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2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 3 0

Posted on April 18, 2014 by Sahar

A little late. But here it is…

***********

Friday was my busiest day and it dawned early for me. Too early.

I was up late into Thursday night starting prep for my cooking class and was exhausted by the time I fell into bed.  However, even after 16 years of teaching cooking classes, I never sleep well the night before because I tend to worry too much about everything that might go wrong.

So, long story short, I laid there in bed for another 2 hours trying in vain to go back to sleep.

Then, the alarm went off. It was time to get up and head to the Cowboy Breakfast at Fort Davis.

It was a chilly, overcast morning and perfect for a nice hearty chuck wagon breakfast.

Chuckwagon time.

Chuck wagon time.

Mr. Moreland's pantry.

Mr. Moreland’s pantry.

The chef that morning was Glenn Moreland, a champion amongst chuck wagon cooks.  And, after eating his food, I can see why. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, Dutch-oven Biscuits, and cream gravy with sausage.

Perfect.

Oh… Yeah…

Let's not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

Let’s not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

While we all agreed that while the eggs were very good, but nothing special, the biscuits and cream gravy were the best we’ve ever had.  And, after living in Texas for as long as Mom, Dad, Steve & I have, that’s saying something. It wasn’t greasy, flour-flavored wallpaper paste; it was a lovely, not-too-thick, flavor balanced amalgamation of sausage, flour, and milk.  There are many restauranteurs who should take cream gravy-making lessons from Mr. Moreland.

Then, there were the biscuits.  Fluffy as a new pillow.

Buscuits ready for the campfire.

Biscuits ready for the campfire.

Baking biscuits.

Baking biscuits.

And, of course, our scenery made everything go down easy.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view at breakfast.

The view at breakfast.

After breakfast, Steve & I drove back to Alpine while my parents went with Mom’s friend Betty (we happened to run into at the breakfast) to her home and then took a trip into Marfa for lunch.

I had to get back to the hotel to prep for my class.

On Thursday night, I cut & marinated the meat for the kebabs and cooked the eggplant for the Baba Ghannouj; Friday, I did everything else.  My class was on Middle Eastern Mezze. The menu consisted of:

Hummous

Ful Mudammas

Baba Ghannouj

Fatoush

Shish Kebabs

I taught a very similar menu last year that proved popular, so Stewart & I decided that it would work again.  And, while the prep was easy (especially since I’ve done all these recipes dozens of times), it took me about 4 hours to get everything ready to take to the hotel. So, yeah. I was just a little stressed.

Prep. Whew.

Prep. Whew.

Because I didn’t have any hard-and-fast numbers, I had no idea how much food to make.  So, I went with a triple batch of each recipe.  I figured, if nothing else, I could leave the extra food for the kitchen staff at the hotel.  Actually, my biggest fear was no one except Steve and my parents showing up.

Well, my fears were unfounded. More than 3 people showed.  By Steve’s estimation, I had 25 – 30 for my class. And, I made just enough food.

A few members of the class.

A few members of the class.

A few more students watching me behind the counter.

A few more students watching me behind the counter. I can’t remember what I was making at this point. Either hummous or baba ghannouj.

From my vantage point. And my mess.

From my vantage point. And my mess. Looking at al the food that was already on the counter, I must have been talking about the kebabs.

Stewart joining me at the end.

Stewart joining me at the end.

It was a good group.  They listened, took recipes, asked thoughtful questions, and seemed to enjoy the food.  I admit I felt a strong sense of relief.

Overall, I think the class went well.  There was just enough food for the class with a little left over for the kitchen staff. Except for the kebabs. Those were gone.

I must give credit to William Paynter, the Century Grill General Manager, who was a great help. I couldn’t be more grateful to him and his staff.

At the end of class, after Stewart & I announced the gin-and-oyster party in the Holland Loft Courtyard, I cleaned up and cleared out as quickly as possible so I could get some oysters and put my feet up for a while.  I didn’t really care about the gin drinks. Although I did have a few sips of Mom’s and Steve’s drinks.

Lots of gin.

Lots of gin and mixers.

Oysters. Lots of oysters.  I think I  had 10. I didn't want to seem greedy.

Oysters. Lots of oysters. I think I had 10. I didn’t want to seem too greedy.

The party was actually just outside Steve’s & my room, so we and my parents were able to get our food and drinks and hide out inside.  If we wanted more, we could just walk two steps out the door and partake. Since I hadn’t eaten since the breakfast, I was grateful for the snack.

We chatted for a while, I got cleaned up, and then we headed to our next event: The Tito’s Vodka Cocktail Dinner at the Granada Theater.

The whole event was, in a word, incredible.  The food was catered by the Saddle Club by Chefs Stephen and Jonathan Wood.  The cocktails were mixed by David Allen, whose book “The Tipsy Texan” was an event at the festival in itself.

The dinner started out with a “passed app” of Slow Roasted Cabrito with Avocado Mousse, and salsa on flour tortilla cups.  The cabrito was perfectly cooked – a lovely shredded melt-in-your-mouth treat. The mousse was simple and the salsa added just the right amount of heat.

 

The "Passed App"

The “Passed App”

The cocktail was a mason jar full of the “Little Miss” made with Tito’s (as all the cocktails were), roasted pineapple juice, lime, cinnamon/clove syrup, and bitters.  I only had a small taste of the Little Miss.  Wow.  If you weren’t careful, these could be dangerous.  They tasted almost like a spicy lemonade. (Full disclosure: I’m allergic to cinnamon. So, I only had a small taste of this cocktail and the dessert.) Mom and Steve enjoyed it.  Dad sipped.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

My alternate cocktail.  Basically vodka and ginger beer.

