travel

I almost want to hide the fact that the theme of this post is “Gluten Free”

Let’s not get into a big debate about gluten hype. You all know I adore the stuff. But my daughter, who I love more than bread, has recently become (thanks to a nasty virus), gluten intolerant. We are all hoping it is temporary, but in the meantime, life, and a delicious one, must go on.

My baking adaptations have been…uneven. I have determined that the best two “all-purpose” gluten-free flours are Bob’s Red Mill BLUE LABEL (the red label one is pretty icky), and Maison Canelle All-Purpose.

So far, I can say that both flours can be used exactly as my regular wheat AP, and things turn out ok. Anything cakey is perfect the first day, but gets gritty if it sits around. Cookies are fine.

This week I have decided to make Gluten Free Hamentashen, Challah, and Sticky Toffee Cake. The cookies and cake are regular recipes, and the “Challah” is one specifically for Gluten Free flours.

I am intrigued to see how restaurants adapt to this food restriction. Whether it is to beat wheat bellies, or to accommodate true allergies and intolerances, many restaurants and bakeries are offering “glutard” options (no, it isn’t politically correct, but come on, it is kinda funny).  A few weekends ago in NYC, we noticed Les Halles offers a gluten-free (I will just use GF, ok?) menu. Great – we sat down, and looked at the breakfast selections. Eggs and toast. French toast. Um, server, are we missing something? “You can have a fruit cup”. NEXT…

Friedman’s Lunch (one in Chelsea Market and one on W. 31st.) does it right. Can you say chicken and waffles? Pancakes? GF reuben sandwich (yes, the toast did crumble).

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Want something a little less sinful? Bistango offers a full selection of Italian-esque GF deliciousness. Meatballs without breadcrumbs, great GF pastas, and yes, desserts. All choices were seriously good, on their own merits, and not just because they had GF options.

Perfect GF pasta

Perfect GF pasta

If budget is not a concern (to put it mildly) , 11 Madison Park (3 Michelin stars) makes GF adaptations of everything they serve.

One of these things is NOT like the other...

One of these things is NOT like the other…

my baking report: the hamentashen were ok, but not easy to fold. Nice thought, not worth redoing. Or taking a photo!

The sticky pudding cake recipe is a winner – gluten free or not. Here is the original recipe from Bonnie Stern:

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING WITH BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE

3/4 lb pitted dates (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3  eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (regular or gluten-free)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Butterscotch sauce:

3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed

The recipe mentions serving it with additional whipped cream, but I never do!

Butter a 9″ springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper, or bake individual cakes in 12 muffin pans

  1. Combine dates and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add baking soda and let rest 5 minutes. Puree. Let it cool.
  2. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time. Whisk flour with baking powder and salt. Gently fold into batter alternately with dates, starting and ending with the flour. Transfer to prepared pan.
  3. Bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. (Muffin sized ones usually take about 25 -30 minutes.)
  4. Meanwhile, while cake is in the oven, make the sauce by combining sugar, cream and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer gently 5 minutes until slightly thickened.
  5. When the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, then prick holes and drizzle half the sauce over the top
  6. When serving,  drizzle with remaining butterscotch sauce and if you want to, some whipped cream.

 

Makes 10 to 12 servings

and now…..

GLUTEN-FREE CHALLAH

The following recipe is courtesy of www.glutenfreegirls.blogspot.ca so thank you.

The Challah is worth tweaking – next time I will replace some of the sugar and water with honey, just so it tastes a bit more like my “standard”.  That said, it is probably the tastiest “white bread” I have eaten in a long time. It is delicious toasted, and incredibly, it is NOT crumbly!

seriously rising

seriously rising

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2 cups rice flour (I used almost half and half brown and white rice flours)

1 3/4 cups tapioca flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons sugar

3 teaspoons xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup lukewarm water

1 cup lukewarm water

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

4 eggs

sesame seeds, poppy seeds or my favourite, pearl sugar (optional)

 

