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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

In the past, in honor of Earth Day, I’ve given suggestions on ways people can lessen their impact on our Earth. However, increasingly, I think people will care more about the Earth and want to take part in preserving its health and beauty if they simply connect more with it. So this year, I thought I’d simply share some of my favorite images that celebrate the incredible beauty of this planet we call home. I hope you enjoy them.

 

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The perfect color of blue, untouched and unfiltered.

The perfect color of blue, untouched and unfiltered.

 

After our three days on the north shore, we loaded our luggage and kids into the car and drove to the south shore. If you haven’t been, the south shore–the windward side of the island, is much drier. The temperatures were at least five degrees warmer and the weather definitely improved.

We stayed in a little condo on the beach in Poipu, and visited friends who own a lovely home nearby on the water. Aside from snorkeling, paddle-boarding and eating deliciously fresh seafood every day, our highlight was a tour to the Allerton Gardens adjacent to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. I won’t bore you with the details of who Allerton was, as you can read all about him here, if you like, but the gardens he created west of Poipu, are some of the grandest I’ve seen–large and thoughtfully planned yet still lush, tropical and somewhat wild. The gardens also contain “the Jurassic trees,”  truly the most unusual, prehistoric-looking, magnificent trees ever. I must have shot three dozen photos just of them, yet still left feeling like I didn’t have enough.

Also on the south shore is access to Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Roughly 10 miles long and 3500 feet deep, it’s filled with red earth and waterfalls. We didn’t have the time or energy to hike around it, but we drove to the main look out to experience it’s beauty and vastness. From there we visited Salt Pond State Park, where the children explored tidepools and jumped waves until our grumbling tummies forced us to return home.

 

HI trees

“The jurassic trees” are actually 74-year-old fig trees.

A little perspective on the size of the trees (and next year's holiday card photo?).

A little perspective on the size of the trees (and next year’s holiday card photo?).

A view through the gardens built into "rooms."

A view through the gardens built into “rooms.”

The sky perfectly reflected.

The sky perfectly reflected.

HI leaf

 

Wailua Falls, but we didn't get to swim in the pool below.

Wailua Falls, but we didn’t get to swim in the pool below.

Waimea Canyon with a waterfall on the left.

Waimea Canyon with a waterfall on the left.

Exploring the tide pools at Salt Pond Park.

Exploring the tide pools at Salt Pond Park.

Enjoying our last days of paradise.

Enjoying our last days of paradise.

 

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Taro fields in the lush Hanalei valley.

Taro fields in the lush Hanalei valley.

 

Happy new year! May your year bring great peace and joy, and of course, good health!

I haven’t posted in ages, and it’s not as though I haven’t been cooking and eating (a lot of both, actually). My sister and her family came to stay for the holidays, and while we cooked up a storm nearly every evening, I just couldn’t manage to photograph and/or write up anything. I’m sure you know how it is having people in your home and at your table every meal.

Then immediately after they departed, I went with my own little family to the gorgeous, still remarkably undeveloped island of Kauai. I hadn’t been since I was a child, and I was thrilled to see so much wild, virtually untouched land and incredible beauty. Since I love travel at least as much as I love food and cooking, I’d like to share these photos. I promise to post some yummy recipes very soon.

We spent the first three nights on the north shore near Hanalei Bay. Rain showers made our beach photos a little dark and grayish but those same showers keep the north shore incredibly lush and green.

We visited many beaches, swam with two giant sea turtles (remind me to ask for a Go-Pro for my birthday this year), took shelter from the rain in the deepest cave I’ve ever seen and hiked a mildly treacherous path high up along the Na Pali coast. More of the south shore in my next post…

HI bay

Looking down on Ke he Beach from high up on the Kapalua Falls trail.

The rugged peaks of the Na Pali coastline.

The rugged peaks of the Na Pali coastline.

Escapees of the last two major hurricanes... They are everywhere.

Escapees of the last two major hurricanes… They are everywhere.

 

A view of Halanlei Bay on a stormy day.

A view of Halanlei Bay on a stormy day.

The underworld near Ke he Beach, west of Hanalei.

The underworld near Ke he Beach, west of Hanalei.

Capturing the light of the setting sun from the car.

Capturing the light of the setting sun from the car.

