France

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats

We were lucky enough to visit friends and stay in their lovely new home in Brittany, their hospitality was amazing. Brittany is in Western France, it is bordered by the English Channel to the North and Normandy to the Northeast. It was especially poignant for us to be in this region on D-day, the anniversary of the day on which the allied forces landed in France to push back the Germans during World War II.

Our friends house is in a small village called Locmariaquer, which is situated on the shores of the Golfe of Morbihan. One of the first, and most noticeable, things about this area is the dramatic change of tides. Most areas are used to a tidal change of 3 to 4 feet (one meter or so). In the area around Locmariaquer the tidal changes can be up to 18 feet (6 meters). As a result, at high tide the water is lapping at the sea walls and the boats bob happily on their mooring balls. But at low tide there are many kilometers of exposed sea floor and the boats end up resting in the mud, waiting to be floated again as the tide flows in.

  In addition to the boats in the mud, at low tide you can also see row after row of oyster beds, (more about the amazing oysters later). This scene is surreal no matter how many times you see it.

The small village had two bread shops, or boulangeries as they are called in France. Each morning, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the “customs walk” (a small path previously used by customs inspectors to review the contents of incoming boats) into the village. In the bread shop we would purchase fresh baguettes, croissants and, George’s favorite, pan du chocolate. The village also has a small convenience store, several gift shops, restaurants, creperies, a library and a small neighborhood bar. We visited the bar which included several different types of musical instruments: guitars, a piano, hand drums, a fiddle and an accordion. Guest were invited to pick up any of them and start playing or join into whatever music was happening. George had fun playing guitar with a local piano player, the only language they had in common was music, but they had lot of fun with it.

Just around the corner from the house was a small shellfish store. In this store you could purchase oysters or many different types, muscles (moules), lobster, crabs and other shellfish. All were extremely fresh, clean and very much alive. Oysters were €4.50 per kilo with about a dozen per kilo. That works out to about forty cents (U.S.) per fresh delicious oyster. You can be sure we ate a LOT of them!

Brittany, or Little Britain (as opposed to great Britain) was once an independent nation with its own Duke. We visited the Domaine de Suscinio that was previously home to the Duke of Brittany from the Middle Ages to the 1800’s. In the 1960’s it was declared a historical site and has been painstakingly restored to an amazing showpiece with lots of interesting displays and educational areas. This castle is well worth a visit if you get to the area.

We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing visit to this charming coastal town, so much so that we were sad to leave. But we took heart in knowing that we had a great adventures ahead, so we packed up and headed off to Israel to attend the wedding of one of Bonnie’s students from the Hansen Summer Institute.

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Misc Info

House Sitting

By house sitting, we are able to stay in many amazing locations that we might not have been otherwise able to afford. It also allows us to experience life from the viewpoint of a “local’ and also hand out with some pretty cool furry friends (like “Cuddles” from Australia, pictured above).

The group that we use to find our house sits is called trusted house sitters. You can read more at their site and by using the link below, you can get a discount when you sign up and we get some benefits as well 🙂

Click here for Trusted House Sitters

 

France

Drinking ‘Ti-punch in Vidauban

It’s great to explore new places, and it is wonderful to get to see old friends around the world, but it is extra special when you are invited to stay in the homes of friends while you travel. We were lucky enough to be hosted by a lovely couple, Charline and Julien, in Vidauban – Cote d’Azure, France. The bonus was that Charline’s parents are good friends from San Diego, who were also visiting at the time.

As a result, we got to visit and eat and drink and explore with our good friends Fred & Pascal along with their younger daughter Samantha, as well as Fred’s sister Mag (who came in from Antibe). Needless to say; the house was full of laughter, song, amazing food and a few cocktails.

Vidauban is a small town and the house we were in was a small country home, complete with chickens in the coop out back that provided fresh eggs. The house is bordered on three sides by vineyards, as a matter of fact the whole area is mostly rows and rows of grape vines.  The weather was lovely, we took most of our meals outside in the backyard where we could watch folks play in the swimming pool, cook on the bar-b-q, play guitar and sing and in general, just enjoy life. Fred demonstrated his bar-tending skills with a local specialty cocktail called ti-punch, which is made with fresh lime, rum agricole and demerrera sugar. Fred never did share the exact proportions for the perfect drink, he only commented about how most people get it wrong.

There were a couple of grand outings, one day we all visited Port Grimaud, which we called the Venice of France. A great area with beautiful homes interconnected by canals. We had a excellent lunch of local specialties there and then jumped on a ferry boat to cross the harbor to Saint Tropez where we wandered the town and had Carte Tropezienne which is a sweet cake with custard in the middle.

