Sunday, June 1, 2014

When Willpower and Better Judgement are No Match for Parisian Pastries

Saturday morning I was at the farmers's market in the Latin Quarter ready to embark on a food tour. The vibrant colors of the produce were some of the most beautiful sights I've seen in Paris. 

After making it to through market, the first stop was an artisan boulangerie for pain au chocolates and crossaints for all! Until this moment I managed to avoid gluten and most dairy while traveling (except for that memorable bite of Melva Pudding in Swaziland). Maybe 1 bite wouldn't be so terrible? It would be in the name of culinary research after all. It. Was. Delicious. Still warm the chocolate center was barely melted and beautifully wrapped in the buttery layers of the never-frozen puffed pastry. Something so good shouldn't be tossed in garbage. ..It's only a couple more bites. 

The tour continues to Laurent DuBois' cheese shop. Now here's a sign - the cheese maker's last name is the same as my hometown in Pennslyvania! Gotta try at least a couple samples, for culinary research purposes of course. Four hours later, I regrettably justified sampling numerous bites of pastry, 3 foi gras and the 8 cheeses unable to be exported outta France. 

This lapse of good judgement doesn't come without consequence. Despite my nonsensical justifications this morning's #GlutenHangover was a doozie (puffy face, acne, hazy vision) - so much for mind over body. It been almost seven years and I still haven't learned my lesson. Pavlov's dogs were trained in just a few days, right?!?

Weekend in Paris

A solo excision to Paris sounds even more enticing after three weeks of group travel. Friday morning I was drinking my coffee while riding the rails through the countryside of the Netherlands. By lunchtime I was in Paris enjoying lunch in a quaint, open-air cafe. Just as I was having  a true "Parisian moment" Frank Sinatra's New York New York began to play throughout the cafe. So close.... So close....

Having been to Paris before, the usual sights were not on my must see list. Instead a leisurely stroll and dinner along the river would suffice for an evening activity. While taking in the view, much to my surprise, two familiar faces approached. It was another culinary school comrade and his wife.  Thanks to social media I was aware they were traveling in Paris but isn't exactly a small town. Never once, during the past five years. while both living in New York, we ran into each other on the street, but here we are - Bonjour friends! 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Goedemiddag Amsterdam

May 29, 2014

It's been a great visit to Amsterdam. I stayed with a culinary school pal, Ema who recently made the move across the pond (check out her adventures ). We have spent the last 4 days eating our way through the city - my kind of sightseeing. 

Unfortunately the Anne Frank House was sold out during my entire stay but walked past for a visual confirmation at least. With our #1 historical attraction a bust, it was on to the next thing on our list - the #HeinekenExperience a museum/historical factory tour. 25% of the tour was pretty interesting, including a lesson on the proper way to drink beer (come to find out I've been doing it wrong all these years). The other 75% of the tour was an interactive advertisement to drink more Heineken. 

In efforts to familiarize Ema with all the neighborhoods of her new home town, we paid the Red Light District a visit.Touring the red light district on a weekday morning didn't exactly showcase it's excitement or lure very well. It was a pretty quiet street with mostly closed restaurants and bars but with the occasional sleepy, slightly sad, looking prostitute standing in a second story window. Since it was only 10am, I'm guessing the district's A-team was probably still sleeping. 

Thinking I should make the most of my time across the pound, I decided to bop down to paris for the weekend. This little side trip will make my country count 6 for this trip - the passport is looking happy!

Friday, May 23, 2014


May 23, 2014

Yesterday was a long travel day, After 8 hours in a over-packed little Toyota, we called it a day. When we decided to pull off, still 21/2 hours from the Johannesburg, it was one cranky car. Even with low blood sugar, 2 days of eating fast food and a guide who lacked good manners, we all played nice and enjoyed one last South African dinner. Today we arrived at the airport 6 hours before our flight and ready to part ways. The cousins have continued their endurance shopping at the duty free shop and I've found the bar. 

