Archive for the ‘travel’ Category


As August drew to a close, I escaped the city and spent a week in Bermuda for a change of scenery to help reignite my creativity. One of my goals was to find a place where water and a hammock were always within reach, and I accomplished that expertly. I packed more bathing suits than t-shirts.

The first half of my trip I spent at an historic old estate on two acres of land, which sounds like a lot and indeed is a lot on an island smaller than Manhattan. Sharing this land, along with the home’s owners and a honeymooning couple, were three dogs, a goat named Billy, a goose, and an egg-laying hen. Across the road lolled a small bay filled with bobbing boats, the water salty enough to make it difficult to swim but easy to float.


The sliver of a beach was small to begin with – perhaps three towels wide, maybe only two – and as the days drew to a close, the tide came in and the beach disappeared. I waded through ankle deep water to grab my shoes and coverup and silently thanked myself for the gift that was this vacation.


I ate most lunches in restaurants and used that time to explore a tiny bit of the island, while my mornings and evenings were lazy and filled with sun and sea and pool and books and writing and music. The rest of my meals came from the kitchenette in my room, which meant lots of coffee and yogurt and fruit. This was by design – not an effort to keep costs down, but an effort to keep effort down.

About an hour after landing, I eagerly agreed when my taxi taxi driver offered to stop to pick up some food before dropping me off at my home for a few days “What produce is local?” I asked innocently. The driver chuckled as as he eased down the narrow winding roads, tooting his horn at other drivers, waving at pedestrians. “The only thing we export is our smiles; everything else we import.” The produce aisle looked eerily similar to the ones at home, just double or triple the price.

One of the best meals of the week was sourced from the neighbors. First, fish. A red hind caught that morning and filleted before my eyes by Pete whose boat I could swim to from my beach. Next, the rest. The honeymooners in the other suite and I pooled our fridge contents. Dinner was cobbled together by the pool, with lemon-drenched grilled fish, a cheese omelette, sautéed cauliflower, and margarine-rubbed rolls. It was eclectic and bizarre and we ate it as it rained.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto-sep-01-2-30-31-pm-crOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMidway through my trip, I took a ferry to St. George. The fact that everyone recommended the same two restaurants was less a statement on how good they were than on the size of the town and its food options.

Here I stayed in an apartment immaculately staged as the old sea captain’s quarters that it had been way back when. Wide plank floors. A dark wooden table surrounded by studded leather chairs. A telescope and a mariner’s spinning globe.

Perched high above town and overlooking the harbor, I waited out a storm my first morning.


In his September newsletter, David Leibovitz wrote about “a vacation where you work,” and that’s what this trip was for me. Sure, I’m back to making my living in healthcare, but I’m still writing for myself and writing for The Forward and with so many new cookbooks out this fall, I had a lot of catching up to do.

I sat by the pool, on the porch, by the blasting A/C and I wrote.

I had conducted some interviews in the days before I left so I spent a good few hours listening and transcribing. As a result, I replayed in my mind a story that Elissa Altman shared when discussing her most recent memoir Treyf. Her grandmother’s brisket, an “elemental” dish of  just meat and onions, had seemed lost for years. The scrawled recipe referenced adding a glass of water, and she and her cousins had started with shot glasses and worked their way up to try to reproduce it. It was only when Altman was living in her late grandmother’s apartment, rummaging through her drawers, finding a five pound cleaver that her great grandmother had schlepped from Czernowitz, cooking on her stove in a kitchen tinged with schmaltz, that she looked up from the sink to discover an empty yahrtzeit glass. A perfect ten ounces, it yielded the brisket of her memory.

Altman told me this story to illustrate why in a memoir where food was featured so prominently, she didn’t include recipes. As a cookbook editor, she gets the need for precision and exacting measurements. But she felt that the food in Treyf was tied to place and time: “Food and the act of cooking is live, it’s organic, it’s ever-changing. And we actually have to take it at more than just face value, which is why when everyone asked whether I was going to put recipes in Treyf, I said no, there’s lots of food in it, but I don’t want to think about the food in the book that way.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon after returning from Bermuda, I saw a photo Altman posted of dinner one night. She described it: “pan-roasted corn and zucchini with red chile and local sheep feta.” We then had the following exchange:

Me: I pretty much have all these ingredients – I think I know what tomorrow’s lunch will be!

Altman: Sauté the corn first, remove, add the zucchini, brown it, then add the corn back……
Me: Oh, thanks for the advice! Can’t wait to try it out…
Altman: and then squeeze lime (not lemon) over it.
Me: Lime….interesting…now, that I don’t have, but would be great with that corn. Might just pop over to my corner fruit guy in the morning…
Altman: think Mexican: squash, corn, queso fresco, lime

This dish, one that I’ve repeated several times since and will continue to churn out as long as zucchini and corn are in season, doesn’t need a recipe. It captures place and time, a return to my own kitchen while eking out the last days of summer.



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“When you live in Iceland,” our taxi driver told us, “you have to know how to live. Our winters are so long and so dark that we have to appreciate every hour of sun we can get.”

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Natasha, my friend since high school, and I were en route to Vesturbæjarlaug, a sundlaug (community pool) recommended by our city tour guide the day before. It’s a twenty-minute walk from downtown Reykjavik and we might have made the trek by foot had we not gone horseback riding that morning. What we thought was going to be a one-hour stroll turned into a three-hour rambling tölta gait specific to Icelandic horses that’s supposed to be very smooth but I’m not sure that our tushes would agree.