George got a to join a game of pentanque, which is played by throwing heavy steel balls, or boules, down a long hard dirt court. Game play starts by a member of one of the two teams throwing a small ball, called a jack, to the far end of the field (or terrain). The rest of game is all about trying to get your boules closest to the jack, and/or knocking other’s players boules away from the jack. It is good fun!

On another day Fred organized a “small hike” down to a cove close to Cassis, which could only be accessed by hiking or by boat. Well the small hike ended up being a little over eleven miles in total with the equivalent of more than 40 floors. But the cove, at Calanque d’en Vau was well worth the trek.

 

We had such a great time with the Hayem crew that really hated to pack up a rental car and leave, but we were excited about our upcoming visit to Brittany in Northwest France. Check back soon for our post about this next adventure…

Italy

Fun in Napoli

After having a great time with our friends in Nice France, we headed down to meet up with other friends in Naples Italy. This involved three different trains, including one overnight sleeper train. We can tell you now that each sleeper train is a bit different. The comfort and level of service we experienced in Thailand was quite different that we what we found in a second-class sleeper car in France/Italy. And the train we rode on the way down in Italy, while similar, was different than the one we road backup to France later.

We arrived in Naples and were pleased to find that our Airbnb home for the week was a very short walk from the central train station. Our gracious host, Fabrizio, allowed us to get into the apartment early. He met us outside and unlocked the gates to a large courtyard that was shared by all the units in the building. From there it was up 4 long flights of stairs (no elevator) with our bags. Did we mention that our roller bags weigh 20 kilos (about 40 pounds) each. The apartment was great with a well equipped kitchen and a very comfortable bed upstairs. The only challenge was that the ceilings and door jams were all quite low, George banged his head a few times before he got used to ducking when he moved through the house.

After a good night’s sleep, we were off to explore Naples, and all of its quirkiness and culture. While we thoroughly enjoyed Naples; we must be honest and say that the town and was not nearly as clean or well-maintained as other Italian towns (such as Genoa). If our friend Christopher the real estate expert were in this town, the phrase he would use would surely be “deferred maintenance”). In addition, once you got out of the main tourist districts (like up near the central train station), the city did not feel terribly safe. Fabrizio even suggested, if we had to be in those areas after 11pm, that we take a taxi, rather than walking on the streets.

If you look beyond the somewhat dingy exterior, Naples has a lot to offer. For instance:

      • The pizza is some of the best we have ever had in the world.
      • The cannoli were worth searching for. We went to a shop that we are sure has the best cannoli in town, which is located very close to the central train station. When you enter Cuori di-Sfogliatella  a friendly staffer takes you through the process of creating a culinary masterpiece. First you choose your shell size (mini, regular or large), then your shell flavor (original or chocolate), Next you choose the filling flavor: original cheese, pistachio or chocolate. Finally, you choose what you want sprinkled on the ends (mini chocolate chips, chopped pistachios or candied fruit). We went traditional with a large regular shell, original cheese filling and mini chocolate chips. It was AMAZING!

     

      • Most of the “traditional” music you hear in Italian restraints anywhere in the states comes from Naples: O Solo Mio, Fabriculi-Frabricula etc. During our visit we attended a performance of classic Napoli music, including a fun sing along of these well known songs. If you are in Naples, it is well worth paying the ten euro (include a complimentary beer, wine or soft drink) to attend the Napulitanata Traditional Music Concert. Plan to sing loud, dance and just have fun in general.

What made our exploration of Naples extra special is that we got to meet up with our dear friends Matthew and Stephanie. We wandered the city, and ate and drank our way through many wonderful experiences for a delightful day.

The next day it was off the train station to meet even more friends in Central France. More on that later…

France

Southern France

It’s great when you get to travel to new parts of the world and explore the location, the food and the culture. It’s even better when you get to reconnect with old friends and explore it with them. That’s what we did last week, and we have several more adventures coming up. Believe or not, over the next 8 weeks, we will be lucky enough to meet with old friends in Nice France, Naples Italy, Vidauban France, Brittany France, Tel Aviv Israel and Transylvania Romania. But before we get too far out in the future, let’s talk about out most recent reunion.

We’ve been planning this surprise for several months, and working very hard to keep it secret, so it was kind of a relief when we strolled into the Metropolitan cafe in Nice to surprise our friend Tom for his birthday. He had no idea we were even in France, and we spent the next several days exploring Nice and the surrounding towns.