My alternate cocktail. Basically vodka and ginger beer.

The first course was a Pork Belly Carnitas with Marinated Grilled Artichoke Bottom, Pickled Watermelon Radishes, and Bacon Creme.  (For those of you unfamiliar, carnitas is basically pork that’s been braised or roasted then pan fried.)

Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Artichokes aren’t my favorite vegetables, but I’d eat them every day if they could taste like this. The carnitas had just the right amount of flavor, richness, and textures.  And the creme; well, everything’s better with bacon.  The pickled radishes added just the right amount of contrast to the rest of the dish and cut right through the richness.

First Course

First Course

The paired cocktail was “Southern Days”.  It was made with vodka, watermelon, mint, and sugar.  A very refreshing summer-sipping-on-the-porch cocktail.

Refreshing

Refreshing

The main course was Jalapeno Rubbed Beef Tenderloin, Bacon & Pepper Jack Hominy Cassoulet, Chayote Squash, and Fire-Roasted Jalapeno Cream.

This was my favorite course, hands down.  The tenderloin was at least 4-5 ounces of Chateaubriand cut cooked to a well-rested medium rare.  While I don’t believe the tenderloin is the most flavorful cut of beef (or any animal for that matter), Chef Stephen found a way to make its grass-fed goodness shine.

I think I found a new way to make chayote squash – a vegetable I rarely use.  I should’ve asked him how he made it, but it seemed to me to be very simply pan seared.  It still had some crunch to it.

One of my favorite foods is hominy.  And by pairing it with bacon and cheese, it was moved to new hights of possibilities.

And the Bacon Creme? What do you think?

Main Course

Main Course

The paired cocktail was “Tito’s Martinez”.  Made with vodka, Carpano Antica (a sweet vermouth), Luxardo Maraschino (a cherry liqueur), and bitters, it acted as a digestif to help counteract the richness of the course.

Dad didn’t like it.  Mom & I split it.

Strong.

Strong.

Sadly, I didn’t get to try to much of dessert: Sopapilla Cheesecake.  It looked like a wonderful amalgamation of creaminess with a cinnamon brulee crust.  I did try a couple of bites of Dad’s portion and detected coconut as well.  However, no one else could confirm this.

Steve's dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

Steve’s dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

The final cocktail more than made up for my lack of dessert experience: the “Iceberg”.  Made with vodka and frozen Cremes de Menthe and Cacao it tasted like melted chocolate chip mint ice cream.  I was only sorry they served it to us in shot glasses.

Yum.

Yum.

After the meal and some well-deserved applause for Chef Stephen and his crew, we made it back to our room in a relatively straight line.

After discussing meeting up at the Farmers Market the next morning and relaxing a bit, Mom & Dad went back to their hotel.

Steve & I were in bed by 10.  We’re old.

 

Day 4.  Soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 2 0

Posted on April 12, 2014 by Sahar

Thursday started a bit earlier than Wednesday.  Well, truth be told, much earlier.  Not only was it Park Day, but it was also moving day.

A little background.  When we arrived at the Holland on Wednesday, we found out that the room we were originally booked for (more specifically, a loft) wouldn’t be ready for us until Thursday.  So, we were put in a regular room for Wednesday night.  The hotel would move our things the next day; but, of course, we needed to be packed up.

Fine.  Although, I kinda felt bad for the person who had to move our stuff.  It was more than the usual suitcases.  We also had a cooler and bins full of food and accoutrements needed for my class at the Holland on Friday.

After cleaning up and packing, Steve & I went to grab a quick breakfast from the hotel spread.  It was the usual variety of pastries, cereal, and granola.  I will say, though, it was certainly a step above the average hotel breakfast fare.

 

Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were grreat.

Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were great.

And what's a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

And what’s a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

After breakfast, we went to pick up my parents at their hotel for another sojourn to Big Bend National Park.  Steve & I have been there, oh, I think, 10 times now. Dad, a couple of times.  Mom had never been, so we decided now would be as a good a time as any to take her.  Plus, it always seems to be just a little different every time we go.

But first, a quick stop in Marathon.  Mom had to go to the post office.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Task completed, we headed down the road to the park. For those of you who haven’t been out here before, nothing is close together.  The three largest towns out here – Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis – are all 30 minutes away from each other and the park itself is an hour from Marathon (or, as the locals call it, Marath’n).  If you factor in getting to the park headquarters (which is what the road signs measure), it’s almost 2 hours from Alpine.  But, the scenery makes the drive worth it.

Driving to the park.

Driving to the park.

If you leave early enough in the day, you will (hopefully) see the buzzards sitting on the fence posts with their wings spread warming themselves up.  They’re sinfully ugly and kinda gross birds, but they’re fun to observe.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

If you want to take pictures of buzzards (or any carrion bird), you have to be careful.  If you startle them, their preferred method of defense is throwing up the contents of their stomach. And, since they eat already dead things, you can just imagine the smell.  Well, maybe you can’t.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

On into the park.  We just hit the time between the wildflowers and the cactus blooms.  So, not much color foliage-wise, but still, as always, beautiful in its own desert way.

Chisos Mountains.

Chisos Mountains and the Chihuhuan Desert

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Big sky.

Big sky.

Yucca in the desert.

Yucca in the desert.

i can only guess at the size of tarantula that's in this nest.

I can only guess at the size of tarantula that’s in this nest.

Looking up.

Looking up.