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Before getting into the pools, we stripped down and washed off the horse farm thoroughly. Very thoroughly.

In addition to a lap pool complete with red twisty slide was a series of heated tubs. We entered the largest tentatively, securing empty spots on a bench, and quickly found a powerful jet for for an aquatic shoulder and neck massage. An older gentleman struck up a conversation and when we told him we had been horse back riding, he laughed: “You should be using the jet on your ass!”

Surrounded by murmurs and laughter among groups – families, friends, neighbors – our muscles relaxed as we each found comfortable positions, leaning on the walls, heads back, sun shining. We followed a circuit of hot pots and I eventually and gingerly made my way into the hottest – a literally steaming 111ºF.

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No, that’s not one of the pools – it’s Strokker geyser, silly!

The communal feel continued for the next hour and a half, as one silver-haired green-suited woman encouraged me to plunge from the heat into the polar (get it?) opposite pool at a frigid 8ºC. Yes, yes, it’s 46ºF, but gosh, doesn’t it sound chillier in celsius?

My first numbing dip was to my knees, second to my belly button, third past my shoulders, punctuated by visits to progressively hotter hot spots. The final time, stopping just short of my chin, I glanced up to see my cheerleader give me a thumbs up. As I rushed out, she smiled: “It takes me three tries also!”

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Afternoon turned to evening but the sky barely changed. As our fingers and toes wrinkled beyond recognition, we took one last pass at the jets and then joined a bevy of teens stretched out in a warm shallow pool. Half-immersed in the one-foot deep water, we turned our heads skyward, suntanning.



Natasha and Gayle’s guide to Reykjavik, Iceland

Eat and drink

Icelandic food is on the heavier side – while there’s a lot of fish, local produce seems to be largely limited to root vegetables and some berries. It did pay to seek out a few nicer places for dinner that had interesting takes of traditional fare. The restaurants never rush you, and you have to ask for your check. We ate dinner late every night because we had pretty full days and making reservations the day before or the day of usually meant that 9 pm was the only available time. That said, it’s light until around midnight, so eating at 9 pm didn’t feel late.

Breakfast, lunch, and coffee

Sandholt. Great bakery on the “main strip” – Laugavegur. We ate our first (breakfast) and last (lunch) meals there and this was a prefect way to bookend our trip. Amazing breads and other baked goods – we should have eaten more! Ask for lemon curd with your skyr – you won’t be sorry.

Gló. When you’re jonesing for some fresh, raw vegetables, head to gló. The entrees are served with a selection of salads and you could probably get by with just the salads for a light lunch.

Reykjavik Roasters. I got my daily morning fix here as it was across from my hotel and they take their coffee very seriously. The baristas are nice (and cute) and the cafe has an eclectic living room feel, complete with wooden trunk turned table in front of lounge-y couch. It’s a little off the beaten path, but if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth checking out. And if the coffee doesn’t get you, the avocado toast will.

Kaffislippur. Another coffee place (with decent pastries) that’s in an industrial area near the marina. It’s inside one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever seen (see below).

Dinners (in order of preference)

Matur go Drykkur.  This was one of our favorite dinners and we had tasting menus (they even have a vegetarian one!) which included two desserts, including twisted kleina doughnuts with whey caramel (!!! – I found a recipe if you want to try your hand at making yogurt and then using the whey) and, surprise surprise, skyr with strawberries and green strawberry granita. I had one of the most gorgeous (and tasty) cocktails made with chervil (which I kept mispronouncing as chevril). The restaurante has an open kitchen and is cute inside, but it’s a storefront in the middle of a parking lot and the entrance is through a hotel. Do make a reservation – we made one the night before and only 9 pm was available, and they were turning parties away at the door.

Fiskelagid. Despite the uninspiring name (it means Fish Company), this place served another favorite dinner of ours. The restaurant is down a flight of stairs and the indoor seating is subterranean and a little cave-like, but it works. We opted to skip the tasting menus, and our skyr dessert featured a caramelized blondie, lemony sorrel crystals (ahem, granita) and merengue, and hazelnut gelato. Again, a reservation is probably a good idea – we made ours at the last minute, and like almost every other night, the only time we were able to eat was at 9 pm.

Laekjarbrekka. We had a very good dinner here on our fist night, perhaps a bit less innovative than the first two restaurants I mentioned and with an older, mostly local clientele. I had arctic char with a hollandaise sauce – a bit of an odd combination but the fish was great. This is the place that started our skyr obsession, served with a scoop of blueberry sorbet and oatmeal crumbles – the inspiration for the recipe in my next post.

Loki. Right across from Hallgrimskirkja church, this casual spot serves homey traditional food and the super dense, moist rye bread – similar to Boston brown bread – that steams overnight in a geothermally-heated dirt “oven.”


CityWalk tour. This free two-ish hour walking tour of Reykjavik was a great way to get to know the city and I recommend trying to do it on your first day. Our guide was a grad student in art history, knowledgable, and, like my coffee dude, cute to boot. After the tour, he sent us a list of suggested places to visit, eat, drink, etc. We had originally booked a walking tour with Kex Hostel but after paying and arriving, we were told that the tour not offered and should have never been available on the website. The tour coordinator there told us about the CityWalk tour and, after a little bit of coaxing, cheerfully drove us to the starting point.