Listed below are just some random thoughts; in no particular order:

      • We typically stay in AirBnB apartments; this gives us the advantage of having a kitchen and regular living space. As easy as it is to forget, we are not actually on summer vacation, this is our normal life. And just like most peoples regular lives, we eat a lot of meals at home, we watch TV some evenings, we do laundry, we take naps and we clean the house. Having said that:
        • every flat has a limited assortment of cooking stuff – it’s always interesting to see what kitchen tools are supplied in each place (this is why Bonnie travels with her knife set!)
        • just going to the grocery store is an experience in itself. It is different in every country and everything has a different name.
        • we try and plan at least one “adventure” every day, this might be visiting a museum, exploring a beach we haven’t to been to before, looking at boats in a marina or visiting a local fish and/or vegetable market.
        • Of course we eat out from time to time (like everyone does) and we revel in the experience.
      • We usually do not rent (or hire as they say in Europe) a car, but since the friends we met in Nice had one already, we got do do a couple of amazing day trips.
        • One day we left Nice and drove to Monaco, it was just few days before the Gran Prix, so we actually drove (kind of by accident) a section of the race course. Pretty darn cool.
        • That same day, we drove by Cannes, but the film festival was wrapping up so we figured we missed out on seeing most of the big stars. George really wanted to go see the premier of “Rocket Man” especially since Sir Elton John was on hand for the event.
        • Another day we drove up to the Verdun region, we had lunch in Sainte Croix du Verdun on the shore of the lake, the view was stunning.
      • If you are a fan of oysters, and other shellfish, then Southern France is the place to be (although our friends in Brittany tell us we will be in oyster heaven when we get there.) We had oysters with dinner at home twice and once again at an amazing shellfish lunch.
        • If you are still learning to love oysters, or even if you are a fan already: give George’s oyster preparation below a try.

 

“Oysters Orleans”

          • Shuck 1 dozen very fresh medium sized oysters, putting the oysters and the juice into a medium glass bowl.
          • Clean the bottom half of the shells, put into a plastic bag and pop into the freezer to chill.
          • To the bowl of oysters and juice add: 1 tablespoon on white sugar, 1.5 ounces (25 mils) of white vinegar, 2 small spring onions (green tops of the whites) chopped fine, ½ of a green bell pepper chopped fine, 1 0z fresh lime juice (30 mils), and 4 or 5 dashes or Tabasco. Stir together ingredients a cover bowl with cling wrap and place in fridge for at least two hours (overnight is even better).
          • Just prior to serving, arrange shells on a large platter (using coarse salt to help balance shells). Place one oyster into each shell and then divide the rest of the mixture every between the dozen.
          • Serve with chilled white wine or prosecco and bask in the adoration of your guest.
Portugal

The Music of Lagos

After a month in Lagos Portugal, we both agree that this area has certainly made the short list of possible places to settle down. We are not done yet, by a long shot, there is still a lot of the world to see, but we really like it here.

When we discussed what made this area attractive one of the things that really stood out was the active music scene. This included everything from the myriad of quality street musicians, to the regular live music events and the sheer quantity of musicians and music lovers given the very small population of this area (Lagos has a permanent population of just over 10,300 people).

We lucked out and met one of the locals, a delightful non-poet and musician by the name of David Dixon. When he is not actively busking, hosting open mike nights or writing sharp little sonnets, David is a bartender at the best spot in Lagos for Mexican food, the Green Room. You can read some of David’s stuff on his Facebook page.

David turned us on to several local events including a music festival at the cultural center in Barao de Sao Joao (about 15 minute Uber ride from Lagos). At this festival we were introduced to the music of Josephine Nightingale who, with good reason, is a local legend. We saw her busking in Lagos, we saw her at the music festival and we saw her at a local club in Barao de Sa Joao. Her soulful earthy vocals and deep lyrics have made her a favorite at almost every live music venue in the Algarve region.

The style of music played by the local buskers is as varied and unique as the buskers themselves.

Suffice it to say, even if we do decide to settle someplace else, the music and people of Lagos will always bring us back here.

Portugal

Lagos, Portugal

Portugal is one of the places that was on our list of possible countries to settle in. After a whirlwind three weeks in the States we arrived in Lagos a bit rundown and it took us a bit longer to bounce back from jet lag than usual. But after a couple of days, we finally emerged to begin exploring Lagos. Our timing was good, as we arrived before the majority of tourist and we were able to explore the city and beaches without the crowds.

Lagos is a quaint town in the Algarve region of Portugal. The “old town” is surrounded by the Lagos Castle which was built by the Moors in the 8th century. The town itself if divided by a large shipping canal that cuts the area diagonally. Most the residential area, old town, city hall and grotto beaches on are the Northwest side, while the major marina, ship yards and the largest public beach is on the  Southeast side.