  1. In mixer, combine the flours, 1/4 c sugar, xantham gum, and salt.
  2. Dissolve the 2 tsp sugar in the 2/3 cup of water and mix in the yeast. In a separate bowl combine the butter with the additional 1 cup water and vinegar.
  3. With mixer on low speed, blend the dry ingredients. Slowly add the butter/water mixture. Blend in the eggs, 1 at a time. The dough should feel slightly warm. Pour the yeast mixture into the ingredients in the bowl and beat at the highest speed for 2 minutes.
  4. Place the bowl in a warm spot, cover with greased plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise approximately 1 hour.
  5. Return the dough to the mixer and beat on high for 3 minutes. Spoon the dough into a greased, floured loaf pan. Fill 2/3 full, you may bake the remainder in greased muffin tins, etc. (or make all rolls~about 18). Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds. Let the dough rise until it is slightly above the tops of the pans, about 45-60 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake the large loaf for approximately 1 hour. Bake the rolls 25 minutes.

Personally, I think the bigger loaves taste much better, but try it out and see!

 

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Place + People + Vision = MAGIC

I have had the privilege of a wonderful summer of travel. To celebrate a momentous anniversary, we planned 2 trips. One to Italy to “re-live” our honeymoon, but with our grown kids this time, and the second to Fogo Island with dear friends.

Italy was wonderful. The Art. The Food (simple is really the best if simple is perfect, which of course it is, even if simple can be difficult since there is no hiding behind fancy cover-ups). The Wines. The Architecture. Positano. I am sincere in my love for that country and its people. My husband jokes that I must have been Italian in a past life.

Next…I have looked forward to visiting Fogo Island since I heard about it in 2008. Initially I saw images of artist studios and heard that a woman who grew up there was behind the project. I added it onto a list of places I’d like to visit. I was enamored by the idea, and the images. Fast forward to last year, when we were travel-planning with friends and all completed the sentence “Next Fall, let’s go to….” with “Fogo Island!”

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Travel planning was simple enough. Fly, rent a car, and get there. Stay at the recently completed Fogo Island Inn, again a product of “the woman who left and went back.” As our trip approached, I started reading a bit more about our upcoming trip. I realized we were in for a treat. This was more than a beautiful hotel on an island that appreciates art. This project is a model for getting it right, on so many levels.

My life will never be the same. I am now a Canadian who understands my country differently, and am the quickest to say that the nicest people in our country of nice people are Newfoundlanders, and the nicest Newfoundlanders are those from Fogo Island!

I was going to start this part of the story with the basics. How Fogo Island sits off the Northeastern coast of Newfoundland, has a population today of 2800 which is less than half of what it was in the 1950’s when the cod fishery still existed. No, that isn’t a typo. Once the “big boats” came from all over the world and emptied the ocean of fish in international waters, and decimated the inland cod stocks, local fishermen came in with empty nets. The story has a formal end with a moratorium in 1992, directly or indirectly impacting every resident of Fogo Island.

Instead, I am going to quote the Fogo Island Inn’s website, where the following is explained:

Somewhere in-between land and sea is where you’ll find our vision for a better future. More than a place, the Fogo Island Inn is part of a groundbreaking model for community innovation and cultural resilience.

Somewhere in-between this home and its people, is where our strength of character resides. Every decision we make is imbued with integrity.

Every stranger we meet is a welcome guest in our home. Every challenge we face is a source of creative inspiration. This is who we are.

We have a way of doing things here. We find new ways with deep-rooted traditions. We lead with the arts. We seek out new ways of thinking. We are making ourselves home to a new generation.

It continues,

The Fogo Island Inn has many things to feel good about. It is a gem of contemporary architecture and at the same time is a place that is “made of us”; made of the traditions and lived experiences of the island. It is a place that was created with deep sensitivity to the natural and social ecology of the island; a place that offers guests an exquisite nest from which to feel the harmonizing power of the North Atlantic; a nest with fine linens, creative local cuisine, wood burning fireplaces, a wood fired sauna, a cinema and all of the touches – big and small – for solace, comfort and profound ease. It is a place for adventure; a place from which to explore the rich and varied cultural and natural world of Fogo Island during its seven seasons.

But perhaps the most important thing to feel good about the Inn is its social purpose. The Fogo Island Inn is a trust whose beneficiary is the Shorefast Foundation, a federally registered charity whose mandate is the economic well-being of the local community. All surpluses from the Inn will flow through to the charity and be reinvested back into the community. There are no investors seeking a return on their investment.