Eldhestar. Combination horse farm and hotel. They have a variety of horseback riding options through their rustic fields and creeks, and seem to cater to a lot of experience levels. We went with the newby crowd and were able to try the famous tölt gait. If you ride Kria, beware the shifting saddle. Included in our tour (horses and puffins) was a simple lunch at the hotel – they have soup every day and a basic sandwich bar that included some welcome vegetable, nothing fancy but enough to tide us over. Our ride was notably longer than the 1.5-2 hour advertised. They will lend you boots and rain jumpsuits which we foolishly declined and both ended up throwing out our sneakers and jeans (the horses seem to delight in wiping their grass- and snot-covered nostrils on our legs). Try to get a fly net for your face, otherwise you may end up eating a few insects. The farm  picked us up at our hotel.

Puffins! Our one hour puffin tour was led by Special Tours. The boat ride was a fun way to see the adorable little birds (they have powerful binoculars onboard for anyone to use) and catch a different view of the city.

Golden circle. This is the bare minimum of nature-based touring that anyone visiting Iceland must do. It includes the geysers of Haukadalur (Geysir is the original geyser, though it’s not as active as it once was, so we saw Strokker instead which erupts every 5-10 minutes), Gulfoss Falls, and Þingvellir National Park (where the North American and European tectonic plates meet). We booked our trip with Reykjavik Excursions which was good – we opted for the later departure (10 am) highlights-only trip, because jet lag.

Harpa. Meaning “harp,” this concert hall and performance center is a stunner from outside and in. It’s won a bunch of architecture awards and was apparently built to demonstrate that Iceland was coming out of its financial difficulties. We saw a funny, cheesy one-man show that was a good tongue-in-cheek introduction to Icelandic culture.

Reykjavik 871 +/-2: The Settlement Exhibition. This small museum is at the site of an archeological dig of what is thought to be one of the first houses in Iceland from the time when the island was settled (in 871 CE). We serendipitously caught a tour and the whole thing took about an hour including some wandering time. They have a bunch of games and interactive exhibits for kids and, well, kids like us.

Hallgrimskirkja. Tall church and national monument that apparently has great views. We didn’t make it up. Apparently they have a mediation with organ on Thursdays from 12:00 – 12:30 which I would have liked to go to, but we ran out of time.


Go to as many geothermal and community pools as you can. Enough said.

Blue Lagoon. Super touristy and you should go anyway. This is a natural geothermal pool – it sinks of sulfur, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Do the silica mud mask, pay a few dollars for the algae mask as well. Let them take your photo – they’ll make you look pretty, and email the picture to you. There’s a restaurant inside – LAVA – that’s supposed to be very good but we weren’t in the mood for a fancy sit-down lunch. You need a reservation for the lagoon (we booked the comfort package which includes a towel) and any tour company can schedule it for you along with transportation. Many people go straight there from the airport since it’s so close, but I’m not quite sure about the luggage storage situation. Even with a reservation, the line to get in took at least 15 minutes, but once inside everything runs really smoothly. If you want to get a massage or other spa service, you need to book in advance. Unlike other pools, the shower here have doors if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing.

Vesturbæjarlaug. This is a community pool recommended by our walking tour guide. He said it’s a 20 minute walk from City Hall (near the bottom of Laugavegur) where our tour ended, but we took a taxi from our hotel. This is the real deal if you want to feel like part of the neighborhood. The multiple pools are chlorinated and at various temperatures. The majority seem to be in the 36º-38ºC range while there are a few “hot pots” reaching up to 44CºC and a cold bath for quick dips (or, if you’re a native, a nice long soak). Be prepared to shower and wash in your birthday suit in a single-sex room.


Woolens. I picked up a blanket and hat at Nordic Store (where Laugavegur dead-ends onto Lækjargata). Prices and brands seemed pretty consistent across stores.

Salt.  There is a wide variety of locally harvested salt. Norður is a flaky sea salt – think of it as the Maldon of Iceland. Saltver also makes a fleur-de-sel like product,  but I opted their interestingly flavored more chunky salts (about the consistency of Diamond kosher salt) and picked up a pretty jar of birch-smoked in a 10-11 convenience store (think 7-Eleven) which had a much lower price than tourist or grocery (Bónus) stores. I also bought no-name black lava salt in a souvenir shop.

Blue Lagoon skin care products. We hemmed and hawed when we saw the price of the silica mud mask but on the last day of our trip, we broke down and each bought a tube. I’ve used it since the trip and I’m happy I ended up splurging – the mask just feels so good! If you don’t pick anything up at the lagoon itself, there’s a store on Laugavegur and one in the airport. Prices are the same everywhere.

ChocolateOmnom is a loved the salted almond. I even tried the licorice chocolate bar by accident and I did not hate it. Definitely buy at the grocery store and there happened to be a pretty good deal at dutyfree in the airport. Apparently they have a factory tour – next time, definitely next time. Nói Síríus is the oldest and largest chocolate manufacturer in Iceland and they make an addictive milk chocolate bar with toffee bits.

Licorice (“lakkrís”) everything. Ok, not for me but it’s everywhere and in everything.


