle of Asia is Kyrgyzstan, a fascinating country filled with unique culture, nomads, beautiful mountain ranges and equally stunning lakes. As a vital part of the Silk Road, and having only been a sovereign state since 1991, Kyrgyzstan has seen an influence from many cultures and empires over the years including Russian, Uyghur, Dungan, and Uzbek.

The people of Kyrgyzstan certainly are the jewels of the country but the cuisine is a close second. Rich with interesting meats, dairy products, and warm goodness, this food will stick to your ribs and get you ready for a trek into the hills.

A Meat Lover’s Paradise

Meat takes the main stage in this area of the world. Mutton, beef, and even horse meat are served at every meal. As a primarily nomadic culture, Kyrgyz people often raise their own produce and livestock. Maintaining a garden can be challenging in the mountains, so a lot of the food typically comes from animals that are easily herded.

Meat Dishes

  • Paloo or Plov –   a popular dish throughout Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has its own variety. Shredded carrots, rice, and garlic are sauteed together and then slow cooked meats like mutton or beef are added. Hot chilies or fried garlic are often served as toppings to give the dish a little extra flavor.
  • Beshbamark – a horse meat stew served over homemade noodles.
  • Shorpo –  a clear broth meat soup with potatoes.
  • Shashlik – delicious meat kebobs marinated for hours before cooking and grilled over open coals. Shashlik is typically mutton but in the bigger villages you can find chicken, beef, or even fish near the lakes!

Kyrgyzstan Cuisine

The Co-Star

Bread is the other main component of any meal in Kyrgyzstan. It comes in all shapes and sizes. Most matriarchs feel that their recipes are best, and it is extremely shameful to waste it. One local told me that if he buys a loaf of bread and doesn’t eat it all before it goes bad he literally has to hide it in his garbage bag so that no one yells at him for seeing him carrying a bag of garbage with bread in it!

If you enter any house or yurt in Kyrgyzstan it is customary to be offered bread and tea even if you’re only staying for a few moments. There are a few varieties ranging from flatbreads similar to naan to thicker more sturdy Russian-style varietals. They are often served with a variety of jams, jellies, honey, and butter.

Kyrgyzstan Cuisine

On the Side

Noodle dishes like Lagman are extremely popular as well. Lagman can come as a dry fried dish or a soup. Both versions are made from thick wheat noodles and vegetables and peppers tossed in a spicy vinegar sauce. Make sure to wear darker clothes when tackling Lagman as the noodles are known for splashing around!

Dumplings are also a common component of Kyrgyz food. Samsas are little pockets of fluffy pastry stuffed with meat and vegetables that are very similar in style to Indian Samosas. Manty are the steamed variety also filled with meat and vegetables.

If you’re traveling to Kyrgyzstan, you have to try the national drink of kymyz. It is made from fermenting mare’s milk and almost resembles a milky Kombucha. It is slightly alcoholic so don’t go operating heavy machinery after sampling it.

Kyrgyzstan Cuisine

Special Diets

Kyrgyzstan is not a vegetarian or vegan-friendly country traditionally. If you stay in the capital of Bishkek or in some of the other major towns like Cholpan-Ata, you may be able to find cuisines from around the world or vegetarian-friendly establishments. If you are trekking and planning to stay with nomadic families in yurts, it can be quite challenging finding dishes that don’t contain meat. A few dishes to look for are fresh carrot salads with a spicy, citrus sauce or borscht, a beet-based soup that is often sans meat.

If you follow a gluten-free diet, many of the dishes are safe to consume as seasonings and preparations are very simple here. Although bread is served with every meal, there are usually plenty of other dishes to be had. Stay away from noodle dishes and dumplings as both are primarily wheat based. Definitely eat as much Shashlik as possible, though!

Kyrgyzstan Cuisine

I hope this helps to shed some light onto a culinary region that you may not have thought of. A trip to Kyrgyzstan is sure to make a tummy very happy!

About Megan

Megan Stetzel, Forks and Footprints

Megan is a girl that shouldn’t travel. She’s gluten free, allergic to everything else, falls off motorcycles, poops her pants, gets bit by stray dogs and yet she’s still been traveling the world for 3 years and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. She writes about all of this and more at Forks And Footprints.