After the many stops requested by Dad & me so we could take photos, we finally made it to the park headquarters, Panther Junction.  So, we decided to eat lunch at the lodge in the park.  The Chisos Mountain Lodge.

Lunch was, in a word, dull. The food was edible but, like all places that cater to large, diverse crowds, boring.  The best part of the meal was the appetizer, Texas Toothpicks.  Basically, deep-fried onion and pickled jalapeño pieces.  They weren’t greasy and the dipping sauce – a kind of chili-mayonnaise thing – that wasn’t bad.

Texas Toothpicks.  The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were 4 of us eating.

Texas Toothpicks. The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were four of us eating.

Mom went for a BLT. She says it’s the only sandwich she eats at restaurants because it’s not too messy.  She said it was good.

Mom's BLT with fruit on the side.

Mom’s BLT with fruit on the side. Everything looked fresh.

Dad went for a burger.  He said it was dry.  The pattie definitely looked like it had been cooked immediately from its frozen state.

Dad's burger.

Dad’s burger.

Steve & I both opted for the fish tacos. Bland doesn’t even begin to describe the flavor. We liberally poured on the appetizer dipping sauce to help out. It did. Kinda. It also looked as if they tried to warm up the tortillas but waited too long to get them to the table, because by the time we got them, the tortillas were stiff and dry.

The rice and beans were good, though.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

After lunch, we decided to take a short walk around the Basin.  We’ve made this walk before but never during the daylight hours.  So, it was nice to see the Window in its daytime glory.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

Heading out.

Heading out.

At the south entrance.

At the south entrance.

We came in through the north entrance, as we always do, but decided to leave via the south entrance heading towards Terlingua. We wanted to stop at the General Store there and check out the ghost town.

Steve & I have been to Terlingua Ghost Town maybe 5 or 6 times at this point. Sadly, it becomes more and more dilapidated every time.  The ravages of time and humans have taken their toll.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town

Terlingua Ghost Town

We made a quick stop in the General Store for some t-shirts and Topo Chico. (For those of you who don’t know, Topo Chico is a Mexican carbonated mineral water.) Then, the 90-minute drive back to Alpine.

We dropped my parents off at their hotel and went back to ours to get the keys to our new room and clean up for the Viva Big Bend Food Festival opening night party.

Stewart had reserved a loft for Steve & me.  I needed it so I could prep for my class the next day without getting in the way of the kitchen staff at the hotel restaurant.  When we finally walked in, we were thrilled.  A nice large living area with a serviceable kitchenette and a huge bedroom area with a whirlpool tub and large bathroom.

Jackpot.

We cleaned up and headed towards the party at the Railroad Blues, a great music venue in Alpine.  The local telecom company was giving away free fajitas and coozies with magnets. Very handy.

Dinner. Perfect.

Dinner. Perfect.

The fajitas were very good. Most of the time, the skirt steak is so undercooked, the meat is chewy.  This time the meat was cooked through and was very tender. (Although, admittedly, I don’t know what cut of meat this was.) Plus, they didn’t overdress the fajitas.  Just grilled onions, peppers, and some excellent salsa. Steve got us both seconds. After my parents arrived, he went with Dad to get food and got himself a third one.

After conversing with my parents and Stewart, Steve & I went back to the hotel to begin prep for my class.  Mission accomplished, I went to bed.

 

Day 3… Coming up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 1 0

Posted on April 10, 2014 by Sahar

Yes. Husband Steve & I are out in the gloriousness that is Far West Texas. Again. Honestly, it’s one of those places where I look for any excuse to go.  Like New York.

I was invited back to teach and help out at the 2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival (http://www.vivabigbend.com/food_events.html) by its founder, Stewart Ramser.  I gladly said yes.  Stewart’s a great guy and I certainly hope I can play at least some small part in helping this festival succeed.

But first, Steve & I, along with my parents who met us out here, had a day and a half to entertain ourselves.

On our way out from Austin, Steve & I, as is our wont, stopped in Fredericksburg for some leg stretching, lunch, and gas for the car. (As an aside, since we are now down to one household car, we decided to rent one for this trip. It’s a behemoth that I’m terrified to drive.)

We stopped for lunch at a little bakery/deli on Main Street called Java Ranch.  Steve had a club sandwich while I had a BLT.  Simple sandwiches that you have to work really hard at to screw up.  The sandwiches were good, if serviceable. Nothing of note, really.

Steve's Club Sandwich.

Steve’s Club Sandwich.

My BLT

My BLT

After eating, grabbing a cookie for me, an iced latte for Steve, and filling up the car, we were on our way once again.

Something about this that chases the blue meanies away.

Something about this that chases the Blue Meanies away.

Sigh...

Sigh…

Breathe...

Breathe…

Steve & I finally made it to Alpine about 6:30.  We checked into our room at the beautiful Holland Hotel (http://thehollandhoteltexas.com), cleaned up, changed, and headed to pick up my parents at their hotel.  We were off to Marfa to dine at one of our favorite restaurants, Cochineal (http://cochinealmarfa.com).

Steve & I chose to take my parents to Cochineal because we both knew they, and especially my mom, would enjoy it.  Their food is exquisite (not a word I use lightly in reference to food), their wine list is excellent, and their cocktails are outstanding.  And the space? A quiet minimalism.

We started off with cocktails. Well, all of us except Dad.  He opted for Diet Coke.

Dad's Diet Coke.

Dad’s Diet Coke. His drink of choice.

Mom's Campari.  Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She'll know.

Mom’s Campari. Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She’ll know.

Steve's Gold Rush.