Hotel Klettur. We booked this in a deal with our flight and were very happy with it. The hotel is located about two blocks from the top of Laugavegur, so it was quiet and peaceful and still really convenient. We had a fairly basic room with a view of the water and the all-important blackout curtains. A breakfast buffet was included – it was decent and held  us over, though I did get my coffee across the street at Reykjavik Roasters.

Icelandair Hotel, Reykjavik Marina. We didn’t stay here, but we had coffee at Kaffislippur, and wandered around the funkiest hotel common spaces I’ve ever seen: musical instruments hanging over a stairwell, a library, screening room with loungers, gym with a climbing wall, and who knows what else. There’s also a lot of public art around the hotel.


Thanks to LizKathyLizzie, and Natasha’s friend David for sharing your recommendations and experiences in Iceland, and helping us have an amazing adventure!

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Well. Where were we? Oh yeah, so after I met Dorie (!), my sister and I went to Norway and Spain, and then I moved from Boston.

Wait, you say. What? you think. Didn’t you just move? you shake your head. Well, yes. Yes, I did just move. But it’s been a complicated multi-stage move and I’ve had a hard time cutting the cord. I sublet a place in Brooklyn for three weeks and then went back to Boston. I returned to Brooklyn to another apartment, for 5 weeks this time. Then I took over a friend’s lease in my old Upper West Side neighborhood, happily living mere blocks from my support system of friends. That lasted four months. The apartment, not the friends. And finally I moved to my current place. And earlier this month, I let go of my lease in Boston and transported the remainder of my belongings – furniture, books, pots and pans, scuba gear, and all – into my place in New York.

In case you’re counting, it’s been a year since I made those first tentative steps away from one career towards the uncertainty of another.

For most of my life, I’ve known what I was going to do next. There was always another school. A better job. A promotion. And now, I’m starting from scratch and for the first time ever, I don’t know what’s coming next. Will I eventually open a cafe? Write a cookbook? Work on the corporate side in a large restaurant group? Teach the principles of hospitality to other industries (healthcare, I’m looking at you!)? Cook for my family? There are all things I’m considering. And in the end, it will probably be a combination of several of these options. Which ones? I’m still figuring that out.

I met with a colleague and mentor the other day and we spoke about uncertainty. She encouraged me to just be. Or, in her words, to “grow where you’re planted.” I find myself repeating this phrase to myself multiple times a day. When I question what I’m doing. When other people question what I’m doing.

So, I’m going to make a deal with you. For a little while, I’m going to just be. To grow where I’m planted. To be OK with it. To be happy with it. Now here’s where you come in. Please believe me when I say that I’m happy being where I am right now. Please trust me when I say that I don’t yet have a clear vision for where I’m headed but that everything will work out. Please gently push me out of my comfort zone. And with your help, I’ll continue to believe in myself and trust my instincts and push my own limits.

And in return, I will give you the gazpacho recipe I picked up in Barcelona. How’s that for a win-win?


In Barcelona, my sister was in charge of directions and getting us where we wanted to go, and I was in charge of food. We saw a lot of Gaudí, ate ice cream at least once a day, and took a cable car across the port. We took the elevator to the top of Sagrada Família and wound our way down a narrow seashell staircase. We spent a day at a beach just a half hour outside Barcelona by train. We spent evenings by the pool on the roof of the hotel that we splurged on.

The only traditional tapas bar I went to was on a food tour the first night. The tour was enjoyable if unremarkable until I asked our guide for his favorite place to eat gazpacho. With this question, his eyes lit up. I make the best gazpacho, he said. Before I could ask him for his recipe, he started enumerating on his fingers. Take four tomatoes – make sure they’re really ripe. And then one cucumber. Remove the peel and the seeds. One pepper. Red. Or green. But red is best for the color. Use red. Then one onion, about this size, holding up a clenched fist. And garlic. One or two cloves. Maybe three. Yes, three. And one-third of a baguette. Or half of a small one. It should be the size of the cucumber. Put it all in a blender. Add olive oil and vinegar. Sherry vinegar, of course. But the secret, he leaned in for effect. The secret, he beckoned, is cumin.

Just two days after returning from Spain, I gathered gazpacho ingredients, threw them in a blender, measured and tweaked and substituted. I stuck a pitcher in the fridge, and then I left to pack up the apartment in Boston that I had called home for five years. When I returned to New York, furniture and books and pots and pans and scuba gear in tow, the gazpacho was waiting for me.


This recipe is based on the one given to me by my tapas tour guide in Barcelona. Here I use cucumbers with thick waxy skin as he recommended. You can use “seedless” Persian or English cucumbers if you prefer. The raw onion and garlic give the soup quite a bite, but it does mellow out after a day or two. Make sure to serve the soup with some chopped vegetables and croutons for garnish and crunch. 

Makes approximately 2 quarts

– 3 lbs ripe tomatoes

– 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed

– 1 1/2 red pepper, seeds removed

– 1 small yellow or red onion

– 3 cloves garlic

– 1/2 stale baguette (approximately the same length as the cucumbers laid end to end)

– 1/4 C olive oil, preferably arbequina

– 2 T sherry vinegar

– 1 T cumin

– salt

– Optional garnish: diced tomato, cucumber, and pepper; small croutons

Chop. Roughly chop all the vegetables.

Soak. Tear the baguette in small pieces and cover with warm water until very soggy.