10
Jan

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

It’s not often I travel to a destination just for the hotel, but every now and then there’s a place so special that I will make the trip just to experience it. That’s what happened a few weeks ago when I stayed as a guest at the luxurious Alder Thermae Spa & Relax Resort in Bagno Vignoni, Italy.

I’ve been to Tuscany before. In 2013, I traveled to its capital city, Florence. I fell in love with the Renaissance art and architecture it’s so famous for, then fell even harder for its flavorful uncomplicated cuisine. Made with the freshest, high-quality ingredients – peppery olive oil, soft young Pecorinos, luxurious truffles, silky prosciuttos – I couldn’t get enough.

But something was missing. Where were the iconic Cypress trees of Tuscany? The rolling hills? The ancient villas? Certainly not in the city.

I knew I would have to return and see the Tuscan countryside, and soon. I started planning before I even got home, quickly narrowing down my home-base choices to two of the best known medieval hilltop towns:  Siena with its well-preserved historic center or Lucca with its imposing Renaissance walls. The tiny little town of Bagno Vignoni wasn’t even a blip on my radar. Not until I heard about the Adler Thermae Toscana, that is.

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

Forty minutes by car from the Chiusi-Chianciano Terme train station, this 5-star luxury hotel and spa resort is set in a splendid Italian villa located on a hilltop in the Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Its central feature is a lagoon-sized pool naturally heated by warm thermal springs.

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

[photo credit]

An even bigger draw than the thermal waters, at least for a food-obsessed traveler like myself, is the Adler’s reputation for spectacular gourmet Tuscan cuisine.

Five minutes on their website and I knew I’d found my place under the Tuscan sun.

Cuisine at the Adler Thermae

After a long day of travel from Budapest, I arrived at the Adler too late to have dinner in the restaurant. Imagine my pleasure when I found this cold feast waiting for me in my room.

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

And that was just the beginning. The next three days were a blur of amazingly good food and drink.

I started the mornings with a frothy cup of cappuccino, a heavenly croissant fresh from the oven, eggs cooked to order, and an ample assortment of cheeses and fruits. Lunch featured plenty of tasty antipasti, crisp salads, pasta dishes, and divine desserts. Later in the day, a tempting cake buffet was laid out in the piano bar, (Hello? A cake buffet!) and just a few hours after that, a gourmet multi-course dinner was served in the restaurant.

Each day, the menu was crafted to show off the best hyper-local ingredients: herbs from the hotel garden, gloriously green olive oils, tender cuts of meat from Tuscany’s Chianina breed of cattle, fresh sun-ripened vegetables, and bread made with organic flour produced at the local mill.

Insider’s Tip: Typical Tuscan dishes are identified on the restaurant menu with a sketch of a Cypress tree.

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

The Best Regional Wines

Cuisine this good should be enjoyed with wine that is just as exceptional.

The Adler’s limestone wine cellar, In Vino Veritas, is filled with the best wines from the nearby growing regions of Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Chianti. Gourmet tastings take place in the cellar every Wednesday and Saturday night where guests can sample selected wines with Pecorino cheese, Tuscan salami, and freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil.

Since I arrived late on Saturday night and left on Tuesday, I missed the cellar tastings. Instead, I took a tour of the new Sanoner Wine Estate where the Adler has begun producing their own organic wines from Sangiovese grapes. I enjoyed the fruity Aetos Rose 2015 and the excellent Aetos Rosso 2015, but the salmon pink Aetos Rose Sparkling 2015 with its fine bubbles and elegant bouquet of fresh red fruit was especially refreshing.

Insider’s Tip: All of the cellar wines, including the Aetos label, are poured nightly in the restaurant. If you don’t finish your bottle at dinner, the staff will store it for you so you can have what’s left the next night.

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

Delectable Activities & Excursions

The Sanoner winery is also home to a spacious demonstration kitchen. Weekly cooking classes are led by a local chef who shares her tips and tricks for making traditional Tuscan dishes like pasta, focaccia, and tiramisu. The four-hour experience is completely hands-on. Everyone cooks together in the morning and then shares lunch at a communal table overlooking the vineyard. Since the cooking classes take place on Wednesdays, I missed out on those too. Poor planning on my part!

