On Food Tours While Traveling

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Michael Ruhlman is one of our nation's great food writers. I also enjoyed reading his memoir HOUSE, about he and his wife's house in Cleveland Heights. I've always found him down to earth and relatable -- despite the fact that he's written some of the most iconic cookbooks you'll find on shelves and has worked with several of the world's best chefs. I probably wouldn't have called him a snob, but then, I wouldn't call *me* a food snob either ... and yet others have.

My point here is I found his New York Times article not only fascinating, but also indicative of the type of experiences we've tried to capture on our travels. We haven't always done food tours on our trips, but we started actively seeking them out after a particularly amazing experience with Maya of Venice Bites Food Tours back in February 2016. Since then, we've had many more terrific experiences in Munich, Copenhagen, Prague, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Florence, and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Honestly, I don't know that our trips to these places would have been half as enjoyable had we not done these small group tours. Our goal on any trip now is to book a food tour our first night in a location so that we get the lay of the land and learn about the city through its food. Then, we can use what we learned that evening (or afternoon) to eat our way through a city for the remainder of our duration there. In Venice, we learned how to order cicchetti, in Munich we went off the beaten path to discover a beer garden for locals, in Prague we learned about "milk" and why it's so important in Czech beer, in Copenhagen we had another unintentionally private tour that included craft beer, porridge, and cheese. In Bordeaux, we visited a boulangerie, fromagerie, and a chocolatier. Every city, a new, highly tailored local experience. Every city, new flavors to enjoy and savor.

And one of the single greatest meals of our life was a truffle hunting excursion in San Gimignano when we were in Italy in 2017 for my 40th birthday. It turned out no one else had booked so we had a private experience with our guide Massimo, and the truffle hunter Fillipo and his dog Birba. Massimo's English was about as good as our Italian, and Fillipo spoke no English except to say, "California ...." and shake his head. But the multi-course truffle feast we had afterward at a nearby agritourismo was unlike anything we'd ever experienced before, and we never would have had we not booked a local food tour.

My only regret is that we didn't start doing these until 2016, because our couple of days in Budapest in November 2015 prior to our Christmas Market Cruise would have been an epic way to see the city. As it was, we did wander around their historic indoor market, but it just wasn't the same as learning about the food, spices, and people from someone local.






























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Rethinking our range alcove design

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Our hearth skeleton was erected just before we went on vacation, and then COVID came and we became pros at self-quarantining—including putting this project on hold. Initially I was upset because it was another delay, but it’s actually proven to be a blessing in disguise since it turns out that while we *loved* our hearth in Dublin, we aren’t loving it now.




I think it’s because in that house I had a huge island directly behind me where I could easily transfer items to while prepping and cooking, and that is obviously not the case with this set up. This design has changed so dramatically since we first started planning this remodel that it occurs to me now that I hadn’t really thought through how using the peninsula as prep space would function. Or rather, not function. Moving from there to the stove with the "walls" of the alcove is a huge old pain in the keister—especially when cooking with heavy Le Creuset pots and pans ... which is what we predominantly use. 

While I would normally feel terrible telling my contractor that we’ve changed our minds and want to explore other options, the right pillar as it was built is actually crooked and therefore needs to be rebuilt anyway, and the vent isn’t properly screwed into the left side so that needs to be addressed as well. Basically, whenever the world gets back to normal, the whole thing has to be substantially altered so there’s no better time to to be having a change of heart.

And speaking of my heart. Every time I think about what we started out wanting and what we ended up getting, it hurts just a little bit. We really spared no expense when it came to this remodel, and given that we're not ending up with anything close to what resembled the kitchen of our dreams, I get heartsick just thinking about it. At least once a day I think about what we could have done differently and the list is loooong.

But, since this is where we are and what we have to work with, I started trolling Houzz and Pinterest to come up with alternatives that didn't dramatically alter the footprint of what we're already working with. These were the two images that most resembled what I think is our best attempt to address the inadequacies of our initial design. We'd still have a large edifice covering the industrial vent, and we'd still make use of the beams were purchased at salvage.





While it's all well and good to look at pictures online, it's a whole other thing to implement them in your own space -- something we've learned the hard way at every turn. With our pitched roof and bank of windows, our kitchen has a different layout than the ones above, so I took a moment to put together a mock-up in Photoshop of what something like this could potentially look like. I don't hate it. (But do I love it? Honestly, I don't know the answer to that question.)


I feel like at this point, no matter what we end up with on this wall, I'm forever going to look at it and realize that nothing turned out the way I'd initially envisioned and the only person I have to blame is myself. When we started tearing down walls and we unearthed that original beam, we sacrificed the bulk of our design to preserve it (rather than tearing it out), and what was once a feature that made me excited is now something I can't look at without thinking it hadn't been there. 

All in all, it just sucks to have spent so much time, energy, effort (and money!) to look at a space and think, "I guess it's all right." 
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#CoronaCooking: Beef Koftka and Hummus with Tzatziki and Pita

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Generally speaking, we are homebodies. We don't really go out all that much, and when we do, it's usually for lunch or a weeknight dinner maybe once every couple of weeks. Cooking at home is my jam, and at first I was undaunted by this quarantine. Cooking at home every night would be easy, I thought. Bring it on, I crowed. Well, here we are on day who-knows-what, and I was finally running out of inspiration. Not so much because I don't have multiple cookbooks to sift through, or thousands of recipes pinned on Pinterest, but because supplies are dwindling and unless I want to have a panic attack in the middle of the grocery store, I'm forced to make do with what's on hand. This generally translates to a lot of pork because apparently every time I went to Costco between October and January I bought a four pack of pork tenderloin for some reason. See also: ground turkey and beef - things we don't normally buy for ourselves except, somehow, in bulk.

Yesterday, after being on our fourteenth day of quarantine (we've only left the house for walks around our small town neighborhood), we were going a bit stir crazy and I decided I needed to get out for a longer than normal walk. This was around 3 p.m., and I realized midway through I had no idea what I was going to do for dinner. I knew I had a pound of grass fed ground beef defrosted in the refrigerator, but the only thing that came to mind was a baked ziti with meat sauce but we've eaten a lot of pasta these past couple of weeks and I was not thrilled about another carb bomb sitting in my belly.

As we rounded a corner, Alan said, "What about those lamb kebab things we like, but with beef?"

It was a lightbulb moment.

We had a tub of tzatziki in the fridge, and olives, and two pitas. Harkening back to my days of grabbing lunch at San Francisco's Oasis Grill with my former co-worker Alex, I also knew we could spice things up with a little bit of harissa paste. All told, we had the makings of an excellent dinner. The only problem? I'd never made koftka and had no idea how to. A quick google search revealed that there really wasn't much to it. In fact, it might be the easiest recipe I've pulled off the internet in awhile. And sure, my plating skills leave much to be desired, but at a time like this, I'm going to focus on substance over beauty. (You'd understand how much so if you saw my four inch roots.)


For those who care, this is the recipe I used:
Beef Kofta Kebabs with Tzatziki from The Modern Proper

And yes, theirs are much more aesthetically pleasing than mine. There is a reason I'm not a food blogger. 😉
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