Like many sun soaked areas in Europe, the buildings are almost all painted bright white with blue or green accents. The local language is Portuguese, and while almost no one speaks Spanish, many can muddle along in English. The distinction between Spanish and Portuguese is important since both Bonnie and I are pretty comfortable in Spanish, but we had each forgotten the Portuguese we learned while living in Brazil. One certainly wants to try and speak the local language, and since they sound similar the inclination is to ‘fake it’ by speaking Spanish. However, with all the similarities, they are different enough to be difficult. Orange juice, for instance in Spanish to jugo de naranja and in Portuguese it is suco a laranja.

All roads in Lagos lead downhill to the shopping/entertainment district that is nestled by the sea. This means there can be some pretty steep walks back up the hills to return from town or the beaches. The town in the old city is what you would expect to find in a European tourist area, jammed with small bars, coffee shops and trinket vendors. Kiosks line the boardwalk along the canal and small restaurants fight for space on the waterfront.

One delightful thing we have found is the quality of the live music presented by buskers in the street. Unlike many areas that shun traveling bards, Lagos encourages it and has it organized. Buskers are required to present their address and a photo once a year, they are also required to go in on Fridays and get a permit for performances the following week.  We are told that the enforcement of these requirements for newcomers is pretty loose, and a first time cry of “gosh I didn’t know” will get you a slap on the hand and an explanation of the rules.

We previously mentioned the beaches, on the other side of the canal is the the largest and longest which is called Meia Praia (Praia = beach). This white sandy beach runs for miles and is a favorite of the Brits who flock to Lagos in the summer. Along the beach, are several restaurants that offer a cool glass of Vinho Verde (a local style of white wine), excellent food and shade from the sun.

But the real jewels of Lagos are the grotto beaches just down the road from the old town. These beaches, starting with Batata do Praia (Potato beach) are harder to get to, smaller and surrounded by sheer walls of ancient rock. The waterline of the beach has more shells, stones and rocks than Meia Praia, but the views are amazing, Many of grotto beaches are interconnected by small passage through the stone cliffs.

 

 

 

 

USA

Art’s Chicken Wings and the Orion Cooker

We spent a few days in the beautiful North Georgia community of Big Canoe.We picked up our buddy Jim St Leger at the airport and headed north. Our friends Art and Jaqueline hosted us in grand style, and their daughter Nicole did her wizardry in the kitchen throughout our visit.

But when it came time for outside cooking, Art whipped out a new invention I had not seen before, the Orion Cooker. 

Suffice it to say the wings were amazing, and I vowed to make a blog post about them and the new cooker. Hearing this, and knowing that Art, Jim and I love to make music together, Art suggested that we record some music, which we did. Art had written a piece inspired by the midnight grumblings of their dog Sophie. So the day after the amazing wing adventure, we headed into the studio to record “Sophie’s Reel”.

Recipe and cooking video are below, you can see more about the recording session at the end of the video:

Dry Rub Mix

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper more for hotter wings
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

Preparation

  1. Rinse wings (about 10 per person) and load into a shallow bowl
  2. Cover the wings in buttermilk and refrigerate overnight
  3. Rinse wings and pat dry
  4. Sprinkle spice rub over wings and toss to coat
  5. Arrange in a single layer (per rack) in the smoker
  6. Smoke for about 45 minutes
  7. Enjoy with celery, carrots and ranch, or blue cheese, dressing

USA

Back in the USA

So we’ve been back in the states for 2 weeks now. The trip from Thailand was way too long – about 35 hours from there to ATL. In hindsight, given that we weren’t on a fixed schedule, we should have broken the trip somewhere in the middle. By the time we finally arrived, we collected our bags, got to the hotel, showered and crashed. The splurge to use points on the Westin Peachtree Plaza for our first night was almost wasted given how dog tired we were when we arrived – but only almost.  We spent our first week back recovering from jet lag and catching up with family and friends. Our next step was to head South to complete our “move” to Florida.

We got our new Driver’s licenses and library cards. We’re staying with dear friends in Pass-A-Grille Florida (just outside St. Petersburg). Although we both grew up in Florida (George in the panhandle and Bonnie in So. Fl.) neither of us have spent any time in Tampa/St. Pete. Pass-A-Grille is a very cute tourist town with some great neighborhoods.