Additionally, the Adler offers guests an exciting selection of guided excursions, many of which culminate in a uniquely Tuscan culinary experience. During ‘Trekking Special’ weeks, for example, guests can walk to San Quirico d’Orcia  where they’ll meet a saffron producer and learn about the harvest and production of one of the world’s most costly spices, followed by a saffron-themed lunch. Trekking to Castelnuovo dell’Abate for a Brunello tasting is another option, as is hiking along the Via Francigena to visit a corn mill and enjoy typical Sienese pasta at the castle.

I joined the hotel’s personable guide, Christina, for an unforgettable truffle hunting expedition. Our group traveled by van to San Giovani d’Asso to meet a truffle hunter and his well-trained dog, Luke. After an exciting hour of truffle hunting, we transferred to Chiusure then set out on a 7 km walking tour to explore the Crete Senesi. Our hike ended at a charming agriturismo where we were treated to a light lunch featuring the white truffles we had found during our hunt. I highly recommend this experience. It had been a bucket list item for me for some time and it turned out to be the absolute highlight of my time in Tuscany!

Insider’s Tip: Cooking class menus, trekking themes, and schedules change with the seasons so be sure to check availability with the hotel before you book your stay.

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

Indulgent Spa Treatments

The pools, with their mineral-rich thermal waters, have some of the most amazing surroundings I’ve ever seen. Picturesque hills, a row of stately Cypress trees, even a timeworn castle in the clouds. This is the Tuscany of my dreams. Still, I managed to pull myself away from the stunning scenery long enough to enjoy some serious pampering at the spa.

The Adler Thermae has its own line of spa products made from local organic ingredients -Sangiovese grapes, olive oil, milk, honey and herbs from the Val d’Orcia – each one designed to restore, revive and replenish.

The Brunello bath with grape seed oil massage was wonderful as was the luxury massage with a velvety olive cream. I also had a facial that was so relaxing I slept through the entire treatment.

Insider’s Tip: Many treatments are intended to be enjoyed without clothing. If you’re like me and feel shy about being seen in the nude, just remind yourself that your practitioner isn’t the least bit fazed by it. He or she sees naked bodies all day long. 

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

The Adler Thermae at Home

I wished my time at the Adler would never end. Fortunately, the hotel has anticipated this type of response from its guests and has come up with a few options to help ease the pain of parting.

First, some of the chef’s best Tuscan recipes (like Raviolo with Ricotta and Sienese Truffles and Tortelli with Ricotta, Cinta Senese Ham, and Dry Tomatoes) are available on the Adler’s website so you can recreate some of your favorite dishes at home.

Second, a careful selection of the finest Val d’Orcia gourmet products used in the recipes (and in the hotel restaurant) are available for purchase in the wine cellar. Cold cuts, extra virgin olive oil, Pecorino cheese, soup mixes, jams, and of course, wine, all make great souvenirs. (Don’t forget to pack these.)

Insider’s Tip:  Pick up a package of the soup mix – a blend of organic pearl spelt, pearl barley, and lentils – so you can make a pot of earthy Tuscan soup in your own kitchen. Molto delizioso! The recipe calls for rigatino (Tuscan bacon) but I improvised with some pancetta I picked up at the local Italian market. Ever since Customs seized my refried beans with chorizo sausage on a return trip from Cabo, I’ve known better than to try and bring meat products into Canada. 

5 Tasty Reasons to Book a Stay at the Adler Thermae Toscana

I can easily imagine myself coming back to this remarkable place over and over again (like many of the European hotel guests I chatted with). In fact, I’m already looking forward to my return to this magnificent valley and the incomparable Hotel Adler.

10
Jan

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

by Catherine Fancher

When was the last time you picked up Cambodian food for dinner on your way home? Never, you say? Me neither. Cambodian food has never been on my radar screen. Sometimes I crave Thai takeout or a steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho. But I haven’t ever hankered for the cuisine of Cambodia, that nation squeezed between Thailand and Vietnam, the culinary giants of Southeast Asia.

It’s ironic, really, that the food of Cambodia isn’t more widely known or appreciated. As I learned on Grantourismo’s October 2016 Cambodian culinary retreat,  Cambodian food is the contemporary expression of the cuisine of the mighty Khmer empire, which flourished there until the mid-15th century. Our host, veteran food and travel writer Lara Dunston, explained that Cambodia’s ancient Khmer cuisine influenced the culinary traditions of Thailand and Vietnam, not the other way around. With her co-host and husband, fellow writer and photographer Terence Carter, Lara introduced us to the flavors of the country that they call home.