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If you’ve never eaten monkfish, you must give it a try. Also known as “poor man’s lobster,” the texture of monkfish, which is white when cooked, is surprisingly like lobster–succulent but sturdy with a very mild flavor. In fact, as I write, I am thinking to myself, maybe next time I buy monkfish, I’ll just grill it and serve it with lemon-butter. But this posting wants to celebrate monkfish cooked Provencal style, like we recently enjoyed it on our summer holiday in Provence.

I remember the day as if it was yesterday. We had ventured all the way down to Cassis from our little chateau just northeast of Avignon–a nearly 3-hour drive. Seeing Cassis meant a lot to me since the last time I had tried to drive there from Provence–with my sister in 2001, my car broke down less than 30 kilometers from the picturesque town. After getting the car towed and negotiating with the mother of the auto mechanic in my very limited French, the chance to see Cassis had vanished.

All these years later, determined as ever to see the famous Les Calanques (fingers of limestone cliffs separated by inlets of turquoise waters), my husband and I strapped the kids in the backseat and set off. The drive takes several hours, and we were famished by the time we arrived in Cassis. We managed to park the car–a remarkable feat in nearly all small, picturesque French towns in Provence and along the Cote d’Azur, and walked into the center. The kids were already showing signs of starvation and sightseeing fatigue, so we sat down to eat outside a little cafe in a narrow walking street. There we devoured a tasty dish of sweet mullet served in a Provencal sauce (and where we saw those little enameled cast-iron tureens we became obsessed with upon our return home, see Dreaming of Provence). I wish I could replicate that dish, but alas, we seem unable to find mullet in Northern California.

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You might be wondering, but where does the monkfish make its appearance? After taking a too-short, but still worthwhile boat tour of the spectacular Calanques, we piled back in the car, hoping to return to the chateaux before dark. Because we’d had a late start, the sun was already setting by the time we got back on the overpriced but essential ribbon of asphalt called the Peage. Somewhere just outside St Remy de Provence, I insisted we pull over when I glimpsed a lantern-lit courtyard with dining tables. I knew the children were not in the mood to sit inside a cramped restaurant at this hour. We sat down to eat at the very modest restaurant of a small hotel. Unfortunately for my husband, they were not adept at cooking steak, but my monkfish Provencal was absolutely delicious. I savored every bite, and vowed I’d replicate the dish when we returned home.

This dish isn’t exactly the same, but I think it has less to do with differences in the ingredients or preparation and more to do with the fact it’s served at my dining table in Marin as opposed to a candlelit table surrounded by Italian cypress trees, with crushed rock underfoot in the heart of Provence.

 

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped fairly fine

1 large garlic clove, minced

Several sprigs of fresh thyme

6 tomatoes, sliced into eighths*

1 pinch saffron threads

1 splash Pernod

1 1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp fresh-ground pepper

2 to 2.5 lbs fresh monkfish filets

4 tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs or almond flour

2 cups rice

*Technically, the tomatoes should be blanched, skinned and seeded, but I’m generally too lazy or too rushed to take the time to do this.

 

Preparation

Prepare the rice per its instructions (generally 1 1/2 cups water to each cup of dry, uncooked rice brought to a boil and simmered, covered for 15-20 minutes).

While the rice is cooking, turn the oven on to 375F.

Heat the oil in a large cast-iron or other oven-proof skillet. Add the onions and cook until they begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, saffron and Pernod and cook another 3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock, add the salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until a some of the liquid has evaporated.

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Spoon 1/4 of the tomato mixture in each of four small enameled, cast-iron baking dishes if you have them or other small baking dishes. You can also use an 9-inch square baking dish. Place a monkfish filet on top of the sauce in each dish, and season with a little salt and pepper.  Sprinkle each filet with 1 tbsp breadcrumbs or almond flour and cover each dish with a bit of foil. Cook in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes or until the monkfish is nearly done. (I’ve found that monkfish filets vary greatly in thickness, so just check yours for doneness after 8 or so minutes.) Remove the bits of foil, turn the oven to broil and cook another 2-3 minutes or until the tomato mixture is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit another 2 minutes. Serve in the individual dishes, if using, with a large spoonful of rice alongside. If you don’t have the individual dishes, serve the fish with several spoonfuls of sauce over a serving of rice.

Play a little Francoise Hardy or Edith Piath on the stereo, and…

enjoy!