One of the fun things in this neighborhood is the clever mailboxes, here are a few examples:

Thailand

Thai Cooking Lesson: Green Curry Chicken

We were big fans of America style Thai food before we traveled to Thailand, but now that we have been here for a couple of months, we have grown to appreciate the subtly of flavors that fresh ingredients and a skilled hand in the kitchen can make. In this article will explore the ingredients and walk through the preparation of one of the stapes of any Thai menu, Green Curry Chicken.

First about the ingredients:

  • Coconut Cream and Coconut Milk: while we were at the open market this morning we watched a lady preparing coconut cream.
    • Large chucks of fresh coconut were fed into a machine that looked like a miniature wood chipper. Chunks of coconut in the top, shredded coconut into a collection pan at the bottom.
    • The shredded coconut was then spooned into a cloth bag and placed into a press. The resulting thick liquid, rich coconut crème, was collected in a bucket under the press.
    • This was then bagged up and presented to us to take home. 400 mls of coconut crème (about 13 ounces) costs us $0.60 USD

      • Some notes:
        • To get coconut milk, just add some water to the shredded coconut and run it through the press again.
        • You can get about the same results at home by running fresh coconut through the food processor and then squeezing the results through a clean dish towel or cheesecloth.
        • Don’t try to use store bought products such as Crème de Coco as this has added sweetners and will throw off the taste of your curry. Save the Coco Lopez for making Pina Coladas.
  • Chicken: breast meat, the fresher the better! The chicken we buy at the outdoor markets today was probably running around the yard this morning.
  • Green Curry Paste: given the extremely limited kitchen and the availability of so many fresh curry paste options, we have opted to purchase our curry paste.
      • At home we would probably have made it from scratch using dry
        ingredients (coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, salt) and fresh ingredients (garlic, Thai ginger, turmeric, kaffir lime peel, lemongrass, shallots, coriander root, sweet basil leaves and green “birds eye” chilis).
  • Eggplant: unlike many ingredients that are just used for flavor while cooking and then discarded, eggplant adds not just flavor but also texture and substance to the curry. There are many different kinds of Thai eggplant, some look like small cucumbers, while others are the size of large marbles and still others are about the size of large green peas. Mix them up and have fun.
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves: the kaffir fruit is from the citrus family, but unlike lemons or limes it has a tough bumpy skin which is used in making curry paste. The leaves are used for flavor (the hard center stalk is removed the edges of the leaves are added). Much like bay leaves in Italian cooking, the leaves are removed after cooking. The inside fruit has a very bitter orange taste and is not commonly used for cooking.
  • Red Chili: in the case of green curry, sliced red chilis are used mainly as garnish. The green curry paste has several small green “birds eye” chilis added during its preparation, the more chilis the spicier the paste.
    • Since we’ve been here we have learned that chilis are used to compliment the flavor of Thai food. Food that is too spicy is not properly balanced. The addition of chili should not be used as a test of manhood or as a punishment for eating Thai food.
  • Palm Sugar: we were actually a bit surprised to learn how often sugar is used in Thai cooking. Thick creamy Palm Sugar (called coconut sugar locally) is almost the consistency of peanut butter and is used to sweeten curry, salads and desserts. If you cannot get palm sugar you can substitute brown sugar or raw honey.
  • Sweet Basil Leaves: basil leaves come in any different forms such as honey basil, lemon basil or even Holy Basil “Holy Basil batman!”.
  • Green Beans: these are optional, but we like them in our curry. Thai green beans tend to be much longer than American style green beans, but either kind will work.
  • Fish Sauce: fish sauce is a staple of much of Thai cooking and can easily be found in grocery stores around the world. Fish sauce is best when fresh and unlike wines, it does not get better with age. If you have a open jar of fish sauce that has been in your cabinet for years, get rid of it and buy a fresh one!

The Recipe: (serves two):
• ½ cup coconut cream
• ½ cup coconut milk
• 1/3 to ½ cup chicken breast chopped into small cubes
• 1 tablespoon green curry paste
• Eggplant (1 large and 3 or 4 small, stemmed and cut up)
(If you have them you can throw in a small handful of the pea sized as well)
• 1 Kaffir Lime Leaf: fold in half and strip out the hard center stem
• ½ tablespoon of palm sugar
• 2 or 3 green beans cut into 2 inch sections
• 1 large red chili, cut into thin strips
• 1 tablespoon full of fish sauce
• 1 cup of jasmine rice, cooked.

Preparation is shown in the video below.

Serving suggestion: place half of the cooked rice into a plate and half of the curry into a small bowl for each person. Garnish the curry with the strips of red pepper. Service with an icy cold Thai beer such as Leo or Singha. Enjoy!

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