Steve’s Gold Rush. He said it was very bourbon-y. He drank it down, though.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it's my favorite.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it’s my favorite.

Next came the bread.  It tasted like a sourdough with a very dark hearty crust and a soft crumb.  It was served with a soft butter sprinkled with black sea salt. Lovely.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Next came the appetizers; or, as listed on the menu, small plates.  When they came to the table, my family being my family, we finished them all in less than 10 minutes.  By no means a record.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn't as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it was a very good effort.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it had great flavors and was a very good effort.

Scalloped Oysters.  This was a kind of throwback dish.  They were baked in a cream sauce with crakers on top. The oysters weren't overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Scalloped Oysters. This was a kind of throwback dish. They were baked in a cream sauce with crackers on top. The oysters weren’t overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Vegetable Tempura.  Well, Cochineal's version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn't the usual heavy tempura batter.  Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

Vegetable Tempura. Well, Cochineal’s version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn’t the usual heavy tempura batter. Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

After this repast, it was on to the main entrees. Everyone was very happy with their choices.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Dad’s choice: Pork Tenderloin with a Herb Sauce with Crispy Crushed New Potatoes and Asparagus. I suspect the potatoes were purple new potatoes.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Mom & Steve’s choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.  Mom said her steak was cooked perfectly.  Steve just ate.

My choice:  Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I'm not sure what the vegetables were confit in, but I'm guessing clarified butter.  The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish.  And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

My choice: Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I’m not sure what the vegetables were confire in, but I’m guessing clarified butter. The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish. And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

Dessert was a bit limited.  The one item Mom wanted, the Ginger Pot du Creme, was apparently an aspirational dessert and, according to our server, wasn’t good enough to actually serve to customers.  The other dessert, Creme Brûlée, was sold out.  So, that left Carrot Cake and Chocolate Souffle with a Molten Center.  You can guess which one we went with.

That's right. The Chocolate Souffle.

That’s right. The Chocolate Souffle.

The molten center. As far as I'm concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle.  It had great flavor, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

The molten center. As far as I’m concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle. It had great flavor and the crust had a slightly crispy chewiness that I liked, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

Overall, our meal was wonderful.  This was the second time Steve & I had been to Cochineal and both times have been a delight.  It’s definitely a destination restaurant; no doubt about that.  Even if you lived in the area, this would be a special occasion place.

Mom pointed out that not only was it an excellent meal, but the portions were reasonable.  She said (and I agree with this) that she would rather pay more for a good meal she can actually finish than pay less for a meal where she either stuffed herself or couldn’t finish.

After a walk around a closed and rolled-up-for-the-night-Marfa, we drove back to Alpine, dropped my parents off at their hotel, went back to ours and promptly fell asleep.

Because we knew Thursday was park day.

 

Next up… Day 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamaican Odyssey, Part 2 2

Posted on February 25, 2014 by Sahar

Moving on…

The next 2 days of the trip were the days Steve & I were looking forward to the most.  We were finally leaving the resort to see something of the “Real Jamaica”.

Day 3  January 31, Friday

Steve & I started off the day quite excited of what we were about to experience. But first, a small breakfast.

We decided to go with room service one last time and just get a fruit plate and juice.

Day 3 breakfast. How fruit can be so mediocre on an island filled with amazing indigenous produce is amazing to me.

Day 3 breakfast. How fruit can be so mediocre on an island filled with amazing indigenous produce is unfathomable to me.

Sigh… At least the pineapple was edible.

After this disappointment, we headed downstairs to wait for our guide.  We didn’t have to wait long.

I will say that Steve hit the jackpot in our tour guide, the wonderful Lynda Lee Burks.  She is an American ex-pat who has lived in Jamaica full time for most of the last 20 years.  She has her own tour company that focuses on specialized tours, Jamaica Tour Society (http://www.jamaicatoursociety.com).  She was a wonderful guide and companion for the next two days.  I love her.

Steve & I wanted to go into Montego Bay to visit the produce market and look for some music.  We also wanted to try the national dish of Jamaica, Ackee and Saltfish.  Lynda Lee said she rarely gets requests to go into the city, so she was happy to take us.

The market was a maze of sensory experiences.  They sell everything there from tobacco to clothes to kitchenware to produce.  I’m not sure of the age of the market, but considering the importance of the city as a port, the market has likely survived in one form or another for at least 350 years.  However, the building we saw along with the current fixtures was probably built in the early- to mid-twentieth century.

Some of the bounty at the Montego Bay market.

Some of the bounty at the Montego Bay Market.

As we began walking around the market, it was clear to me that this is a country that takes a lot of pride in its food.  While some of the produce was imported (we saw huge bags of onions, carrots, and potatoes), most of it was native grown.

Lynda Lee also gave me some advice as we began walking around: Always ask to take someone’s photo.  If you don’t, if seen as an invasion of privacy and/or they think you’re a journalist looking to make money off of them.  Since I’m not one who would naturally walk up to random strangers and ask to take their photos, I found the easiest way to approach this is to buy something from the stand. I figured the vendors would be much more receptive.  Luckily, they were.

Pumpkin and Soursop. I'd never heard of saoursop before this. It was quite the revelation.

Pumpkin and Soursop. I’d never heard of soursop before this. It was quite the revelation. It is sour in its underripe state and gets sweeter as it ripens.

Otaheiti Apples. These are actually indigenous to the Pacific Islands. They grow well in tropical climates, and are grown and extremely popular in Jamaica.

Otaheiti Apples. These are actually indigenous to the Pacific Islands. They grow well in tropical climates, and are grown and extremely popular in Jamaica.