Blend. Add all of the vegetables to your blender and go to town until very smooth. Drain the water from the bread, reserving it for later. Add the bread and continue to blend until very smooth. Add oil, vinegar, cumin. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then keep adding it by the teaspoonful until the gazpacho tastes good to you. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with the reserved bread water.

Strain. If you want your gazpacho to be silky smooth, do like most restaurants and push it through a cheesecloth lined strainer. I don’t bother.

Chill. Let the gazpacho chill for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Serve. Serve in wide bowls with small plates of diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil.


Here are some of the restaurants that my sister and I enjoyed in Barcelona. I tried gazpacho at nearly every single one of them.

Bar Mut
Sam (the General Manager at USC and my boss) sent me here, referring to it as Balthazar meets tapas bar and recommending we show up in the late afternoon after the lunch rush. On an unassuming corner in what can only be described as the urban equivalent of the middle of nowhere (particularly in comparison to the bustle of las Ramblas), Bar Mut is truly a hidden gem. There are no menus. The website is little more than an address, a phone number, and a 17 minute video called Intereses Mundanos (Mundane Interests) that gives the restaurant an air of mystery. Daily specials are scrawled on a blackboard above the bar,  but the best way to order is to engage your server in a dialogue about your hunger, mood, likes and dislikes, and let him guide you. Note, some of the fish entrees can get quite pricey.
Address: Carrer de Pau Claris, 192 (at Diagonal)
Area: Eixample

Cornelia and Co.
Cornelia and Co is part restaurant, part gourmet take-away.
Address: Carrer de València, 225
Area: Eixample

Els Quartre Gats (4 Gats)
Go here for the art work and history as a modernist salon of sorts. The food is decent enough, but overpriced. That said, I had amazing pan con tomate.
Address: Carrer de Montsió, 3
Area: Barri Gòtic

Teresa Carles
Just a few blocks from La Rambla and on a quiet pedestrian street, this vegetarian restaurant is a nice break from meat-heavy menus. You can design your own salads and get a juice fix. My sister particularly enjoyed the seitan and tofu sliders.
Address: Jovellanos, 2
Area: Las Ramblas

Torre d’Alta Mar
This restaurant can be a bit confusing to find. It’s located at the top of the tower from which the Telefèric del Port cable car launches. There is a tasting menu and you can also order a la carte. This is not an inexpensive restaurant. That said, we had some of the best and most interesting food of our trip and the view of the port is spectacular. It’s worth the splurge.
Address: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 88 (take the elevator up)
Area: Barceloneta


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I just got back from a few days in Austin and want to share a few photos of this live-music-playing, cowboy-boot-wearing, two-stepping, hot-hot-hot food mecca.

Have a great week, y’all!



Happy Place


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fiddle BW base

mura twinkle

Bloody Marys

Jo’s Cafe
242 West Second Street
Austin, TX 78701
And other locations

Maria’s Taco Xpess
529 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704

The Continental Club
1315 South Congress
Austin TX 78704

Austin Food Trailers – all over

La Condesa
400A West 2nd Street
Austin, TX 78701

Allen’s Boots – yup, I bought cowboy boots!
1522 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704

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around and around

My last full day in Vienna, I woke up with the city. Before the cafes opened, I stepped out of my hotel into the misty haze hiding the slowly rising sun. I boarded a small bus and sat next to the driver as we made our way through the sleepy streets.  Past the men in light green jumpsuits sweeping the pavement. Past the early pedestrian commuters waiting on the curb for the light to turn before crossing the road, despite ours being the only car in sight.

Less than an hour into the drive, we watched from the highway as Bratislava approached and faded away. Hours before the time I normally wake up on a Sunday, we arrived in Budapest.

We spent the remainder of the morning criss-crossing the Danube from Buda to Pest and back again. We spent some time in the Castle District, roaming around the cobblestone streets and snagging glimpses of the buildings over on the Pest side.

A few minutes scaling the walls and I was ready to eat.

I was planning to step into the oldest cafe in Budapest for a slice of cake and tea, but got sidetracked by the scent of caramelizing sugar wafting from an open window. I entered the little bakery and watched as the woman in the white and black polka dot apron made Kürtőskalács, also known as chimney cakes. She rolled out the soft sweet dough and used a pizza cutter to separate out long strips. She methodically spiralled the strips of dough around a small long-handled rolling pin. She rolled the pin on the counter to smooth out the edges. She brushed the dough with butter and rolled it in sugar. She placed the pins of dough in the oven  hearth. A motor in the back turned them slowly as the caramelizing sugar crept around and around the dough.

Prompted more by my unwavering daze than the several Euros I dropped on the counter with a clink, she placed the still crackling brûléed sweet in a cellophane sleeve and then in my outstretched hands. I walked out, unraveling my snack as steam puffed out of the center like the chimney it was named after.

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I’m back from my spur-of-the-moment weekend in Vienna.  No recipe today, but there’s a sachertorte in our future. Once I translate a few recipes from German.

If you’ve never been, then let me tell you – Vienna is a walkable elegant city. Perhaps the most elegant city I’ve ever visited.

Elegant in a dapper sort of way.

In that shine your shoes, brush off your coat, adjust your tie, comb your hair, and don your hat before heading out into the light drizzle sort of way. The kind of city that holds open the door for you as you pass through.

