Travel

Prague: A City of Contrasts

If you’ve heard of only one place else in Czechoslovakia it is likely to be Prague, a city of amazing contrasts.

Unlike many of the cities visited on our river cruise, Prague was not damaged during World War II meaning that the Old Town is intact.  Away from it, everything is newer, more modern indicating that Prague is a thriving 21st century city.

Though Prague is full of attractions, what I liked best was wandering the  streets paying attention to all that was going on whether it was men  restoring an aging facade,

meticulously relaying a cobbled street

or  working to attract a crowd and hoping to be rewarded with a few coins.

Markets were a great place to people watch,

 sample a few local goodies. 

and observe vendors, some of whom were busy demonstrating their skills, preparing food for jostling customers or passing the time until someone came along.

It was surprising to see a canal in Prague.  My first thought was how that resembled Venice.  The only thing missing was gondolas being managed by striped shirt gondoliers!

IMG_0946Walking miles every day means there had to be time for some refreshment, and I liked stopping in at some random place

IMG_0948and having Czech food and a Pilsner Urquell.  Talk about a pause that refreshes!

Yes, Prague has much to offer.  Architecturally, it is a jewel with its buildings representing many centuries.

IMG_0979Oh, and have I mentioned gingerbread and that Czechoslovakia is famous for it?  It comes in many forms, but when I tell you that foie gras served on thin slices of gingerbread is over the top, believe it!  I’d go back to Prague just to have it again.

So much for this journey of three plus weeks.  It’s time to go home.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Travel

Through My Eyes: Quebec City

When you look at a map of the U.S. the northern part of Maine looks like it could be part of Canada, so that’s the first clue that it’s a pretty easy trek to places like New Brunswick, Montreal or Quebec City.

MaineAt the last minute the hubby and I decided a trip to Quebec City would be a great way to wind down our time in Maine. It’s little more than a 5 hour drive through small towns and beautiful wooded areas with the Kennebec River running through them.  

IMG_5275In places, one could almost feel as if nothing had ever been there except for the moose which motorists were warned to be aware of. Though Maine is said to have lots of moose, would you believe I’ve not seen a single one!

Quebec CityOn to Quebec City and the old town where French is the language of choice though on this trip it seemed that folks were a little more open to speaking English. Exploring the area is an absolute delight.  The streets are narrow and cobblestoned meant for pedestrians only.

There’s quite a lot to do there, but you can find out about all that on Trip Advisor or in a guide book.  What I’m going to share with you are the things that caught my eye.

Window boxes which no doubt change with the season.

Shutters, the kind that remind me of Provence.

Clever signs outside every shop and restaurant.

Art in unexpected places!

Quebec CityMurals so lifelike you felt like you’d entered another time.Quebec CityRooftops with their differing lines and colors.

Quebec CityThe market filled with local produce, meats, cheese and prepared goodies.  No way can I pass up a good market!

Quebec CityAnd, of course, the Frontenac Hotel built in the late 1800’s by the Canadian railway cannot be overlooked.

Quebec CityLocated high above the old town, it reminds of chateaux built in the 14th and `15th centuries in the Loire Valley.  No matter from which angle it is viewed, it is extraordinary.

So there you have it, my view of Quebec City.  If you’ve been there, please share what caught your eye.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

Italy, photography, Travel

Florence My Way

From the beginning, my intent was to immerse myself in Florence not as a tourist but as an explorer.  I wanted to capture this magnificent city by finding beauty in the ordinary, by wandering streets and paying attention to its sights, sounds, smells and people.  Here is Florence my way.

FlorenceFlorence was walking the same street and seeing it differently each time. 

Florence4It was observing people working in small shops, the market, on the street.

Florence8It was coming across artists sketching 

Florenceor creating street art too beautiful to be no more than temporary.

Florence9Florence was marveling at graffiti, seemingly on every bare surface.

FlorenceIt was appreciating the beauty of Santa Croce any time of the day or night

Florence1and shooting the Duomo over and over without ever capturing its real majesty.

Florence11It was the unexpected surprise of spotting remnants of art created on buildings hundreds of years ago.

FlorenceIt was going from one side of the Arno to another on lovely bridges 

Florenceand stopping to notice that the real beauty of the Ponte Vecchio was the richness of color on its back side.

Florence2It was exploring quirky flea markets

Florence5and one street market after another.

Florence12Florence was noticing people taking photos with selfie sticks.