 

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swt pot gratin

 

We are not experiencing a normal summer where I live. The days are unusually cool for Northern California, and we regularly feel a strong, cool breeze coming from over the mountains–beyond which lies the mighty Pacific Ocean.

I happen to not mind the cooler than normal weather for several reasons; I’m not continually looking for ways to cool off, the kids aren’t demanding I take them to the pool every hour of every day, and outdoor grilling is currently an option instead of a necessity.

The cooler days also mean I can keep cooking “cooler weather dishes,” such as this sweet potato gratin. It’s not particularly heavy, so it doesn’t feel strictly like a Fall or Winter dish, but it’s naturally rich, sweet and hearty. It’s also a cinch to make, is a dish the whole family enjoys, and uses one of my favorite super-foods: sweet potatoes. Rich in beta-carotenes, sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of dietary fiber and potassium.

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This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi The Cookbook. As a side note, Ottolenghi is a patisserie-style shop in London that I frequented when we lived in the Holland Park neighborhood. I was pregnant, always hungry, and constantly in search of good, wholesome cooking that used fresh ingredients. The Ottolenghi shop off Kensington High Street appeared to be a tiny space on a narrow cobblestoned street–the dishes and delicacies inside seemingly vying for space on the crowded shelf behind the window. I always appreciated the apparent simplicity of the dishes–in terms of the number of ingredients they contained, although they boasted wonderfully complex flavors, textures and colors. The founders of Ottolenghi, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, have produced several cookbooks to date, and I have given many as gifts to aspiring chef friends. The recipes are amazing, relatively simple, and accompanied by beautiful photos.

 

Ingredients

6 medium sweet potato (about 3 1/4 lbs), the orange-fleshed kind

5 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves, plus extra for garnish

6 cloves garlic crushed

2 tsp coarse sea salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup heavy cream*

*I keep meaning to try this dish using coconut milk instead of heavy cream since dairy isn’t always my friend, but somehow I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ll post an update when I do to report how it turned out, but I imagine it would work well. The original recipe calls for 1 cup cream, which would be delicious if not a little decadent.

swt pot slice

 

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Scrub, but do not peel, the sweet potatoes then cut them into disks 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick using a mandoline or very sharp knife.

In a large bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a fairly deep, medium-size baking dish by taking tight packs of slices and standing them up next to one another. Sprinkle any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Drizzle the broth over the rows of potatoes. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

swt pot laid

Remove the foil and pour the cream over the potatoes. Return to the oven and roast, uncovered, for 25 more minutes. The cream should have thickened. Pierce the potatoes in several different places using a sharp knife to make sure the potatoes are fully cooked and very soft.

Serve immediately. Garnish with chopped sage leaves.

 

Enjoy!

 

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If you happened to see my last post, you know that my family and I just recently returned from a week-long holiday in France–Provence to be precise. With its hilltop villages crowned with medieval castles, lush vineyards and silvery-leafed olive orchards, the imagery seduced us all over again, and once again, made a lasting impression (the first lasted 13 years). So I think it’s only natural that I’ve been trying to capture and bottle the experience and sensations by cooking as if I’m still in Provence–even though I’m back home in Northern California. Most of the Provence-inspired dishes have been a huge success, but I’m still fine-tuning.

Wanting desperately to replicate our recent experience, my husband and I dragged our jet-lagged children to three different kitchen and cookware shops in search of the small, enameled cast-iron tureens in which our fish was cooked and served to us in Provence. We nearly jumped for joy when we found the perfect-sized tureens at Williams-Sonoma. They’re made by Le Creuset, which is very pricey, but we were in luck since the small tureens we found were 60% off. The night we brought them home, I prepared a simple yellow rockfish in a Provencal sauce (tomatoes, fresh herbs, garlic, saffron, etc.). It was delicious, and the sauce was equally good to what we experienced in Provence. However, in France, they used red mullet, which if you’re not familiar with it, is a small pinkish-red fish with tender, sweet flesh. Sadly, it’s not available where we live, and the rockfish was a less than ideal substitution. I plan to make the same dish in the next week or two using monkfish. It’s so delicious, I will take the time to note my ingredients and measurements so I can share the recipe.