Alyson and I snagged an amazing room on the Ringstraße, the road that encircles Vienna’s central district. If you’re wondering how to pronounce “Ringstraße,”  I can assure you that it’s not “Ringestrabe.”  Despite what our taxi driver told us, that beta-looking letter is not a “B.” It’s a double-S.

While we’re on the topic, let me just say that we did not have much taxi luck in Vienna. After we walked to Alef Alef in the former Jewish ghetto and found it closed from Thursday to Sunday, we hailed a taxi to take us to Simchas. When we gave the driver the address, he shook his head and pointed to the bridge in front of us. “Just go across the Danube and the restaurant is straight ahead. 10 minutes.” He was the only taxi around, so we walked across the river. And kept walking. And walking. We walked one more block. And then we found another taxi to take us the next two meandering miles.

We visited several cathedrals and a museum and went to a concert (though we were dissapointed that “The Cat’s Duet” was missing from the program). Then we spent the rest of our time eating (and a little requisite shopping). There’s a fabulous line in a book I read a few months ago that could not be closer to the truth, especially in Vienna: “The only reason I travel … is for an excuse to eat more than usual.”

I was determined to taste as many sachertortes as possible. For the record, my favorite one was the first one I tried – that very one staring at  you. It was not particularly sweet, hit the right level of denseneess without being dry, with just a subtle layer of apricot beneath a thin, dark, rich (sounds like a pretty good date to me) coating of chocolate.

Anyway, our days went something like this:

Drag ourselves out of bed.

Coffee and pastry for breakfast, at a kaffeehaus chosen the night before. (It’s no wonder that the French refer to pastries as “viennoiserie.”)

After breakfast, wander around and see a site or two. After about two hours, one of us would say, “are you hungry yet?”

The other one would say, “no…but I want to eat anyway.”

And so we did.

The afternoon? A repeat of the morning.

And then after dinner, plan where to have breakfast the next morning.

One morning, I woke up early and broke tradition: rather than going to our previously-agreed-upon cafe, I asked our hotel receptionist to recommend the best place for coffee. She said to skip the well-known places, walk down a side street, and find a small, old, dark cafe with a grumpy waiter. I landed at Cafe Frauenhuber and drank my coffee a few tables away from that lovely gentleman you see at the beginning of this story.

And one morning, we skipped the kaffeehaus all together in favor of a French cafe across the street from our hotel. I noticed it our first evening, drawn to the long communal table that I glimpsed through the window.

I was very excited to strike up a conversation with the strangers on the other side of the vast table. If I ever open a restaurant, I’m going to call it “à table” – just like that, without caps with a little bit of a French-English pun. It will be grounded around a huge table, maybe two. It will get crowded at times – just the way I like it. And you’ll make fleeting friends with strangers. Maybe not so fleeting. But that’s all a dream right now.

In between cafes, we wandered out to Naschmarkt – once we heard how it was pronounced — nosh market — how could we miss it?

Apparently Vienna is the cool place to go these days — at the very moment we were in town, the New York Times ran a segment about spending 36 hours there. And, before the rest of the Times-reading world flocks to it, I managed to get a seat at Motto em Fluss — their newly-discovered and recommended bar/lounge/restaurant built atop a ferry station on the Danube.

I spent my last day in Budapest, just a 2 hour drive from Vienna. That story to come.

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more later

Guten Morgen from München. Well, the airport at least.

Look what was waiting for me at the Dallmayr cafe an hour before my connecting flight.


A croissant so good that it left a trail of crispy flakes down the front of my shirt.

Another short flight and I’m off to get wienerschnitzel in Austria.

More later.

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Do you know what these are?

They’re pibá.

Since it’s 6 am and I’m wide awake (did  you hear that? awake!) a full hour before my alarm goes off, I figure I’ll tell you a little about pibá while baking a cake (bread?) to pass the time. Since I can’t fall back asleep. Yeah…I’m wierd that way.

So, here’s the deal. Pibá is a fruit. In fact it’s the fruit of the palm tree. And it started our trip out to Santa Clara.

In case you don’t remember, two years ago, my friend Elvera and I went to Panama and stayed with our friends Joe and Victoria and baby Jack. We ate very very very well. We arrived on the day that a long awaited new road was opened in Panama City, and were some of its first passengers. Midway through our trip was a national holiday as President Martinelli was sworn in. Everyone was off work, so Vic, Elvera, and I prepared a picnic lunch (including some pibá), Joe packed up the car, and we all drove out to Santa Clara beach about an hour southwest of Panama City on the Pacific Ocean.

We stop along the Pan-American Highway at Quesos Chela – arguably the best cheese maker in the country …

… and kosher to boot.

After stocking up on a lot of dairy to supplement the cooked pibá and salads we packed, I settle down with a coconut. And a straw.

(Hold on, the oven is beeping. The cake is done.)

Twenty more minutes in the car, barely enough time for the cheese to reach perfect-for-eating room temperature, we drive up to a house.

We pull up alongside this bicycle.

We walk down a path.

We find our own private beach.

Look what’s waiting for us.

The weather quickly turns from sunny to overcast to downright stormy.

We pack up our bags and bid our oasis adieu.

(There goes my alarm. Time to get ready for work. Do you think my new colleagues will like the cake?)


Rinse pibá.

Drop into salted boiling water.

Boil for about 20 minutes until tender.

