travel

Layering flavors

Spices-in-hoi-an

Traveling has consumed our lives for the past two months - Nepal, India, Vietnam, and Cambodia are now safely stamped into our passports and leave amazing memories. Living in Abu Dhabi has opened up a whole new part of the world (literally) that seemd so foreign and distant when we lived in Boston. Most places in Asia, Africa, and Europe are within 7 hrs. Considering it takes almost 15 hours to fly back to Boston, 7 hours seems like nothing.

Each time we travel we learn about the culture through the food - the flavors, smells, and textures of the food take us deeper into the culture than any history book could. Often when talking about food a culture's history and people's personal stories are also discussed. It has become an amazing way to learn about the world. 

On our most recent adventure - to Vietnam and Cambodia - we signed up for two cooking classes: one in Ho Chi Minh City and one in Hoi An. I have always gravitated towards Vietnamese food, as it tends to be light, fresh, and full of flavor. But I had little idea about all the elements that made the food so exceptional. The time and care that is put into the food and the presentation was more than inspiring. While the food was not complicated to prepare, each bite include sweet, sour, and savory elements. Recipes will follow for sure, as we both need some time on the ground for a bit, but for now, I thought I would share some of dishes we made...

Cooking-table

 

Shrimp-roll

Green-papaya

 


Two for Tuesday - it's back!

 I started a new job several weeks ago - and that is why I have been remiss in my Two for Tuesday posts.  I try to write them at least 2 times a month, and I have been late - very late this time around.  I like to write about people who I think pair up well.  They might have things in common (like they are both from the same part of the world) or they write about similar topics.  All in all, I pick two fabulous people and showcase their very best for all to see.  This time I chose two Americans living life abroad - they are both fantastic women living in places I have either lived (France) or traveled to (Morocco).  And let me tell you - I would very quickly live in both places again. 

Marrakesh

I will start with Maryam, as in My Marrakash, as she happens to be the very first person whose blog I EVER followed, so needless to say, she holds a very special place in my heart.  If you ever find yourself wandering through the endless mazes of the souks in Marrakesh, bargaining with the shopkeepers over a pairs of babouches or the perfect size pouffe, the person in the know is Maryam.  I had the privilege of discussing the finer points of Moroccan bargaining with her and fair prices last summer on my 3-wk holiday to Spain and Morocco.  Her site, while focused on a fabulous family living in Marrakesh, also delves into food, friends, travel, and rights.  Human rights around the world.  From Rwanda to India, Maryam captures it all with both words and images.

Eiffel-Tower

Next stop...France.  I have spent a considerable of time in France, speak the language, and would love to someday have a home there.  Perhaps when many people think of France, the Eiffel Tower comes to their mind, or images of a lovely couple walking hand in hand down the Seine.  While this is all very real and very much France, it by no means encompasses ALL of France.  Several years ago I had the unique opportunity to drive through a great deal of France:  mountains, towns, lakes, countryside, ocean.  No, it might not be a large country if you are looking at the actual size, but will all the diverse beauty that rests inside this country - it might as well be three time the size of Texas.  And so her comes Jamie, as in Life's a Feast.  Well, in France it most certainly is and every bit of it is better than the last.  Jamie, like Maryam, is an ex-pat finding her way in a wonderful country, a new home away from home.  She is also raising her family in France (she was in Italy for a while too!), and no, not in Paris, but in Nantes.  Nantes is south-west of Paris and close to the Atlantic Coast.  OK, back to Jamie!  Between her fabulous recipes, her Life photos that will bring you back to a simpler time, and stories of her life as she navigates between moving, raising her children, living in Nantes, and her travel tales, you will be encouraged to take time out from your own life and step into hers.

Both Jamie and Maryam have similar stories - traveling around the world with their families to fabulous places, blogging about it, and letting us all see bits and pieces of their lives.


A little box of thank yous

It started with trips to a store called Carrs in Providence.  Don't bother looking it up - it no longer exists.  My parents would take me in for new clothes - French dresses were the specialty.  Along with dresses, Carrs sold petit fours.  For me, these were absolute perfection.  Tiny little cakes iced in a half dozen different pastel colors.  Perfect for hosting tea parties with my dolls.  To me, the petit fours from Carrs epitomize little cakes are supposed to taste.  I have had many imposters, but nothing as good as the real thing. Following Carrs, there were trips to other pastry shops - none had the unique quality of selling both French dresses AND pastries, but as a young child of about 8 I remember a lot of my firsts...  