 This innovative and progressive business model is our interpretation of social entrepreneurship, using business minded ways to create social good. It is a structure that is not-just-for-profit. Money spent at the Fogo Island Inn is money spent for the wellbeing of one of Canada’s oldest rural communities.

Now what I have to say will make more sense.

We arrived at the Inn, pulling up to a building I wasn’t convinced about. We had passed one of the four studios on our drive, and it was magical. The “road side” façade of the inn is not particularly attractive. It looks…big. And kinda institutional. Hmm…what are we in for this week?

But then, we entered through the doors with circles painted on them (more on that later), and it began. The charming hand-hooked cushion (designed by Lilian Dwyer and hooked by AnnMarie Newman) on the bench inside the door.

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The luggage carts designed to reflect the wood piles that support the fish-houses known as stages. This same metaphor is successfully used on one end of the inn– it is the most impressive structural detail.

 

photo courtesy of the Fogo Island Inn website

photo courtesy of the Fogo Island Inn website

 

We enter the building and are warmly greeted. We find it hard to concentrate, because the view from the public areas are dominated by the coastline just feet away. We check in and get our keys – each of the 29 rooms has a unique key fob. Relics – fishing knots, bird skulls, tools, rocks… have been beautifully crafted into bronze artifacts.

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Walking to our room with one of the lovely desk staff (a non-practicing nurse whose sister runs a great café featuring her mom’s epic tart – recipe ahead – keep reading- and whose father fires an antique musket at weddings) felt like we were on a boat.

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Each room faces the ocean. The long hallway has narrow windows looking inland giving glimpses of rugged rocks and sky. Our room… oh, it is hard writing about it from afar. I want to be there. Now! Our view of the ocean and sky. IMG_0072

The brilliant cross-ventilation system that allowed me (for those of you who know me will understand this part) to sleep and sleep and sleep. The furniture was designed by international designers for the inn, and is produced onsite. The quilts were made by women at the craft collective, and each one is signed. The organic mattresses are made in Ontario. The custom wallpaper is one of 4 ( I think) used throughout the Inn. The shower tiles feature tone-on-tone words of a poem used by fishermen to navigate into harbor. The heated toilet seat is just… a treat. Local first, then Newfoundland, then the rest of Canada, then a wider cast. Nothing in the Inn comes from a country without fair labour laws. Books about, or written by Newfoundlanders are on the bookshelf. A warm scarf awaits on a hook. Think it can’t get better? At 6:30 every morning, a box with a thermos of seriously good, hot coffee and freshly baked goodies are placed silently outside the door. Oh yes, re-entry after our visit was painful.

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Our first afternoon was spent reading and snoozing. That in itself was a new experience! The food at the Inn is remarkable. Not only for what is on the plate (traditional fare done with haut-cuisine finesse), but for how it has positively impacted the island and appreciation of its offerings. Locals now have, and tend, vegetable gardens to supply the Inn. Guests are wowed by foraged plants and berries. They eat fresh when there IS fresh, and pickles when there isn’t!

Local musicians play in the bar every night. Normally not a huge fan of maritime folk, I adored each of the entertainers. They felt right. One of the desk staff commented to me that one singer was a school friend’s dad and that she grew up hearing these same songs. She said it in passing. It made me choke up and my eyes watered. How fabulous to both have that kind of childhood, and to be able to take it for granted.

Mornings offer nature walks with a guide from the Inn. Mona is a forager, runs a small museum on the island, sells jam, has recently learned that she likes building, and sews quilts. She has also taken on a project of marking a walking path around the Inn with stones. Obvious in some places, but Herculean in others. Mona showed us oyster leaf (tastes like a mouthful of oysters), all of the different berries (it is was impossible to walk more than a few paces in September without stopping to take a handful of blueberries) and taught us a bit about mosses and lichens.

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At the end of our visit, when I asked if I could pass by to pick up some jam, she agreed. A few hours later, I was stunned to buy warm jam. When asked, she explained that she had been low, but had asked her husband to break into her mom’s freezer to get the last of the partridgeberries so she could put up a fresh batch. Calling islanders hospitable is an understatement!