Florence7 It was being fascinated by doors with character

Florence6and door knockers that could waken the dead.

FlorenceIt was enjoying sidewalk cafes,

Florence gelato again and again and again

Florence3and at the end of a day’s exploring, an aperol and an antipasti plate at home.

FlorenceIt was taking in Florence and all its glory knowing that the experience will fill my heart with memories for years to come.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

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The Scoop

Markets, Travel

To Market To Market

Let’s get right to first things first.  Being in Florence for a month means we need food so top priority is going to a market.

Mercato Centrale/marketFirst, I went to the big market, Mercato Centrale, which had dizzying arrays of everything

Mercato Centrale/marketfrom pasta to cheese to meat to olives to sweets to seafood to fresh produce.  I was too far from “home” to carry a load so my purchases were few.

Sant'Ambrogio/marketMuch closer, I discovered Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, not quite as fancy nor as touristy.  There I plunged right in.

marketWhile food was the calling card, how could I resist buying a wonderful leather bag for only $20E?  It’s for my daughter, but today it came in very handy as a carry bag.

marketNow on to the produce.  I actually came prepared with a list so I wouldn’t be tempted to buy everything in sight.

marketEven so, I couldn’t pass up these little artichokes.  Now if I can just figure out how to prepare them.  Any suggestions?

marketTrying to decide what cheese to buy is always a challenge, but after sampling this soft gorgonzola the decision got a whole lot easier.  That is one of the best cheeses I’ve ever tasted.

marketI don’t know how many euros I ended up spending, but I felt like the market was a lot less than shopping at Whole Foods and twice as much fun!

market/PhilThankfully, the hubby was with me or I would never gotten home with all my purchases. Would you believe those two humongous bunches of flowers were 5E? I’m in heaven!

vegetablesGetting home and putting everything out was just as much fun as the purchasing.  Isn’t this a beautiful still life?

I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and  start filling the apartment with tantalizing food smells.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

P.S.  It’s hard for me to keep up with your posts right now, but I look forward to catching up later.

Random, Travel

From Dream to Reality

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

For years I’ve dreamed about being in Italy, this time not in a country villa but in a town/city where I could immerse myself in everyday life.  Now the dream is a reality and Florence is where I’ll be for a month.  Why Florence?

FlorenceIt is one of the world’s most beautiful and intriguing spots

Duomo
Duomo

well known for the domed Duomo that can be seen from all over the city.

Santa Croce
Santa Croce

It is home to stunning architecture

David as he stands in Plazza della Signoria
David as he stands in Plazza della Signoria

and familiar works of art created centuries ago.  

FlorenceNow I’m sure to see much of those sites, but the real reason I’m here is to discover markets with all their temptations.

Florence/foodI want to buy fresh ingredients for meals we will eat at home

Florence/gelatoand sample every flavor of gelato. 

Coniglio stuffed with salami, spinach and fennel

I want to try as many authentic Tuscan dishes as possible.  In Florence, that should be no problem as there are thousands of restaurants.

FlorenceI want to explore tiny side streets hoping to find artisans at work

Florenceand when I need a break I want to stop at a sidewalk cafe for refreshment.

FlorenceIn the evening, I want to be part of the noisy crowds that eat and drink late into the night.

Hey, I better get started if I’m going to find out whether the reality is as good as the dream!  Won’t you join me for the adventure?

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

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Food, Travel

Foodie Adventure 3: Spain

This is the third Foodie Adventure the hubby and I have done with Chef Michael Salmon and his wife Mary Jo.  The first was in Italy, the second in France’s Loire Valley and now Catalonia in Spain.   

Foodie Adventure SpainSo, what is a Foodie Adventure?  It is partly touring points of interest in whatever the area, but mostly it is about food and sharing the experience with a group (14-18) of fun and interesting people.   And, nobody is better at orchestrating than Chef Michael and Mary Jo! 

market/Foodie Adventure SpainWe tour wonderful markets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables,

Foodie Adventure Spainseafood and meats, all ingredients that will become part of what we eat.

Foodie Adventure SpainWe visit wineries, organic farms, cheese makers and see firsthand the processes involved in making and growing.  I’ve never before been to an organic pig farm, but I can no longer say that after this adventure.  These well fed piggies are not too far away from going to the slaughterhouse to become all natural sausages.

Foodie Adventure SpainThe days are full, and they don’t end when the touring is done.  We return to an incredible place that is home for a week and head straight to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal.