Papayas, known as Pawpaw in Jamaica.

Papayas, known as Pawpaw in Jamaica.

As we moved through the market, we did run across a stand that had the components of one of the national dish of Jamaica: Ackee.  It has a mild, creamy flavor and texture that works well with the very salty fish in the dish.

Ackee. These are indigenous to west Africa and were probably brought to Jamaica abord slave ships.

Ackee. These are indigenous to west Africa and were probably brought to Jamaica aboard slave ships.  Parts of the fruit are toxic: so, if prepared improperly or eaten underripe, it can lead to severe hypoglycemia.

Bananas still on the stalk.

Bananas still on the stalk.

After walking around a bit more, we all decided we were hungry enough to stop by one of Lynda Lee’s favorite cook shops in the market and finally get our Ackee & Saltfish.

And, here are the ladies who made us this culinary delight.  Esther and Janet.

Ester and Janet. They introduced Steve & I to Ackee & Saltfish. And, they were absolutely lovely.

Esther and Janet. They introduced Steve & me to Ackee & Saltfish. They were absolutely sweet and lovely.

Their tiny cook shop in the market seems to be quite popular. It was actually one of the first places we stopped when we got into the market.  After Lynda Lee chatted with them for a few minutes (she knows them well; they usually have roasted breadfruit, one of Lynda Lee’s favorites, in season), Janet agreed to set aside some of the Ackee & Saltfish for us when we came back by.  They apparently sell out quickly.

To prepare the recipe, salt cod is soaked and boiled (although Janet used mackerel that morning), then sautéed with the cleaned ackee, onions, habanero (Scotch Bonnet) peppers, tomatoes, and black pepper and allspice (pimento). It  is usually served as breakfast with breadfruit (when it’s in season), tomatoes, fried or boiled dumplings, boiled yams, and fried plantain or boiled green bananas.

All I can say is: Wow.

Our real breakast on Friday. And, finally, a taste of the real Jamaica.

Our real breakfast on Friday. And, finally, a taste of the real Jamaica.

Ackee & Saltfish. Absolutely delicious.

Ackee & Saltfish. Absolutely delicious. Typically, it’s made with salt cod. That morning, Janet made it with mackerel. I’ve never had mackerel, so I had two new food experiences in one.

The full breakfast was Ackee & Saltfish, boiled yams, sweet potato, tomatoes, fried dumplings, and boiled bananas.

Like many cuisines in developing nations, starch figures pretty prominently in Jamaican cuisine.  It’s a cheap, generally nutritious, and filling way to receive one’s sustenance.  Not that I’m opposed to starch.

After we ate breakfast, we moved next door so Steve could speak with a gentleman named Bunny so he could buy some old-school Jamaican music.

Bunny's shop.

Bunny’s shop. Or, it may have just been a sign that Steve liked.

Steve and Bunny listening to music. I think Steve bought 5 cd's.

Steve and Bunny listening to music. I think Steve bought 5 cd’s.

While Lynda Lee and I were waiting for Steve to finish up with Bunny, we watch a gentleman dance to the old-school dub that was coming out of the speakers.  But, I didn’t want to pay him for taking his photo (which can happen). So, I just have the memory.

After Steve bought his cd’s, we wandered around a bit more as we worked our way out of the market.

Pineapples. These were a smaller variety than we're used to seeing here.

Pineapples. These were a smaller variety than we’re used to seeing here.

This gentleman was an artist in pineapple carving. I think he rather enjoyed having his picture taken.

This gentleman was an artist in pineapple carving. I think he rather enjoyed having his picture taken.

Yams. These and other starches like potatoes and cassava are quite prominent are Jamaican cuisine.

Yams. These and other starches like potatoes and cassava are quite prominent in Jamaican cuisine.

Scotch Bonnet Peppers. Otherwise known here as Habaneros.

Scotch Bonnet Peppers. Otherwise known here as Habaneros.

Sorrel flowers.  They are generally used to make tea and are a traditional rememdy to clear up respiratory inflammation.

Sorrel flowers. They are generally used to make tea and are a traditional remedy to clear up respiratory inflammation.

Nutmeg with the mace still on.  The redder the mace, the fresher the nut. I bought some and nver have to but nutmeg or mace ever again.

Nutmeg with the mace still on. The redder the mace, the fresher the nut. I bought some and never have to buy nutmeg or mace ever again.

Bags of spices.

Bags of spices.

Various flavorings, traditonal remedies, molasses, and chocolate.

Various flavorings, traditional remedies, molasses, and chocolate.

Another of the wonderful people in the market. I bought some Jamaican chocolate from her.

Another of the wonderful people in the market.

One of the old-school vendor stands.  You could conceiveably have 6 vendors at one stand.

One of the old-school vendor stands. You could conceivably have 6 vendors at one stand.

As we left the market, I needed to change some money, so Lynda Lee took us over to Andy’s Market.  It is directly across from the produce market and gets quite the trade in money exchange and simply making change.  It looks like a dry goods store, but the money exchange takes place in a rather strange way (to us anyway). High above the floor is a room where someone will reach down while you reach up with your cash, they will take it, count it, and give you the exchange. It’s all very efficient.  Given the crime rate in Jamaica, it makes sense to have the extra cash as difficult to get to as possible.

Lynda Lee told me that all (or most) of the markets (dry goods and grocery stores) in Jamaica are owned by Chinese.  After emancipation in 1838, Chinese were brought over as indentured servants.  Over the years, after the practice was ended in 1920, the Chinese went into the mercantile business.  Their descendants and more recent immigrants have become very successful and have, of course, become a very important part of the Jamaican economy.