Just a few hour until we bored the plane headed for London and I'm looking through the pictures, trying to catalog the memories of the past two weeks. There is a witty, insightful and poinient blog post to be written about this African adventure. A post illustrating the connection between being in the part of the world where my grandmother spent two years while in the Peace Corpse, and without her initial invitation to accompany her on on around the world journey I wound not have been open to this opportunity. A post of self reflection after seeing children unable to afford shoes sing with joy in their hearts. Such writting would be the fitting for my last post from South Africa - but I'm a little tired at the moment. 

So please check back for such a post to come, but in the mean times cheers to the hospitable country of South Africa, the scenic roadways of Swaziland and the beautiful beaches of Mozambique!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Topped with Freshness & Love

May 21, 2014

Waking up in a treehouse cottage overlooking sandy beaches and clear blue ocean waters is the type of safari a girl could get use to. 

Our last day in Ponta D' Ouro, Mozambique was spent on the beach and of course, some shopping. The attemp to swim with the dolphins was failed when our party of 4 was deemed too small to charter the boat. The majority of our meals have come from a beach side restaurant but with an open afternoon it was time to branch out. Just before the market was 'Tarragon's Tea Garden -Topped with Freshness & Love' It was closed on Monday for 'Taryn's birthday,' and closed on Tuesday (just because it's Tuesday) but Wednesday there was no excuse. 

As Cousin Kathy continued to shop the vendors I paid the Tea Garden a visit. For a coffe connesiur (some may say addict) like myself, it has been surprising to find instant coffee as the norm in most it the regions we've traveled through on this adventured. As Cousin Kathy continued to shop the vendors I paid the Tea Garden a visit, thoroughly enjoying the hot cup of freshly pressed coffee while watching the cafe's cook prepare lime-cream cheese frosting for the freshly baked carrot cake cooling on the counter.

The day came to an end as we had one final feast of grilled prawns and watched the sunset on the Indian Ocean 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Blending in with the locals

May 20, 2014

48 hours in Mozambique and I've found me people. After an enjoyable afternoon at the market, speaking the common language of food, I may be starting to blend in. The common product amongst the vendors was hot sauce, or as the locals say peri peri sauce. You can by it by the coke bottle, 2-liter or liquor bottle - recycling at it's best!

Several hours of watching me smell pineapples and asking for hot sauce recipes, the cousins were ready for some 'real' shopping. I think I've found my new look.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Made it to Mozambique

May 18,  2014

It was bumpy, picturesque, 6 hour drive through the Swaziland countryside. The route took us through cities and remote villages with no electricity. After leaving Swaziland, cutting through South Africa we arrived at the Ponte de Ouro boarder post. Since the roads to the cottage were just tire tracks in the sand, only 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed to enter the county. Unfortunately that meant we needed to leave our front-wheel drive Nissan on the South African side of the boarder. As we walked across the Mozambique boarded into the visa application trailer, it felt as if we were part of the global-travel community. 

Eventually we met up a guy who could pile us along with all our luggage, into his jeep. As he navigated down the 'roads' and through the sand dune forests, the safari I had pictured in the states was taking place. 

There was a collected sense of relief when we made it to the cottage where we will be staying for the next 4 days, until we noticed the 1/4 mile uphill wobbly boarded path we would need to drag our luggage up. Once we caught our breath and took in the view, those 105 steep steps were forgotten. 

After finding our way down to a beach front restaurant we raised a glass to the Indian Ocean and feasted on a platter of deliciously briney prawns as one does when in Mozambique. 

Saying hello from Swaziland

Saturday, May 18, 2014

Swaziland, the small land-locked country surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique. The scenic views and hospitable countryside had us wishing we could spend another day. 