Rinse with cold water.

Let cool.

With a salt shaker nearby and a sharp knife, peel the orange skin and eat the white, starchy fruit. It tastes a bit like a dense potato.

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Some friends and I are planning an island vacation. We spent hours and hours and hours choosing an island, the right flights, and the best hotel. In just over a week (1 week!!!), we’ll be lying on a beach, being served drinks. By hot men. Well, maybe the last part if we’re lucky.

I haven’t yet told my friends about my last beachy vacation when Elvera and I almost missed our flight home. (Ok, so I just spoiled the ending of the story).

In case you forgot, let me remind you about that trip. For a week in July 2009, my friend Elvera and I stayed with Joe and Victoria and their growing family in Panama City, and were wined and dined  nearly every night. Having quickly found a favorite restaurant and eaten there twice in four days, I was determined to meet the chef. With such a tight-knit Jewish community in Panama, it wasn’t difficult to get the email address of Darna owner and chef, Ayelet. We agreed to meet on the morning of my departure at her newest venture – Darna Bread. Leaving the next day for a few days of island hopping in Bocas del Toro, we settled on Sunday morning a few hours before our flight home.

After arriving from Bocas at nearly midnight and frantically re-packing our over-stuffed bags, we awoke early Sunday morning determined to find Darna Bread. With directions in hand, we found a taxi and in our broken Spanish (read: Elvera speaks medical Spanish and I can pick my way through a menu) tried to get to the cute little coffeehouse we had heard so much about from the locals. An hour later, several pantomime conversations with strangers on the street, and a little bit of a hike, we finally finally finally found our way. In addition to eating a delicious shakshuka breakfast, snapping photos, and checking out the lending library on the walls, I had the chance to sit down with Ayelet. She told me of her plans to open a third restaurant (now open) and how she and her sister ended up in Panama from Israel. We shared recipes and her challah recipe below has become a favorite.

As we were chatting, Elvera kept giving me looks. Tapping her watch. Leaning her head towards the door. I, of course, saw her…and ignored her. She finally came over and said we really had to go. Just a few  more questions? She frowned. A few questions later, I joined her back at our table, ate the last, now cold, bites of shakshuka. We called a taxi, paid, threw our remaining bread in a bag. As we jumped into the taxi, our phone rang — it was Joe, wondering where we were and sounding a bit panicked. We assured him we were en route. We had the taxi wait while we ran up to grab our luggage and hug Joe, Vic, and little Jack goodbye.

We got to the airport 59 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off. That’s one minute after the check-in cutoff. Some spectacular negotiating tactics finally got us onto the flight and on our way home.

Luckily, I haven’t had to use any of these negotiating tactics since then.

Darna Challah

This is Ayelet’s recipe with just a few little tweaks. I use my mixer to knead the dough. And I like Ayelet’s use of a bowl of water in the oven while the challot are baking to help the crust form. This recipe makes 2 very large challot. It’s a little more time intensive than my bread machine challah recipe, but I actually think it has a better texture.

– 3 T dry yeast

– 3 T sugar

– warm water (~2C)

– 1 kg bread flour (aka 8 cups)

– 1 T salt

– 3 eggs

– 3/4 C oil

– 1 egg for egg wash

– sesame seeds

Prepare the yeast. Dissolve yeast in ~1/2 C warm water and sugar. Allow to percolate until frothy. This can take up to 15 minutes.

Mix the dough. Throw flour, yeast mixture, salt, eggs, and oil into your mixer. Start to knead with the dough hook and slowly add water “until you get a nice dough.” OK – I realize these are not the most exact directions, but this is what Ayelet suggested and I’m sticking to it. I added about 1.5 cups of water. Then I had to add some flour. Then a little water. And a little more flour. But it just kind of worked. Eventually the dough came together, stopped sticking to the bowl and completely wrapped around the dough hook.

Knead. I let my mixer do some of the kneading (about 5+ minutes) and then knead it by hand on a floured surface for another 5+ minutes.

Let rise. Roll dough into a ball and let rise in the mixer bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 1 hour over a warm oven until it doubles in bulk. Punch the dough down, knead it and let it rise again until doubled. Divide dough into six or eight equal-sized balls, depending on whether you plan to make 3- or 4-stranded challot (or 12 or 16 if you’re planning to make 4 challot).

Braid. Divide dough into equal-sized pieces – the number of pieces depends on how many challahs and what type of braid you plan to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long strand. If you want to make a four-stranded braid as pictured, start by pinching four strands together at one end. A four-stranded braid is actually weaving and always starts on the same side (rather than conventional braiding that involves alternately crossing strands from the right and left). Weave the leftmost strand over its neighboring strand, under the next one, and over the fourth, laying it down on the far right of the braid. Pick up the new leftmost strand and weave over-under-over as before. Continue until the end of the braid and tuck the ends under the loaf.

Bake. Whisk an egg with a few splashes of cold water. Brush this egg wash over the challah and sprinkle with seeds if you’d like. Place a bowl of water in the oven to create steam. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

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Whenever I travel, my sister asks for a postcard. I always buy a few. I usually write at least one. Sometimes I even get a stamp. Rarely does a card hit a foreign mailbox. Almost always, the cards are hand-delivered. And while one of the postcards has already been signed, stamped, sent, and received, until the others arrive, this post(card) will have to do.