After this, we drove to downtown Montego Bay. Steve was on a mission to find Empire Records.

Downtown Montego Bay. It still has some elements of Georgian archetecture.

Downtown Montego Bay. It still has some elements of Georgian architecture.

There was this gem.

There was this gem. It was called “The Cage”.

The short history behind "The Cage".

The short history behind “The Cage”.

Downtown Montego Bay looking from Sam Sharpe Square.

Downtown Montego Bay looking from Sam Sharpe Square.

Statues of Sam Sharpe and 4 of his followers.

Statues of Sam Sharpe and 4 of his followers.

Sam Sharpe was a slave who was the leader of the Jamaican Baptist War of 1832.  He was unusually, for the times, well educated and his fellow slaves looked to and respected.  He became a leader and deacon of his church who preached about the evils of slavery. While he initially preached peaceful resistance to slavery, in December 1831, the resistance turned violent.  Plantation owners retaliated against the slaves and, in turn, the slaves burned the crops.  Hundreds of slaves and 14 whites were killed in the ensuing violence.  Within a few weeks, the rebellion was put down and the leaders of the resistance, including Sharpe, were captured and hung.   Sharpe is considered a Jamaican hero and along with the statue in Montego Bay, he is also on the Jamaican $50 bill.

While we went on the quest to find this seemingly phantom record store, we were able to get a good look around the city.  It is a mix of Georgian and somewhat modern architecture painted in bright Caribbean colors.  Everyone seemed to have a purpose and a destination to get to, even if there wasn’t one.  It’s also a very young country; Lynda Lee told me the average age is under 30.  Everyone seems to have a dignity that one simply doesn’t see in many places.  And, everyone we spoke to was simply so lovely and kind.

A perfect example of this observation was this man: The Gospel Man.

The Gospel Man. Note his cart.  All hand arts in Jamaica have the wheel on the end to help steer.  This is what made the Jamaicans believe they could field a bobsled team.

The Gospel Man. He was blasting the sweet sounds of old-school gospel.  Steve bought some music from him, too.

Note his cart. All hand carts in Jamaica have the wheel on the end to help steer. This is what made the Jamaicans believe they could field a bobsled team.

After a bit more searching and general confusion about its exact location, we finally found the fabled Empire Records.    It was basically stacks of vinyl in a lottery shop.

Steve searching through the stacks. He said they were pretty picked over.  After all the searching he only found one record he was looking for.

Steve searching through the stacks. He said they were pretty picked over. After all the searching he only found one record he was looking for.

Steve said that he could’ve gone all day just searching through the thousands of 45’s that were there (at one time the music means of choice in Jamaica).  But, since Lynda Lee and I were waiting for him, he decided against it.

After this, we decided despite the rather substantial breakfast, we were hungry again.  So, it was off to Tastee’s for Jamaican Meat Patties (apparently this is the place to go; it’s like the McDonalds of Jamaica – only better http://www.tasteejamaica.com).  They’re a direct descendant of the English pasty.

Authentic Jamaican Meat Patties. Delicious.

Authentic Jamaican Meat Patties. Delicious.  One was a traditional style while one also had cheese.

The filling  was ground meat, most often beef, but it can be filled with other meats or even seafood, in a sauce and spiced with pepper, allspice, and some chiles.  The crust is flaky (the yellow color comes from either egg yolks or turmeric in the dough).

We kinda became addicted to these.  I really need to find a good source for frozen ones.  Or, better yet, learn how to make them.

After Tastee’s, we made our way back to Lynda Lee’s car for the ride back to the resort.  But, one last stop: Scotchies.  Scotchies is a very popular spot with locals and tourists alike.  They have an extensive menu of jerk items, sausage, and fish.

The popular Scotchies on the road from Montego Bay

The popular Scotchies on the road from Montego Bay

We opted to buy a little each of a lot of things:  jerk chicken, jerk pork, pork sausage, and grilled fish.  This, along with some produce from the market would be our dinner.

As a quick explanation, jerk seasoning is basically a dry rub or paste that is rubbed, traditionally, on pork or chicken.  It can be, however, used on other meats or even tofu. The two main ingredients in jerk seasoning are allspice (pimento) and habanero (Scotch Bonnet) peppers.  other spices can include cinnamon, black pepper, garlic, nutmeg, thyme, and salt.  Like any other indigenous spice blends in the world, it has hundreds of variations depending on the region and family.  The meat is traditionally cooked on pimento wood (allspice trees). But, you’re just as likely to find street vendors cooking jerk chicken over charcoal in barrels.

One of the cooks tending to the jerk chicken and pork at Scotchies

One of the cooks tending to the jerk chicken and pork at Scotchies.  Here, he’s cooking it over a charcoal pit with the pimento wood on top.  The corrugated sheet is placed on top to help keep the meat hot.

After this, Lynda Lee took us back to the resort.  We agreed to meet at 8am saturday morning.

She left.  We took our goodies upstairs, changed into our swimsuits and went down to the beach for a while.

Finally, we decided to eat dinner.  What we brought back was infinitely  better than the resort food.

The friut course: Pineapple, Apples, Papaya, Soursop

The fruit course: Pineapple, Otaheiti Apples, Papaya, Soursop

The inside of the Soursop. Lynda Lee picked this one out for us and it was perfect.  The texture was creamy and the flavor was jsut the right balance of sweet and sour.  There are seeds in the pulp, but they are hard enough that you'll catch them before you bite through them.