Locals are available to Inn guests to give them an “orientation”. Clem Dwyer drove us around the Island answering questions, and teaching us local history and customs. Remember the dots on the doors I mentioned earlier? They are on every fishing stage (otherwise known as fish houses, where cod were processed on the water’s edge when they came in). The white circles served to mark the doors when it was dark out! One door? One dot. Two doors? You walk towards the 2 dots! Clem explained that his wife is a nurse who had been the mayor of (my favorite town) Tilting, and was an expert rug hooker who had made the cushions at the Inn. Are you starting to see why this place is so cool? My head was doing a family tree/venn diagram thing constantly. Fogo Island is surprisingly complex for such a small place. There are 5 towns in as many bays, each with a slightly different culture. Families with 5 to 10 children live in tiny, cherished salt box homes. These homes have withstood storms, frozen morning blankets, and are alive with generations of memories. So treasured are the homes that families sooner move a house than buy an existing building in a location they want.

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Remember my comment about epic tart? So – Nicole’s Café in Joe Batt’s Arm (yes, that is the name of one of the towns) is a very popular spot, with good reason. Guests of the Inn on the full-board plan are welcome to eat at Nicole’s and it is considered as a meal at the Inn. Nice touch and a good break from “formal” dining. Food at Nicole’s is very good. But the thing that stopped time and made the room go silent for me was “Margaret’s Molasses Partridgeberry Tart”. The crust was similar to a gingerbread cookie. Who needs flaky when you can have this kind of spicy yumminess? The jam was indeed partridgeberry – I know them as lingonberries (at Ikea) – that grow everywhere! One of the best desserts I have EVER tasted.

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There’s more, but I will save the one last anecdote for a bit. How does this place happen in the way that it does? How does a place and culture that is destined for eventual extinction become a model of community innovation? The simple answer is vision and leadership. Once again, it isn’t “good government” that saves the day. It is a remarkable person who cares.

Zita Cobb (my new hero) grew up on Fogo Island and watched as her fisherman father became a broken man – a symbol of his time. Like many, she left the island to go to University. Unlike many, she became incredibly successful as the CFO of a tech company, in the good days. And again, unlike many people anywhere, she left and ultimately decided to do something for her birthplace. Zita’s model is centered on art. She recognizes it as a “way of knowing” that mirrors islanders’ “ways of knowing”. She started there, continued by building an Inn that was in fact built by and is staffed by locals and has put the Island onto the world stage of geo-tourism, and has a foundation that offers microloans to local businesses. The model of not JUST for profit” is astounding and simple. There are very few people on the island who have not been touched by Zita’s vision. The amazing thing we realized, is that there is no resentment. People often dislike change, even if it is good for them. Zita’s visual statement was not subtle – it says “Here I am. I am proud and different, but I come from this place”. There have been so many articles written about the project, and Zita, but I really think that hearing directly from Zita gives the best understanding. Watch one of her many Youtube clips. I particularly like this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF9AmFkG_b0

“Nature and culture are the garments of human life,” says Cobb, “and business and technology exist to serve human life. Somewhere along the way, we got it backward.”

check out  the Shorefast Foundation and Fogo Island Inn to learn more.

And now for my last little story. Our last evening on the island coincided with an annual Irish Festival in Tilting. We were invited to the shed crawl. The WHAT? So – many homes on the island have sheds. Places to keep the ski-doo and workbench and “stuff”. Ok, but they are also decked out with Christmas lights, sofas and decorations. Friday nights they become “the spot” to hang out, have a few drinks and listen to one of the MANY locals sing and play an instrument! It was simply amazing. What a way to lock Fogo Island into our hearts.

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I can’t wait to return. In the meantime, I’m planning to “put up” a few of these pies…

Margaret’s Molasses Partridgeberry Tart (found in the Memorial University archives – how cool!)