Of course, driving through the famous wine region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape made me want to find a way to pay homage to the humble grape. I’m always surprised how many varieties of grape you can find at even the most basic, mainstream grocery stores–at least here in the Bay Area. But I tend only to buy grapes as a snack food for the children or to serve on a fruit platter for a brunch gathering. However, years ago I bought the cookbook, “Patricia Wells At Home In Provence.” I’ve cooked a few dishes from it, and they’ve all been excellent and relatively simple. I cracked it open upon returning from France and found the perfect recipe using grapes. I’ve modified it just slightly here.

 

Ingredients

2 large eggs at room temperature

1/2 cup evaporated cane juice

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (or omit the butter and use 1/2 cup olive oil)

1/3 cup whole milk

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup spelt flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp almond extract (or grated zest of 1 orange)

10 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) small, purple grapes*

Confectioners sugar for garnish (optional)

*If you live in Provence, you have access to many different varieties of grapes for wine making, which you could use for this cake. However, in most other places, you’ll be limited to a few varieties suitable for cake making. I used Thomcord seedless–smaller and sweeter than plain red grapes, and they worked beautifully.

 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350F.

Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow in color, about 3 minutes. Add the butter, oil, milk, vanilla extract and almond extract, if using, and mix until blended.

In a medium-size bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt until thoroughly blended. Add the lemon and orange (if using) zest, and toss to coat. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until blended. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids.

Stir 1 cup of the grapes into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top using a spatula or back of a spoon.

Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes before sprinkling the remaining grapes over the top of the cake. Bake for an additional 35-40 minutes or until the cake feels firm when pressed with a fingertip.

grape baking

Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife along the sides before releasing the removing the side of the springform pan. Serve at room temperature with a sprinkle of confectioners sugar.

Vive le Provence!

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If you’ve never visited the southern area of France known as Provence, put it on your list. The area is unbelievably picturesque with medieval villages perched upon mountaintops and bluffs of solid stone surrounded by gently sloping hills of lush vineyards and orchards. Nearly all the homes are made of the pale gold limestone from the region, and with pale blue or green shutters to keep out the sometimes intense heat.

Oh, Hello! Yes, it has been rather quiet here, but only because I couldn’t manage to get my act together to put a few posts in the queue before my family and I left for a two and a half week holiday in Europe.

You’re probably expecting some amazing recipes of the culinary delights we experienced while in France–a few pictures at the very least since this is a “food” blog! However, two things that do not go together are eating out in France with young children, and taking careful photos of food as soon as it is served fresh from the kitchen. This failing was furthered by the fact that my husband absolutely hates it when I photograph food in restaurants. So there you have it!

And to be quite honest, the food we ate in Provence wasn’t always spectacular, as I find it usually is in Paris. The two delicious dishes I wish I’d photographed were a monkfish tail cooked in a sauce Provencal and some deliciously sweet red mullet also cooked in a sauce Provencal and served in a small tureen. We also had the distinct pleasure of eating the most delicious baguette we’ve ever tasted–think crunchy, slightly salty crust and tender, perfectly textured inside, fresh from the oven of a tiny bakery in the 14th Arrondissement in Paris. The baguettes from this little bakery in a very modest area of the city are called “le meilleur de Paris” (the best of Paris) and are delivered to the palace of the President of France each morning.

So while you’ll have to rely upon your imagination or experience to savor the food of Provence, I did manage to capture some of the incredible beauty of the two countries we visited, the Netherlands and France. And since I am as passionate about travel as much as I am about food, I hope you’ll indulge my wanderlust feelings by looking over this not too terribly long collection of images from my holiday abroad.

We first visited Amsterdam and then worked out way to the south of Holland, passing through the lovely little town of Wijk bij Duurstede…

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After Holland, we traveled on to Provence, visiting the medieval towns of Gordes, Venasque, Les Baux and Chateauneuf-du-Pape among others. During our time in Provence we also kayaked 8 kilometers down a clear, lazy river between the towns of Fontaine le Vaucluse and Isle Sur La Sorgue and visited the stunningly beautiful Les Calanques  near Cassis on the Mediterranean. (Les Calanques are narrow “fingers” of water surrounded by white limestone only accessible by boat or on foot.)

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My love affair with France continues, although it’s tempered at present by my children waking at 3:00am (local time)–due to their jet lag, only to inform me that they’re no longer sleepy and are, in fact, hungry and wanting breakfast.

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