A Tie to the Past

If you walk or ride down any village road in Cambodia, you’ll notice smoking coal or wood fires. And you’ll smell the delicious aroma of grilled meat. Cambodians certainly enjoy their barbecue. We sampled pork cubes grilled on wooden skewers for breakfast, and fire-roasted beef marinated in a fragrant paste called “kroeung”  for dinner. Any meat is fair game for a Cambodian grill, even the plentiful, snack-sized frogs which are popular with tuk-tuk drivers around Siem Reap.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

People in Cambodia have been barbecuing the same way for almost a thousand years. To demonstrate, Lara and Terence took us to Bayon, a mesmerizing temple in the heart of the fortified ancient city of Angkor Thom, near modern day Siem Reap. Bayon is known for its towers displaying over 200 enormous stone faces of legendary Khmer king, Jayavarman VII. But the photo op for foodie tourists is below the stone faces on the outer wall of the temple’s first level. Here, the daily life of the Khmer people in the 12th century is chronicled in detailed bas relief panels. Some of the best stone carvings show villagers grilling meat squeezed between long wooden sticks, just like they still do today.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

A Respect for Craft

The Bayon bas reliefs also reminded us that fish and rice have been key elements of the Cambodian diet for many centuries. Cottage industries based on these dietary staples survive today in Cambodia’s developing economy, supporting artisanal producers and promoting traditional, regional recipes.

For example, Cambodians still preserve fish by fermentation. In Battambang, Lara took us to a “factory” where locals produce prahok, a fermented fish paste that provides the strongest and most distinctive flavor in Cambodian cuisine. At the factory, fresh fish are cleaned, crushed, dried, salted and fermented in barrels or large clay jars.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

After fermenting for as little as 3 weeks or up to 3 years, the pungent prahok can be mixed with rice as a source of protein in a basic, home-cooked Cambodian meal. The paste is also used as a salty seasoning to give dishes a typically Cambodian bitter and sour flavor.

Most other examples of artisanal food production in Cambodia are based on its primary agricultural commodity: rice. Lara introduced us to two women in Battambang who produce up to 2,000 rice paper wrappers for spring rolls each day. They steam and dry the wrappers in their palm-thatched workshop, using only a mixture of rice flour and water.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

In and around Battambang, we saw rice treats known as “kralan” for sale all along the roadside. Locals mix sweet rice with coconut milk and black beans, then stuff the mixture into short bamboo tubes. They roast the tubes over hot coals and slice off the blackened, outer layer while the bamboo is still hot.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

We bought the warmest tubes, then our local companion, Sokin Nou, showed us how to break them with our hands and peel back the bamboo to reach the sticky rice treat inside.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

My favorite rice treat, however, was the fresh, fermented rice noodles served everywhere from restaurants to roadside stands. In the village of Preah Dak outside Siem Reap, Lara and Terence found a family that still makes the noodles by hand. To pound the fermented rice into a pasty dough, three people power a giant, wooden mallet with their feet while another carefully kneads the dough beneath the moving mallet in a stone basin.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Another member of the family then fills an extruder with dough and sits atop a giant wooden lever, using his weight to squeeze thin noodles directly into a pot of simmering water.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

The fermented noodles are commonly served at room temperature with a deliciously mild, green fish curry in a breakfast dish called nom bahn chok.

A Living History

On our retreat, we saw Cambodians preserving traditional, artisanal methods of food production in their own homes or in small workshops and factories. But Cambodian culinary traditions are still on display in local markets (away from the stalls selling elephant-print pants and Angkor Wat snow globes) and in restaurants (on the opposite side of the menu from spaghetti Bolognese and nachos.) Lara and Terence showed us how to shop and how to order like locals.

A Cambodian food market is not suitable for the shopper who gets woozy at the sight of butchered meat or from the smell of fish. It’s nothing like a quaint European marché, or even a grittier South American mercado. A Cambodian food market is a keen blitz on the senses. We walked through noisy, crowded markets in Battambang and Siem Reap with local chefs, tripping over plastic colanders filled with still twitching skinned frogs, waving off flies hovering above stacks of raw chicken, and stepping carefully beside bowls of crispy insects and plastic bags pulsing with live eels and snakes.