Recipe_for_molasses_tarts_from_Margaret_Deckers_cookbook_Joe_Batts_Arm

You will need:

A pie’s worth of partridgeberry (lingonberry) jam

Other ingredients and method:

Cream 1 cup butter (softened)

¾ cup molasses

mix in:

2 tsp. baking soda

¼ cup tea

Stir in:

4 cups flour

2 ½ tsp. cloves

2 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

Roll onto a floured board. Place into pie plate and fill with jam. Bake 20 minutes in a moderate oven

(I will save some crust to put on top, and my idea of a moderate oven is 350)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpected Florence preview

My summer adventure was planned to coincide with my daughter’s dance performance…in Florence.  But things don’t always go as planned, and so, when I got a call from her teacher that she was really sick, I dropped everything and hopped a plane to take care of her.  Fast forward – 1 hospital visit, 2 more doctor’s visits, and she is…ok.  I am in Florence for a few more days, and so thought I would let you in on my impressions.

I “get” this city, finally. My first trip years ago to Florence was admittedly (and in retrospect) not that great. I’m not sure what happened. Either I missed the good stuff or this city has changed.  I’m going to split the difference here. Of course I loved the obvious places and sights last time – the Uffuzi is worth at least a week, the Duomo is a “must see”, David is another… But this time, THAT stuff isn’t what defines this city. It is imperfect and thus “perfect”. There are too many tourists (pot calling the kettle black, I know, but hey…). Too many vendors hawking crap none of us need. The designation of the car-reduced historical centre is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes the streets walkable. On the other, if you actually need to come and go, city buses are less than convenient… But back to my love affair. I think one of my gaffes last time was visiting the Duomo and then retreating from the tourist-packed streets in the area. This time, I am staying right in the thick of things at the Roomate Isabella, a very decent boutique hotel, fittingly above a boutique (that just happens to be Gucci). Nice rooms, decent (new but kinda ugly) bathrooms, very good breakfast and friendly (yes folks, I said that) staff. It is Italy, so I wasn’t really surprised that one of the guys working the front desk sent me off in the wrong direction, but I digress. As I lie in bed this morning writing, there is a street busker playing violin outside my window. So far, I’m impressed with both his ability and repertoire. Last night I listened to a trio playing the standard hits- Ave Maria, Vivaldi’s top 10….But it all worked! The Duomo has always been the heart of the city. I just figured out that in some ways, it still IS.

The Mercato Centrale deserves it’s own post. It might be reason  enough to want to pick up and move here.  The main floor is everything one would expect. Open until 2 pm, it is chock full of …

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Everything you want to buy at a market, plus a bar or two, some tripe stands…

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panini di lampredotto. Ignore the texture and fact that it is tripe. It is delicious, especially with pesto and hot sauce

… But wait, there’s more! I wandered upstairs to another world. Sleek stands line the periphery. Wine store? Check. Organic vendor who prepares fabulous plates? Yup. Want fresh pasta with whatever ? 6 minutes. Pizza that even I get excited about? Uh huh. Need a cookbook? Gotcha. Pull up a stool and join the rest of the city at a long table. This is the place to be. And yes, they show World Cup soccer matches when Italy plays.

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So far my dining choices have been limited by a kid who can barely eat anything (torture!). We managed to eat at the well-reviewed Trattoria Mariani, which was an enigma. Crowd is 50/50 local/tourist, which seems likely as good as it gets mid June. The menu isn’t particularly appealing. Specials seem to be standards, but are listed in Italian only. So bone up on your menu vocab. The locals order riboletta, so we followed and did the same. A bowl of brown mush appeared. Not pleasant to look at, but man it smells good. Tastes better. You can’t really call their version “soup”. The bread has soaked up the liquid. Who cares? Why not eat soup with a fork? Tagliatelle with porcini was delicious. The huge chunks of mushrooms were silky and just plain yummy. Needing some protein, Ms. Stomach-flu opted for the roast beef. It was… Covered in beige gravy, but cooked perfectly and very tasty. Would I return? Not likely, but it was a good meal. Just not re-do worthy.

I find it incredible that Italians simply DO NOT DO takeout. Again, because my patient sidelined dinner plans, I had to figure something out. There is one restaurant in the Duomo area that does let you take food home. When I finally found Restaurant La Strada (people know it existed, but weren’t sure of the name… Turns out to be the name of the street it is on!) I asked somewhat meekly if I could take something to go. The guy told me to go out, hang a right at the corner, and the door would be there for “that”. Really, I felt like I was doing something illegal. Door found, there was a small counter selling roast chickens and salads. There was a small menu on the wall. My request of “pasta bianca” (pasta with olive oil) was met with a scowl until I explained that my daughter wasn’t feeling well. That changed everything. Typical Italian style, the order was sent home with wishes for her speedy recovery.