Foodie Adventure SpainFoodie Adventure SpainFoodie Adventure SpainChef Michael has done some of the prep work and laid out the ingredients in our absence, and we get busy chopping, peeling, grating and stirring.

Foodie Adventure SpainFoodie Adventure SpainFoodie Adventure SpainFoodie Adventure SpainUnder Chef Michael’s watchful eye, every hand is involved in the process.

Beets in Romesco Sauce
Beets in Romesco Sauce

We may not be as good as Chef Michael at plating, but with practice we get better!

Seared Cod with White Beans, Praws & Chorizo Broth
Seared Cod with White Beans & Chorizo Broth

When all is done we have a multi course meal that is a gourmet’s delight and far more than any of us should eat, 

Bunuelos de Crema
Bunuelos de Crema

but you can bet there’s always room for dessert!

Yes, I will be sharing some fabulous recipes later so stay tuned.

i so enjoy your visit and the comments you leave behind

Food

To Market, To Market

20130506-085454.jpg

Who doesn’t like European markets? They are such happenings that draw huge crowds of people, some there to buy the morning’s fresh pastries and handcrafted cheeses, others there to just enjoy the spectacle of it all as was the case at the Sunday market in Amboise.

20130506-085634.jpgWant beautiful fresh vegetables or seafood, it’s there.

20130506-090342.jpgOr maybe a colorful and fragrant soap or handmade basket or something new to spice up your wardrobe is what captures your eye to say nothing of an already prepared food too tempting to pass up.

20130506-172456.jpgVendors stay busy, and it is such fun watching them chat and laugh with their customers as if they are so enjoying the exchange.

Now just how do we Foodie Adventurers benefit from these trips to the market? For dinner this night we used cheese, shrimp and pear in our first course. Oh so good!

20130506-173332.jpg

Chef Michael’s Stilton Cheese and Shrimp Tartlet with Pine Nuts and Pear

1 batch pastry dough (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil
1 T unsalted butter
12 large shrimp
4 oz. cream cheese
5 oz. Stilton cheese
2 egg yolks
2 t. Chopped Italian parsley
3/4 c heavy cream
Kosher salt and white pepper to taste
1 batch Chive Beurre Blanc (recipe follows)
Cut 6 inch rounds of parchment paper. Roll dough out on lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into 6 5 1/2 inch circles and cover bottom and sides of 4 inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms that have been coated with vegetable oil. Place a round of parchment paper on the dough and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake in preheated 350 oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and take out weights and paper.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add butter and cook shrimp for 1 minute on each side, searing them but not cooking all the way through. Remove shrimp to a plate and season with salt and white pepper.
Combine Stilton and cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add egg yolks, 1 t. parsley and heavy cream. Mix well. Season with salt and white pepper.
Divide the cheese mixture among the tart crusts and place 2 shrimp on top of each. Place tartlets on a baking sheet and bake for about 50 minutes.
To serve, place the tart in the middle of a serving plate and surround with a few tablespoons of Chive Beurre Blanc. Arrange 3 thin slices of pear against the tart and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and parsley.

Pastry Dough

1 1/3 c. All purpose flour
3/4 t. Kosher salt
4 T chilled unsalted butter
1/3 c vegetable shortening
1/4 c cold water

In a mixer bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut the butter into fine cubes and mix into the flour until it resembles fine meal. Add the shortening and mix 30 seconds. Add water and mix only until it combines. Do not overwork. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Chive Buerre Blanc

2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 t canola oil
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 c white wine
1 T white wine vinegar
1/4 c heavy cream
Kosher salt and white pepper to taste
1 T finely chopped chives
Dice the butter and bring to room temperature. Heat oil in a 2 quart saucepan. Sauté onions over medium heat for 2 minutes, but do not allow them to brown. Deglaze with white wine and vinegar and reduce over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated being careful not to brown. Add heavy cream and reduce the mixture by half, whisking occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat, whisk in the butter. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. Season with salt and white pepper and stir in the chives. Keep in a warm place until serving.

OK, there you have it. Though there are several steps to the recipe, it’s not as difficult to prepare as you might think. If you don’t have individual tart pans, I believe it would work fine to use a single removable bottom pan and slice the baked tart into wedges and serve as described with the pears and Chive Buerre Blanc. The recipe makes 6 generous first course servings. With a lovely mixed green salad, I think it would also make a very satisfying casual dinner. You can be sure this is a recipe that won’t be forgotten at our house!

I so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind

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On the Menu Monday