Grantourismo Cambodian Culinary Retreat, insects at market, Battambang

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

We sought out redolent lemongrass and kaffir limes among baskets full of leafy and fragrant produce.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

We marveled at the spectrum of ripening bananas, colorful dragon fruit and regional green-skinned oranges.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

And we sampled sweet-looking treats, discovering the surprising sourness that both young and old Cambodians love.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

The Cambodian markets were the liveliest possible expression of the “farm to table” practices that we now treasure in our own home countries.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

After our market tours, the local chefs taught us how they use ingredients from the markets to prepare traditional Cambodian recipes. In Battambang, the chefs at boutique hotel Maisons Wat Kor gave us a hands-on lesson in preparing Cambodia’s national dish, fish amok. A key ingredient of this steamed fish curry is a fragrant kroeung paste made from pounding a blend of spices including galangal, turmeric, kaffir lime zest, lemongrass, shallots and garlic in a stone mortar.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

In Siem Reap, the chefs at upscale Malis Restaurant demonstrated their method for preparing Saraman Beef, a rich and thick dish which combines palm sugar, coconut milk, and peanuts with a distinctive curry paste. The curry paste, prepared behind the scenes, included ingredients such as roasted coconut, coriander, cinnamon, kaffir lime zest, lemongrass, galangal, and garlic.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Looking Ahead & Giving Back

I celebrated my birthday during our Cambodian culinary retreat, and Lara and my fellow foodie travelers surprised me with a spectacular cake. The figure atop the cake, a doll with a camera and suitcase, looked remarkably like me.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

We all wondered: where in the world did a bakery in Siem Reap find a brunette, female, white-skinned doll with both a camera and suitcase on such short notice? Then it hit us. The doll was made entirely of sugar, and the artisans at the bakery had crafted it that very afternoon based solely on Lara’s description of me. We simply had to visit the bakery to learn how they did it and to say thank you.

Bloom Café and Training Centre in Siem Reap (formerly Blossom Café) is a café and cake art gallery that provides vocational training and employment opportunities for Cambodian women. We met Melissa Stock, one of the General Managers, who showed us samples of the colorful and intricately decorated cakes, cupcakes and cookies produced at the bakery.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Melissa explained that the Bloom Café students are trained on-site, where they may ultimately work as employees receiving additional mentorship and support.

Bloom Café was only one of the Cambodian enterprises we encountered that is using culinary arts to assist underprivileged segments of the community. In Siem Reap, we also visited the Bayon Pastry School, which provides vocational training in pastry to women from villages around the Angkor temples. Proceeds from baked goods sold in the school’s coffee shop are used to help finance the program.

In Battambang, we dined at Jaan Bai, a social enterprise restaurant of local NGO, the Cambodian Children’s Trust. Jaan Bai, which means “rice bowl” in the Khmer language, sources its produce from local farmers and buys from the same markets we visited in Battambang. Lara introduced us to her friend Tara Winkler, Managing Director of the Cambodian Children’s Trust, who explained that the restaurant trains and employs youth participating in their programs.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

Through Jaan Bai and Tara, we learned about the ongoing work of the NGO to help children escape the cycle of poverty. The Cambodian Children’s Trust promotes education and advocates family preservation and deinstitutionalization for Cambodian youth.

Highlights of a Cambodian Culinary Retreat

About the Author

Catherine FancherCatherine Fancher is a Dallas-based attorney who decided to take some time off in 2012. She sold her house, put everything in storage and traded her high heels for hiking boots. More than 30 countries later, she is still traveling. Catherine’s photographs and stories about the places she has seen, the dishes she has eaten and the things she has learned along the way are collected on her website www.tinysoapcollector.com.

10
Jan

5 of the All-Time Worst Christmas Gifts for Foodies

5 of the All-Time Worst Christmas Gifts for Foodies

Presidential Crunch Time

It’s her alright. Get a grip on one of the world’s most recognized, most controversial women. You’ll feel the power in your hand. Just place a nut between her legs and squeeze. Cracks the toughest nuts, including Republican, Democratic, Brazilian, walnuts, and pecans.

The New 2016 Hillary Nutcracker

51wfm50xwl

Fine China

What do you do when your in-laws come for dinner? Break out the good dishes!