It looks like my patient is improving. She has headed back to her fellow dancers.  And now for the yummy stuff….

I don’t eat alone in restaurants often. On some level I think it is both necessary to prove something to myself AND almost, weirdly fun ONCE in a blue moon. It is also the only option this week!   I am not talking about grabbing a bite on the go. I’m talking about walking into a great looking restaurant and requesting a table for one.

It is rare that a busy restaurant seems totally nonplussed. Such is the case at Obika, on the very swanky Via de’ Tornabuoni.

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Overhearing the conversation next to me, just don’t pull a “Can I have that without the blank but with blank?”  The poor waiter looks like he is ready to burst… Really, unless you are going to die from an anaphalactic allergic reaction, my advice to you in this country is to perhaps just order something else.

I am seated at a round community table with a view of of the other diners and a lovely terrace. Cool. Good selection of wines by the glass. Great. Serious mozzarella selection.

The pizzas (not “my thing”)  look SO good. I will have to bring more bodies next visit and sample them. In the meantime, my plate of fresh mozzarella and grilled artichokes beckon.

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Mmm. That is exactly what it should be!  Absolutely simple. And perfect. I even figured out Italian bread, Which has always seemed… kinda sad. The good stuff is just basic no-knead bread. No bells or whistles. Just flour and water and yeast and a pinch of salt. When done well, it works. Especially doused in good olive oil. I am a satisfied loner tonight. I really miss my usual company but am pleased that I not only had a delicious dinner, but got through it entirely in Italiano!

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A Bakery Worth the Drive

The last few years I have spent a lot of time on the road. I’m not a “road trip” fan, but have made a conscious decision to embrace them. As much as possible, I try to do a bit of pre-drive research and seek out a few interesting places along the way – or not too far out of the way.

One of my recent trips through the Berkshires gave me the chance to discover Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Housatonic, MA, just beside Great Barrington. What a delightful discovery!  Run by Richard Bourdon – born in Quebec, trained in Europe, THIS PLACE GETS IT RIGHT. The fresh milled flour is right – the technique is right – and the “art” of bread…is right!

Their croissants are the best I have tasted in a very long time, on BOTH sides of the Atlantic. They are a perfect combo of flaky and elastic such that the layers pull apart beautifully!  The bakery is really well known for their “bread and chocolate” a sourdough full of dark chocolate chunks. Saveur Magazine recently wrote a glowing review.Click the link to have a read.

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article - my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

This photo is courtesy of the Saveur article – my bread was devoured in the car and never lasted long enough to be photographed!

Of course I had to try replicating Bread and Chocolate as soon as I got home….how could I resist? My reading told me I would have to increase hydration of my sourdough. A lot. So I did. I used 100% hydration, meaning that for 1000g of flour that I added to my levain, I added 1000g of water, rather than my usual 700 g. My dough was a goopy mess! I was sure it was going to be a disaster. When it finally flopped into the pan,  I imagined myself throwing it into the garbage 40 minutes later.  But wait, it was a little less “high” coming out of the oven than my regular loaves, but…it was amazing. The dough inside was glossy and stretchy. I don’t really understand why the chocolate dictates a higher hydration level, but hey, as long as it works, I’m ok with it!

Hmm. I wonder if I could get there by the time the next batch is out of the oven. Think I will fill up the car. I want a croissant. And a pizza. And….

A few words about our escape to Nevis since it is minus a million degrees here today.

10,000 people and 11,000 monkeys. Countless goats, sheep, cows and donkeys.  What can be bad about an island with those stats?

Nevis is unlike any other Caribbean paradise. It is slower. Calmer. Less of a “scene”, which is much more my “scene”!

We spent a week at The Golden Rock Inn. It has figured out how to do the “boutique hotel” thing, beautifully. It is charming, and completely unpretentious, but understands the important things, like having great mattresses. Picturesque doesn’t begin to describe the setting. The food is really excellent – as I write I am craving a slice of pumpkin “sweet bread”. The facilities are well maintained, but if you are looking for a “resort”, this isn’t it. For me, that is a compliment. I am not a good resort “camper”.  A rental car is key, unless you are happy just hanging out. The staff is friendly, very attentive, and they really give each guest personal attention.