The cousins could qualify for professional shoppers. Their endurance to shop every stall at the open air markets was impressive. The trade market held 60-75 stalls filled with brightly colored linens and handmade artisan crafts. Upon entering each 'store' a smiling woman would greet you and warmly ask if you could support her and buy just one thing. 

Swazi food has been fun but nothing too outrageous. Between my 3 travel companions, there has been at least one Greek salad, but most often two, ordered at every meal. I've taken it upon myself to order the unknown and help support the local wine industry. The food highlight was the sampling of  Malva Pudding. It was a warm incredibly moist sponge cake, flavored with apricot jam, brown butter and Jamaican rum. It was topped with a warm vanilla sauce and was devoured before I could take a picture - but I got the recipe! 

The generous Swaziland pour 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Still Safari'ing

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Five days sans internet, tv or newspaper and there hadn't been a single clock displayed in any of the 3 "hutches" we've been  staying in. Is anyone still out there?

Yesterday we came across more giraffes, zibras, impalas, elephants, and got entertained by a pod of hippo but was pretty uneventful day on the food front. As our 'friend' Cliff prepared dinner I took the opportunity to work on my kitchen control issues by regressing into our primitive relatives. Sitting on our the porch of our thatch roof hut, I cracked coconuts against a rock, sprinkling each bite with a bit of turbinado sugar. The $3.50 bottle of South Africans finest also help distract be from calculating number of hours our chicken dinner had been exposed to the danger zone in transport from a third worlds's meat market 4 days ago. 

The evening had excitement potential when we boarded an open truck for a night ride. Two and a half hours later we retuned shivering to camp with 2 feral cats and 4 bunnies added to out sightings list. I'd call it a bust. 

Today we moved camp sties, again. We will have stayed in 3 cabins at 3 different areas of the park and the only difference I could state will be, tonight I don't have to sleep on the floor - upgrade!  Bonus of the drive, another camp ground lunch. Today I opted for a kudu steak with pap and sabe. The kudu was very lean and tasted much like a well seasoned venison, but surprisingly less gamey. The "steaks" or "chops" as we would refer to it in North-Western-Central-PA was grilled owner sickel wood, which provided a delightfully smokey charred flavor to the meat. 

This afternoon I opted to break away from the group and ride on an 'sunset' safari. Sounds very romantic, doesn't it? It was just myself and 17 strangers, not many who spoke English, off through the wild bush of Africa. The close sighting of two lions and some entertaining hippos was pretty spectacular but when I found myself thinking, "pshh...another giraff? I don't need to get up for that," I realized its time to keep this African journey going and move on. Swaziland here we come!  


Kruger Park camping essentials; coffe + citronella 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Wild Bush

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 

The morning search for Simba and resulted in a few ginniefowl, warthog and few very darling baboons. Or in safari lingo, 'no big cats'

Returning to camp for breakfast on the grill I dined on a 3-inch piece of sausage and a undercooked yet charred sweet potato, which I take full culinary responsibility for. 

 The day's 'drive' to our next campsite produced an unexpected highlight when we pulled off for a pit stop. Over an open flame two case iron pots held the making of the South African staple mealie pap. The pap is corn base, resembling a white corn polenta with a mild flavor. The Sabbe served as the flavoring, resembling a very well made marinara sauce, was spooned over the pap. The dish was completed by a kudu sausage (kuduworse), surprisingly more mild in flavor than this morning's beef breakfast sausage. The lunch was delicious! Best and cheapest meal ($3) so far. The long and slow cooking of the tomatoes sauce gave moisture to the lean sausage and the steamy pap provided a sense of satisfaction only carbohydrates can provide.  This naturally 'Joanne Friendly' (gluten, dairy, egg, soy, nut free) dish had me contemplating a second order. Enjoying such a cultural staple did not surprise me ad much as hearing our South African expert admit to never trying the dish. 

Understanding I have a uniquely food centric (admittedly sometimes obsessive) view on life, I wondered how someone could claim to understand a culture without experiencing the food of the people. One of my favorite topics to discuss amongst fellow food-centrics during the late night hours, after overly indulging in food and beverage of choice is: Does culture determine cuisine or does cuisine determine culture? 