Wild Dining Plates

Gorilla Plates

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

These flavored lollipops contain a real worm that has been suspended within the tequila-flavored confines of the sucker. You don’t have to eat the bug, but that would just defeat the purpose of having an insect larva in your lollipop, now wouldn’t it?

Hotlix Tequila Worm Suckers

tequilapops

Homegrown Chocolates

No need to pick between chocolates and flowers when you can grow your own chocolate flowers. Seriously?

Grown Your Own Chocolate Flowers

Worst Christmas Gifts Ever! Grow Your Own Chocolate Flowers

Liquid Courage

“Just what I always wanted!”, said no one. Ever. Thank goodness they at least kept this biohazard BPA free.

Biohazard Drink Pouch

Worst Christmas Gifts Ever! Biohazard Drink Pounch

 

Have you ever received a really cringe-worthy Christmas gift? Tell us about it in the comments below, or let us know which one of our picks you think is the worst of the worst.

10
Jan

The Temptation Restaurant: A Florida Fish Story

The Temptation Restaurant: A Florida Fish Story

The Temptation Restaurant: A Florida Fish Story

Photo Credit: VISIT FLORIDA

A Florida Fish Story, Part 1: The Temptation Restaurant

By Catherine Shannon Ballman

On a quiet street in a sleepy town on a remote island in southwest Florida, is the fish house of your dreams, the one with fish, fresh from the sea, perfectly prepared and served up with Old Florida charm. Not much has changed at The Temptation Restaurant in Boca Grande, FL, since US Navy man, Homer Addison, home from the war, opened the doors in 1947. For the past 69 years, it has meant good food, good drinks and good times.

A jaunty neon martini glass attaches at a tilt to the second-story facade beckoning guests to park their pastel-colored golf carts, Boca’s conveyance of choice, and come on in. The screen door slaps shut and the evening starts at the bar, a pleasingly dim retreat from the Florida sun. Decorated with goofy signage – “Please, no profanity” and “Plan ahead, buy two cases” – and photos of former patrons, famous and not-so, liquor promotional odds and ends from the 1950s and bits of maritime art, the bar is easy sitting. And sit, people do, fishing captains and their mates jostling visitors from up North, beachcombers and politicians, debs and diplomats, telling stories and spinning yarns about the fish that got away.

Tradition suggests a Moscow Mule, that tasty L.A. import. The vodka + ginger beer + lime juice elixir is best sipped from one of the copper mugs hanging behind the bar. This being Florida, G&T’s are a year-round pleasure and the barkeeps know how to make this seemingly simple cocktail sparkle

The Temptation Main Dining Room | The Temptation Restaurant: A Florida Fish StoryOnwards to lunch or dinner, this jumble-box of a building offers different rooms with different charms but each with the same menu. Off of the bar to the left is the main dining room, often the preferred room for those who like to be seen or be seen out and about. Overseen by majordomo Kathy Merhar, she controls the always busy reservations list and is unflappable, no matter who walks in through her door.

Fancy, no, but the front room does glitter some, mostly with tans and laughter and clinking glasses. Chanel sits next to Lily Pulitzer next to cargo shorts and capris.

Record-sized marlin and tarpon hang high on the wall. Murals depicting Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island life painted in the 1950s by local artist Deo Weymouth encircle the room. Tables are draped with linen, candles are lighted and the stage is set.

Choose the Caribbean Room and you leave the bar in the back and thread your way through the liquor storeroom, passing a service bar managed by ace mixologist Danielle Zipay. Art by local artists cover the walls, all for sale to lucky diners who want to take a bit of Boca home.

To the right of the bar is a tiny corner of the island’s only liquor store furnished with a few high tables and chairs for twosomes wanting a quiet tête-à-tête. (Whichever room you choose, do make a stop in the powder room and take a gander at the old time cigarette dispensing machine. Nobody who sees it for the first time can resist telling their tablemates about this anachronism, dubious as its history is.)

In each of the dining rooms are couples on dates; three- and even four-generation families dine at the big tables scattered around. Long-time friends reconnect after summers away and vacationers wander in from the beach.