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A highlight for all of us was the “Source” hike. The trail begins at the hotel and goes through the rainforest to the source of water that established the island. It was a hot, steep hike that we will all remember. Maps are available at Golden Rock’s office. The hike takes a few hours. We ran out of time before we got to the more challenging Peak hike. Next time!

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Beaches on Nevis are nice. Not stellar, but nice. Some are on the Atlantic side, and some are on the Caribbean. The Atlantic beaches are beautiful, but were very windy when we were there. The Caribbean is protected and the water is warmer and calmer.

Bananas restaurant is a bit if an act of faith to find, but the food is delicious. Directions are pretty vague on the island, and little signs are key.

We found the Yachtsman to be the perfect beach hangout. We set ourselves up on their beach, drank and ate, and had a great time. Wine prices are surprisingly fabulous. Really. As in, at cost.

The Four Seasons looks nice, but it isn’t very welcoming to non-guests. Their golf course is magnificent and open to all. The course is challenging, and the many monkeys on the 14th green were kind enough to reserve comment on our game.

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My best guess at Banana’s Skinny Colada (I am not a fan of umbrella-drinks, but this was very yummy!)

• 2 oz.  Coconut Rum
• 5 oz. Coconut water
• 2 oz. Pineapple juice

Ting with a Sting

What makes Jamaica’s grapefruit soda better? a healthy shot of rum!

CSR (Cane Spirit Rothchild) is the rum of choice in Nevis, but I am guessing it will taste great with any white rum.

Directions? Pour some Ting in a glass with ice. Add rum. Stir and enjoy!

Combine ingredients and pour into a glass filled with ice. Close your eyes and imagine you are on a beach.

Around the World (almost) in 80 Days

I have slacked in my posting because I have been traveling like a freak.

Dublin:

Best food is good pub food. Best pub food is at The Black Sheep. Best pub is known as the Gravedigger’s.  Its official name is John Kavanagh’s.  It is worth the taxi, and I won’t say any more. Just go. Best whiskey: Yellow Spot (I know, the name is very, very, silly).

London:

Things I never imagined saying:

  1. Food in London is amazing.
  2. Forget the rest of the list. Did you read #1?

Ottolenghi alone is reason to visit my new “one of my favourite cities” city.

Who could resist salads that are the perfect balance of fresh and satisfying, and fresh, delicious baked goods? I have never managed to taste a main dish at the Ottolengi stores, since I cannot resist the veggies and desserts, but they look yummy.

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Lunch at Nopi turned into an all-afternoon affair, followed by a nap. It just doesn’t get better than that!

Oh, where do I start?

Sumac Martini, Rooibos Old Fashioned…how can anything be bad?

Twice cooked chicken with lemon myrtle salt, chili sauce

Twice cooked chicken with lemon myrtle salt, chili sauce

Burrata, Miyagawa, fennel and coriander seeds

Burrata, Miyagawa, fennel and coriander seeds

Sticky rice, brown coconut jam, carmelized banana

Sticky rice, brown coconut jam, carmelized banana

Haute Indian at Amaya was delicious, but the service was…weird. Go, but wear clothes you don’t mind getting smelly, and ignore the cold wait-staff.

I never knew Chinese food could be as delicate and perfect as it is, table after table, at Hakkasan. Go – you will be happy. Make sure to have the tofu with crunchy bits – I can’t remember exactly what it is called, but it is a favourite there.

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The Clove Club was a great find in Shoreditch, the best area for street art in the city.  A fried chicken amuse-bouche was nestled on fir branches, dusted with ground fir… yummy. Inventive and delicious. They have a great collection of cookbooks, and for sure they use Tartine – the bread was perfect.

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Tel Aviv:

Young and fun staff, fresh flavours, great wines at HaShulchan (The Table). Be sure to order a bottle of Sphera wine – it is really surprising.

Zepra and Messa are both delicious, but expensive (as in, really). The people watching is also excellent.

Durham, North Carolina:

The Q Shack may make the best barbeque sauce I have ever tasted. Ditto the baked beans, and mac and cheese.  Everything, actually.