Last month, my friend Sarah and I crisscrossed the Portugal-Spain border. The day I stumbled into Lisbon, still recovering from my red-eye and transfer in Munich, Sarah welcomed me with a box of pastéis de nata. Our time in Portugal revolved around these incredible custard tarts in a caramelized crust. Sarah wanted to sample pastéis de nata from every corner bakery and pasteleria we passed, but once I tried the original from Pastéis de Belém, I couldn’t go back to mere copies. I loved the ones in Belém so much that on our last day in Lisbon, we took a €15 taxi for one final taste. And we did take in a few sights, including ducks, peacocks, and a couple of Portuguese good luck symbols in a little park near our hotel.

If Lisbon was all about the sweet, then Seville was all about the savory and the sensual. (Ahem … tapas and flamenco.)

We started our time in Seville with a tapas tour. Best. Idea. Ever. What better re-introduction to a city I hadn’t visited since college than a four hour (tapas) bar crawl with a virtual local (Shawn) who can find food to satisfy any taste? I like fish and vegetables, Sarah wanted to try everything. And Shawn navigated our preferences as easily as she navigated around the Sunday after-churchgoers vying for space up against the bar under dozens of jamón hanging from the ceiling like the pots and pans that adorn my own kitchen. She also armed us for our own gourmand adventures over the next few days with lists of restaurant recommendations and real-time tweets about where to go and when to show up to guarantee a table early or to catch the kitchen before it closed.

Sarah’s done a great job of cataloging her favorite stops. Just like I can’t stop thinking about the best pastéis de nata in Belém, I keep replaying in my mind our meal at La Azotea until my mouth waters (as cliché as that sounds). After several days of largely fried foods, I was craving more vegetables than salmorejo could offer (more on that cousin of gazpacho in just a bit). La Azotea delivered.

We were greeted and seated just before 1:00 at one of only six tables. Just in time, too, because by 1:15, all six of those tables were filled and the waiters could barely squeeze past the lunching crowd crowding the bar.  Lucky for us, owner Juan helped us choose lunch and wine and dessert. Course after course,we pulled out our cameras and peppered Juan with questions.

When I asked for a recommendation on a good local wine store, Juan slipped out the front door with us, crossed the street and unlocked the door to Vinos y Más. Only open in the evening, the restaurant’s wine bar is filled with some of Spain’s best goodies, from local wines and olive oils lining two walls to cheeses and meats behind a glass case. Wine barrels scattered in the small space serve as high-top tables. I leaned against one as Juan helped me pick out several wines to bring home (to be carried back, as usual, in my suitcase).

When we finally followed the scent of orange blossoms  back to Santa Cruz, it was nearly 5:00 pm.

After days of stuffing ourselves with tapas and walking from monument to cathedral to clothing store, we dedicated our nights to flamenco. We saw one,  sometimes two shows a night: in tablaos like my favorite El Arenal and the more commercial Los Gallos; at Museo del Baille Flamenco – the flamenco museum where I also took a flamenco dance class (!!); at La Carbonería (Levíes, 18), a hidden-from-the-street almost subterranean bar with a nightly flamenc0 gathering at 11:00 pm. Clearly we should have hit La Carbonería before our last night when we had to catch a midnight bus back to Lisbon.

Flamenco is all about the interplay between the dance, the music, and the song. Assuming that I would mainly watch the dancer, I found myself again and again drawn to the guitarist’s fingers strumming, plucking, tapping the strings and reflected in the dancer’s expression and fanning hands.

My dance training always emphasized that even the most difficult step should appear light and effortless. In flamenco, emotion is at the fore and effort-full movement follows. They literally dance from the soles of their feet to the tips of their fingers. The result is passion. It’s not always pretty, but it’s very very real. (Can you tell I’m planning to take some more classes?)

Don’t worry…I didn’t forget about that salmorejo  recipe I promised. Every day (sometimes twice a day) I ate this tomato-only, slightly thicker with the addition of more day-old bread, riff on gazpacho. Or maybe gazpacho is a riff on salmorejo. Luckily, I love them both.


Salmorejo is a creamy chilled tomato soup thickened with bread. It is traditionally served with a sprinkle of diced egg and ham.


– 8-12 ripe tomatoes

– 2 garlic cloves

– 1/4 C sherry vinegar (can substitute wine vinegar)

– sea salt to taste (I used ~2 t)

– 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

– 2/3 day old baguette (~200 gm) — in a pinch, I’ve used pita!

– Fruity olive oil (Spanish arbequina is perfect for salmorejo – if you can’t get it in Spain, Unió is my favorite and available online and at Whole Foods)

– 2 eggs

Purée. Core and roughly chop the tomatoes. You can peel them for a smoother consistency, but I haven’t found that it makes an appreciable difference. Throw them in blender with the garlic and purée. A lot. The mix will be a light red. Add vinegar, salt, and regular olive oil. Keep puréeing until smooth and orange. This can take a few minutes. You might need to do it in 2 batches.

Soak. Tear up the bread and drop into the blender with the tomato mixture. Let soak for about 15 minutes until soggy.

Boil. Hard boil the eggs. Cool.

Purée again. Once the bread is good and soggy, purée until smooth and even lighter orange.

Garnish. Drizzle with a special fruity olive oil and sprinkle with chopped egg (and ham if you want).

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