Servers promptly bring out breadsticks and butter to nibble while perusing the appetizers. Dinner is best kicked off with bowls of rich, creamy lobster corn chowder or (and sometimes, plus) briny, plump shrimp caught just offshore and served with tart old-fashioned cocktail sauce. Fried grouper fingers and oyster platters have their fans. And, calories are tossed into the deep blue sea when ordering the rich, creamy Hot Crabmeat Temp.

The Temptation Restaurant: A Florida Fish Story | The Culinary Travel GuideFish is the main attraction, grouper and snapper and pompano and soft-shell crabs and sometimes hogfish just pulled from the surrounding waters. Co-owner Jeff Simmons says much fish comes directly from the sea, brought to the kitchen by local fishing captains with extra from the day’s catch, making it only hours old when delivered to the table. A wonder of the sea is that each fish tastes distinct from their watery neighbors. Grouper is lean, moist and mild with a firm texture. Snapper, too, is lean, moist and mild but has a sweetness to it. Hogfish is lean and has a delicate texture with very fine white meat; its unfortunate name comes from a head that looks unnervingly like a pig snout. The ubiquitous Florida fish, pompano, is richly flavored and firm with a very clean taste.

Recently, Co-owner and Chef Kevin Stockdale put lionfish on the menu. Both venomous and invasive, lionfish turns out to be quite lovely when prepared properly.

Whatever fish is chosen, the long-time and deeply knowledgeable waitstaff guide diners through the menu to select the fish. Back in the kitchen, each fish is perfectly prepared, bronzed, grilled or blackened to your preference. Accompanying the fish are a choice of classic sauces, the citrus bureau blanc being a particularly silky and flavorful choice. The House signature Pan-Fried Snapper with lemon, garlic and apple juice has starred on the menu for over 10 years. So popular and palate-pleasing is the menu anchor that many a regular has only ever ordered this dish.

Along with the fish, well-paired wines from The Temp’s cellar, a 14-year winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, are poured.

Accompanying the fish to the table are a choice of baked, sweet or Jamaican potatoes, along with special sides conjured up by Chef Stockdale, as well as fresh vegetables of the day. The good-natured serving staff is known to repeat the multitude of options for each diner of short memory at the table without grimace, groan or raised eyebrow.

It has occurred that guests have ordered steaks and even vegetarian meals and Chef Stockdale’s kitchen gives as much attention to those dishes as to it’s deep sea calling card. Also outstanding and much appreciated are the beautiful salads that come out of the kitchen. In one of the great ironies of the culinary world, Florida seems stymied by an inability to provide fresh, sweet-tasting fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Produce aisles at even the largest grocery chains and the smallest garden stands are full of limp, worn-out fruits and vegetables. Somehow, Chef Stockdale is able to sleuth out produce that shines on the plate.

A salad in regular rotation hits the eye like a flash of sunshine with juicy mango sitting proud on a bed of fresh frisee, dried cranberries and toasted cashews, all tossed with a creamy poppy seed dressing.

Room for dessert means either coconut pie, a Temp classic, or coconut layer cake, in addition to the more typical chocolate cake and ice cream options. The pie went off the menu for a few years when the waitperson, who had baked them from her own (secret) recipe, retired. A sorry substitute was offered. Finally, the original was recreated to the joy of all and dismay of dieters.

Boca Grande Marina | The Temptation Restaurant: A Florida Fish Story

Photo Credit: VISIT FLORIDA

But maybe the very best meal at The Temp is the one guests provide themselves. After a morning or evening spent 10 miles or so offshore fishing, guests haul in their own catch of the day. Chef Stockade prepares it as you like but recommends the “something for everyone” approach: one-third fried, one- third grilled and one-third blackened. Served with heaping platters of cole slaw and french fries, it turns a happy day of fishing into a merry day of feasting. Order up some longnecks or Bloody Mary’s and the fish stories can get spun late into the day.

Is The Temp the best restaurant in Florida? In fact, it is the best restaurant in Florida – on the east side of Park Avenue. Almost directly across is PJ’s Seagrille, another superb example of authentic Florida fish houses. (Stay tuned for Part 2.)

The Temptation Restaurant
350 Park Avenue
Boca Grande, FL
941.964.2610

For a place to rest your head on Boca Grande, try the luxurious Gasparilla Inn & Club. The Inn has plenty of dining options to appeal to any palate. With their own bakery on the premises, it is easy to grab a light breakfast before heading out to enjoy the gorgeous beaches just steps from the property