The inside of the Soursop. Lynda Lee picked this one out for us and it was perfect. The texture was creamy and the flavor was just the right balance of sweet and sour. There are seeds in the pulp, but they are hard enough that you’ll catch them before you bite through them.

The papaya. It was just short of being overripe.  I did try ome of the seeds.  They taste like raw radishes.

The papaya. It was just short of being overripe. I did try some of the seeds. They taste like raw radishes.

The apple.  The texture was unusual in that it looked like cotton but it was juicy with a good crunch to it.  The flavor is like almost like a mild apple (like a Golden Delicious) crossed with flowers.  Roses came to mind for me.

The apple. The texture was unusual in that it looked like cotton but it was juicy with a good crunch to it. The flavor is like almost like a mild apple (like a Golden Delicious) crossed with flowers. Roses came to mind for me.

The apple seed.  I thought briefly about bringng it home.  However, I'd've probably been breaking about 10 federal laws, so I opted to leave it.

The apple seed. I thought briefly about bringing it home. However, I’d’ve probably been breaking about 10 federal laws, so I opted to leave it.

Now, for the meat course.

The best of Scotchies

The best of Scotchies. From top right: Pork Sausage; Grilled Fish; Jerk Chicken; Jerk Pork

The fish was cooked with vegetables and chiles and steamed in foil.  Almost like an escabeche style.  The pork was tenderloin and very tender and flavorful.  The chicken, if a little dry, had a good spiciness to it.  Steve’s favorite was the pork sausage.  It had a good, if course, texture and a spicy flavor.  It all had a kick to it that I’m guessing is ubiquitous in Jamaican cooking.

We concluded that it was the best food day we’d had on the trip.  Well, the best day we’d had so far.

But, Saturday was coming and Lynda Lee was taking us out into the countryside.

 

Day 4, Saturday, February 1

Lynda Lee met us downstairs at 8am ready to take Steve & me into the wilderness.  We first made a stop in Montego Bay at a cook shop known as Poor Man’s Pelican for, what else? Ackee & Saltfish. Hey, eat what the natives eat.  It’s usually better.

Poor Man's Pelican.

Poor Man’s Pelican.

The breakfast here was a little different from the one in the market on Friday: The Ackee & Saltfish was made with the traditional salt cod instead of mackerel, the dumplings were boiled instead of fried, the yams were again boiled, and there was also a side of steamed & shredded cabbage.

Breakfast. This'll set you up for the day.

Breakfast. This’ll set you up for the day.

The more traditional Ackee & Saltfish made with salt cod.

The more traditional Ackee & Saltfish made with salt cod.

I can’t really compare the two.  They were equally delicious, but different.  I will say, though, I did like the boiled dumplings more than the fried.  And, the Ackee & Saltfish at Poor Man’s Pelican was a bit oilier (which probably helps to explain the boiled dumplings – soaks up some of the oil).

After breakfast, we headed the opposite direction towards the south and west coasts of the island.  We had an eventual goal in mind: The Pelican Bar in Pelican Bay.

The Jamaican countryside is not at all what I expected it to be.  I was thinking it would be all palm trees and sand.  The stereotypical vision of what a Caribbean island should look like.  Well, I was wrong.  It ranged from lush and green to hilly to brown and scrubby the further west and south we went.

No exactly the countryside, but we thought this sign was funny.

No exactly the countryside, but we thought this sign was funny.

Pictures from the car: Orange groves

Pictures from the car: Orange groves. I had no idea there were groves in Jamaica. Makes sense, really.

Pictures from the car: Fire Tops. They get their name from the red flowers that grow at the top of the trees.  I wish they grew closer to the ground so I caould get a better look at them.

Pictures from the car: Fire Tops. They get their name from the red flowers that grow at the top of the trees. I wish they grew closer to the ground so I could get a better look at them.

Picures from the car: Managed to get a good photo of this cook shop.  I wonder how the food is there.

Pictures from the car: Managed to get a good photo of this cook shop. I wonder how the food is there.

Pictures from the car: More Fire Tops with some hills.

Pictures from the car: More Fire Tops and the hills.

The island is ringed with basically one major highway (the A2) with smaller roads and spurs coming off of it.  Outside of the major towns, much of it is basically a two-lane road (at least what we drove on), and depending on the parish administration, can either be a well maintained road or a rut-filled dirt track.

I was admittedly reluctant to ask Lynda Lee to stop so I could take photos because there were essentially no shoulders.  One side of the road was rock face and the other was drop off into a deep valley. I finally worked up the nerve to ask her to stop and pull over so I could take a few photos.  We picked a good place.

I'm not sure what town we stopped near (it was somewhere between Ferris Cross and Bluefields; possibly Cave).  This was a neighborhood bar that wasn't yet open for the day's business.  They obviously serve Red Stripe.

I’m not sure what town we stopped near (it was somewhere between Ferris Cross and Bluefields; possibly Cave). This was a neighborhood bar that wasn’t yet open for the day’s business. They obviously serve Red Stripe.

Jamaican Cat. Being a cat person, I can appreciate this.

Jamaican Cat. Being a cat person, I can appreciate this.

Breadfruit Tree.  They weren't in season yet, so we didn't get to try them.  You can just see the fruit in the tree.

Breadfruit Tree. They weren’t in season yet, so we didn’t get to try them. You can just see the fruit in the tree.

They're a little difficult to see, but if you look closely, you can see some white peeking through the foliage.  Those are above-gound tombs.  Think New Orleans.  Only in the family backyard.