Keep it clean here, I am talking about food, specifically dessert.  I remember my first bite of Sacher Torte from the Sacher Hotel in Vienna (I mean how great is it to actually eat Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel!)  I tasted the differences between darks, milks, and whites within the opulent walls of Sprungli.  I dipped a silver knife into clotted cream at Claridges and spread the richness all over scones with strawberry jam.  Yes, I truly tasted parts of the world, and feel in love with so much of what I tasted.  Years later, on a trip to Paris I tasted my first macaroon from Fauchon.  My sister referred to them as flying saucers.  David Lebovitz recently referenced these little delights on his blog (he posted a recipe for ketchup flavored macaroons.  I am not sure I am ready for that...), and if you have any question how amazing they are...does this help?51gtCblJpdL._SS500_






















I mean seriously - what kid would not fall in love with these?

And so it began, my love affair with pastries, sweets, and everything that comes packaged in a pretty little box with layers, tissue paper, and ribbons.  For almost every holiday, my family always has chocolates.  On one Thanksgiving, we sat around the table and sampled chocolates from different places - Belgium, Switzerland, France, and England - to see which ones we fancied the most.  (My father always picks the violet creams...).  

For my 34 birthday I received a box of champagne chocolates and a pair of pink pajamas.  Champ Both items were quite luxurious, and as I looked at them I remember thinking to myself how I could not wait to wear the pajamas and eat the chocolates.  A little luxury in which I participated following Both items were quite luxurious, and as I looked at them I remember thinking to myself how I could not wait to wear the pajamas and eat the chocolates.  A little luxury in which I fully indulged following open-heart surgery several weeks after that birthday... (no worries, the surgery was planned, and I am sure that the gifts were a way to relax me!)

So, you can now comprehend my appreciation for little boxes and the treats that come wrapped up inside!  Last week I was having dinner with my father, and he asked me to stop by the house and take out whatever food I wanted since my parents were going away on vacation.  Among the apples, oranges, watercress, chicken breast, and cheese that were piled into a Waitrose plastic bag, was a little box.  He picked it up and said "Hector might want these".  I looked over.  I did not even have to open the box to know what it contained inside.  Was he kidding me?  Hector?  He knows very well that chocolates are MY thing!  Why would he even consider that I would for a second depart from something that I treasure as much as a box of fine chocolates! 

Me:  Um, no I want the chocolates (me as an 8-yr old in the body of a 36 yr old)

Dad: well, you should make sure that they are still good. I am not sure when mom bought them...

Seriously?  Did he think THAT would dissuade me?  So I left the house with my box of chocolates in tow...

Box

and opened them up...

Chocolate
and saw that yes, they were in fact good.  Perfect I might add.  And in addition to adding that, I also have to add a little thank you.  A thank you to my parents who have put up with my chocolate obsession (even though my mother started it by hiding chocolate bars around the house when we were kids, so that only SHE would know where they were when she needed her own chocolate fix...).  I hope that they know how much I appreciate each and every bite!

Marvelous Marrakesh

Herbs If you do a search on the New York Times for Marrakesh you are bound to come up with loads of articles - in the travel section mainly.  Most recently they ran an article titled:  In Marrakesh,  Sampling the Myriad Tastes of Morocco.  (oh, and if you are confused with how the city should by spelled, defer to Maryam...).  In any event, this summer I took a trip to Morocco, and more specifically to Marrakesh and Tangers.  Why, why would anyone want to go there during the peak of the heat.  The hot, dry, dusty heat?  Well, why the hell not?  I am always up for an adventure (as long as I can have my own room, and nice cool shower, and 30-40 minutes a day to work out) so off to Morocco we went.

Marrakesh was everything I thought and hoped it would be and more.  I wanted to see the open markets - the nights markets.  And that is what we did as the sights, sounds, and smells were all an assault to the sensesNight_market

We were charmed by our waiters ... who seduced us in multiple languages to pull us into stall #81 for spicy harira, coca cola in bottles, turkey sausages, and delicious fresh bread the soaked up all of the juices and sauces left over from the meal.

 Boys 

They managed to draw in large crowds by greeting people in about 8 different languages and perceptively picked up exactly what language each tourist spoke.  While these two were certainly charming, we also tried to eat at the spot that had the highest amount of locals.  The market stalls do have heaps of locals eating out.  The food is among the best that we had in Marrakesh.  The flavor was better than any restaurant - honestly.

During the day we wandered through the souks in search of sweetness, sugary sweetness...and apricots so fresh and that they tasted of the warm African sunshineFruit copy

Yes, Marrakesh is extraordinary.  It is magical and colorful, and within the markets anything can be found. Find your taste buds again, force them to become alive, allow the spices to dance on your tongue while your eyes will smile at all that you see.  Marrakesh is truly a magical place...