Back home, we finally tried Dinette Triple Crown. What a concept!  The 7 seats at the counter are ok, but the fun thing to do is get a picnic basket (complete with table cloth and lantern at night), and (weather permitting) sit in the park across the street.  I am still drooling thinking of the brisket sandwich. The big nasty is…oh, try it. They do baskets for pickup all winter…and they deliver!

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Nature’s Corndogs and Other Wonderful Discoveries

I am finally upset enough that since my flash-free photos have wrecked a post, I will change my colours, apologize, and use the flash once in a while if I need to capture something to share with you.  For this post I have used images from the restaurant’s Facebook page where mine failed.

After years of “we should really go,” 4 of us set out on a dining adventure of sorts. There’s this guy, François Brouillard, at the market who is a forager, and his wife, Nancy Hinton, is a chef. Together they have a restaurant that is open once a week, except during mushroom season, when they serve Friday – Sunday.  I’m not new to traveling for food, but I never expected to drive past oil refineries and strip clubs to get to a memorable dinner.

With a few bottles of mushroom friendly wine, we arrived at Les Jardins Sauvages, perched beside a gentle waterfall. I knew we were in for a fun evening when I read the chalkboard inside the door, which had the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.” It appealed to me as a gardener and a foodie.

8 courses celebrating mushrooms. Yes, dessert too. In fact, it was the mushroom tiramisu that blew my mind.  If vanilla usually rounds out the flavor of chocolate, mushroom does it too, perhaps even better. It is deep and earthy, and makes your brain kinda giggle.

The mushrooms, most of which I have never heard,  were treated respectfully and playfully. Something I will never forget however, is not a fungus at all.  We have all driven by them on the side of the road. Bulrushes, also known as cattails are nature’s answer to corn dogs!  They taste like a cross between corn and asparagus, and have a texture that is strangely couscous-like.  Very cool.  You actually eat around the stick in the middle!

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Here is the menu from our evening, with a few notes in brackets:

Sea scallop with wild mushrooms : Porcini mousseline (imagine Gefilte fish if it were really tasty) and Ceviche with Leaf-like Oyster and Late Fall Oyster Mushroom, Grilled Elm Oyster Mushroom, smoked pickled Hen of the Woods (too hard to describe, but delicious)

Mushroom Barley Soup : Chicken Mushroom and Beefsteak Polypore broth, Shaggy Mane meatballs (to continue the analogy, they were the best matzo balls, ever, and I may start adding ground dried cepes to mine in the future), Gypsy Mushroom

Mushroom and cattail crepe lasagna (beyond scrumptious, made with mushroom and cattail flour) : Delicious Lactarius, Scaly Vase, and Pig’s ear, Black trumpet cheese, sea spinach, ratatouille with Chanterelles and daisy buds, cattail spear (so great)

Thanks to Les Jardins Sauvage for taking a good photo...

Thanks to Les Jardins Sauvage for taking a good photo…

Mushroom Salad-Rice bowl : Stewed Lobster Mushrooms, Wine Cap omelet, smoked duck, spicy Swollen Stalked Cat pickle, rice lettuce, Sticky Gray Trich sweet n’sour sauce, Matsutake tempura (I could eat this every day, forever…)

Pan-roasted venison, Giant Puffball cutlet with mustard and Parasol Mushroom sauce, Morels, Wood Mushroom tourtière-ravioli, Hedgehog sauté with Blewits and Umbrella Hedgehogs

Larch Bolete granite(the only thing I didn’t adore), Yellow-Brown Bolete Jello, Orange-Capped Bolete shortbread, Maple Scented Lactarius sandwich cookie

‘Mushroom Tiramisu’: Glabrescent Bolete cake, Red Mouthed Bolete white chocolate mascarpone mousse, Fairy Ring caramel sauce, mushroom cacao, candied Yellow-foot Chanterelles (a triumph!)

Again, thanks for the photo.

Again, thanks for the photo.

Mignardises: Dark chocolate sausage with nuts and candied Meadow Mushroom, Aspen Scaber Stalk toffee, Slippery Jack and coconut marshmallow

I look forward to returning to taste the “regular” menu. Anyone care to join us?