**** Pause for deep thoughts****

Ok, back to the bush. Post launch there were more sighting of monkeys, hippos, and giraffes.  We arrived at our new hut for the next two nights. Dinner was grilled steak and veggies. Per the request of my travel companions I threw together a 'lemon pepper safari dip' from what we had around camp. 

lemon pepper safari dip
2 cups greek yogurt
2 grilled green onions, charged and sliced 
2 tsp lemon pepper 
1/2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp dehydrated mined onions 

Combine all ingredients, reason with salt and pepper. Let stand 30 min before serving. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Let the safari begin

Monday, May 12, 2014

Road tripping from Jo'burg to Kruger national park today. The South African country side wasn't quite as imagined but beautiful none the less. Interesting to see the non-industrial farms and pastures across from the embracement of nuclear power. Just as many road trips before lunch consisted of one of the worlds most recognizable highway pit stop restaurants - KFC.

During lunch my mind naturally wondered, 'what's for dinner Cliff?' Knowing the dietary restrictions of our group of 3, his vague answer had me worried and hungry. Per the arrangements our trusty guide would prepare "dinner" for us 3 out of the 5 nights at Kruger park. Once arriving at the supermarket just outside the park's main gate, I was easily distracted by the local produce, cuts of meat and one women's use of an obvious bath towel wrapped into skirt [#PeopleOfWalmart got nothing on her]. 

Over the years I've come to accept the more control I have over my diet while traveling, ultimately leads to a much better experience for myself and my travel companions. Yes it does take away the whimsy of sitting down at a random cafe to enjoyed a freshly baked pan au chocolate or scone but I've found these places often serve wine and wine can be filled with just as much whimsy, if not more. As Cliff picked up the 'rations' of bread, yogurt and eggs, I continued to shop to supliment my gluten, dairy and egg free diet.   

Upon entering the park we were greated with warm smiles and hospitable hello's. Within miles of passing through the gates the animals came to say hello. First antelope, then impalas, a heard of zebras, baboons, and then there was the elephants - by far the highlight of our animal sightseeing. And when cousin Kathy exclaimed, "what big ears! No wonder dumbo could fly."  I was in complete agreement.

After 8 1/2 hours in a tightly packed Toyota we arrived at our thatched roof 'cabin.' We dined at the camp site restaurant trying the 'classic South African beef stew.' Salty would have how I would descibe it but the deliciously crispy $1.50 glass of wine made it more than palatable. 

Day two at Kruger we ride at sunrise with a 6am drive in search of the large cats, cougars, lions, jaguars....oh my. Perhaps this will be the one time in my life I'll genuinely say, 'here kitty kitty...' 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Washington D.C. > London > Johannesburg

Day 1, 2 and/or 3 (depending on how you define a day) complete. The 11 hour flight from London to South Africa went by relatively quickly but glad to be off plane and out of an airport. As we were getting ready to depart London Heathrow our plane was surrounded by a rainbow. That means good luck and safe travels, right? 

In total, it was 18 hours of travel, leaving D.C. on Friday night and arriving in Johannesburg, or as the locals would say, Jo'burg, Sunday at 9 am local time. Upon check-in we prioritized the essentials: coffee, hot shower, lunch. The first South African dining experience wasn't adventurous nor exciting but the bunless hamburger and crispy French fries from the hotel restaurant was satisfying. Dinner was a bit more exciting, sampling the local kingklip fish with a tarragon butter sauce and seasonal mixed vegetable, including squash, cauliflower, carrots, peppers and onions. Dinner plus a bottle of wine =  $15, I think I'm going to like it here. 

Tomorrow we start our day with a 7am departure followed by a 7 hour drive to Kruger National Park, where we will be safar'ing for the next 4 days.