They’re a little difficult to see, but if you look closely, you can see some white peeking through the foliage. Those are above-ground tombs. Think New Orleans. Only in the family backyard.

After we had been there a few minutes, a gentleman walked up to us to see if we needed help.  When Lynda Lee explained we were just looking around, he started talking to us about the fruit that he had in his hands – sweetcups.  They are relatives of the passionfruit and crack just like eggs.

Underrripe Sweet Cup. He said they are very sour at this point.  Aren't those magnificant hands?

Underripe Sweet Cup. He said they are very sour at this point. Aren’t those magnificent hands?

Ripe Sweet Cup.  He said at this point they're very sweet.

Ripe Sweet Cup. He said at this point they’re very sweet.

While Lynda & I were talking to him, a lady walked up to see what was going on.  She and Steve began talking.  From what he could glean from their conversation (we were pretty deep into the country by now, so her Patois accent was quite thick), she was on her way to a funeral.  The man was shot, she said, and his body was frozen until they could bring him home. She was quite open about it.

She was dressed in what was likely her best clothes and wanted Steve to take her picture; so he did.

The lady on her way to a funeral. She just wanted her picture taken.

The lady on her way to a funeral. She just wanted her picture taken. Her shoes were magnificent. They had beaded snowmen on them.

After a few more nature shots:

I suspect this snail died of old age given the size of the shell. Who knows.  I didn't keep it.  There was something rattling around in there.

I suspect this snail died of old age given the size of the shell. Who knows. I didn’t keep it. There was something rattling around in there.

Ferns on the rockface on the opposite side of the road. I really had to watch for cars.

Ferns on the rock face on the opposite side of the road. I really had to watch for cars.

On the rockface.

On the rock face.

Soon, we were off again.

Steve and Lynda Lee headed to the car.

Steve and Lynda Lee headed to the car.

 

Our next stop was the small fishing village of Bluefields.  Lynda Lee had done some work there with USAID about 10 years or so ago and wanted to show us around a bit.

Fishing boats at Bluefields

Fishing boats at Bluefields

Looking out into the bay at Bluefields

Looking out into the bay at Bluefields

Fishermen working on their boats

Fishermen working on their boats

 

She said that while USAID basically provided the funding and got the program going, the local fishermen took it upon themselves to clean up the bay, begin fishing further out into the sea, and allow the fish to repopulate the bay.  They learned how to manage a sustainable fishing model.

One of the other things they started in Bluefields is a recycling program. All recycling barrels should be this festive.

One of the other things they started in Bluefields is a recycling program. All recycling barrels should be this festive.

As is my wont, I started wandering around.

A very petrified starfish inside a fish trap.

A very petrified starfish inside a fish trap.

Another one of Jamaica's beautiful flowers.

Another one of Jamaica’s beautiful flowers.  Lynda Lee said these are basically a wildflower that grows all over the island, but she couldn’t remember the name.

Boats in various stages of construction.

Boats in various stages of construction.

We all liked the name of this boat

We all liked the name of this boat

Steve & Lynda Lee

Steve & Lynda Lee

We continued on our way from Bluefields to the Pelican Bar.

The Pelican Bar has become quite the attraction since it was first built in 2001.  It was built originally by a fisherman, Floyd Forbes, as a place where he and his fellow fishermen could hang out after a day’s work.  He built it in Pelican Bay (so named because of the large number of pelicans who nest and roost there) on a sandbar.  Before long, the local hotels saw the potential of promoting the bar as a way to attract tourists to the area. In 2004, the bar was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan.  Floyd didn’t have the money to rebuild. However, a local hotel owner donated money and materials so the Pelican Bar could rebuild.

And a legend was born.

Before we left to go to the bar, Lynda Lee pulled out a rather sinister looking tool and told us that it was used to open jelly coconuts.  That’s when I learned jelly coconuts are simply fully ripe coconuts that haven’t dried yet (becoming the coconuts we’re all familiar with).  She cut the stem out with this tool – it looked like a very thin, curved, sharp trowel – and we all had a refreshing glass of jelly coconut water.

Lynda Lee and the jelly coconut

Lynda Lee and the jelly coconut

The bar itself is about a 10-minute boat ride from shore.  You simply hire a boat to take you out and the bartender will call when you’re ready to be picked up. Or, you can also set a time for the driver to pick you up. I think.

Our first glimpse of the Pelican Bar.

Our first glimpse of the Pelican Bar. That’s it on the horizon.

Once you get up to the bar, the driver ties the boat to the steps and you carefully get out.

This is the first thing Steve & I saw when we stepped inside:

Austin was here.

Austin was here.

Obviously, some people brought memorabilia to leave here and there is a lot of carving of names in the wood:

The leavings of previous visitors

The leavings of previous visitors

More visitor memorabiia

More visitor memorabilia. There was also more “Keep Austin Weird” stuff.

Steve & I both looked at each other and said, “Who brings a license plate on vacation?”.

After getting past the tourist-left rubbish, I made a point to just enjoy the beauty of the place.

The Pelican Bar in all its rustic charm

The Pelican Bar in all its rustic charm

The pelican roost.  There awere a lot of them out that day.

The pelican roost. There were a lot of them out that day.

Lynda Lee went snorkeling, Steve was inside drinking a Red Stripe, and I sat on the steps in the water and just decided to revel in the sounds of the sea.

The Caribbean was litlerally chest deep here.

The Caribbean was literally chest deep here.

Lynda Lee was snorkeling out there somewhere

Lynda Lee was snorkeling out there somewhere

After awhile, I moved to the back to dry off and get a little more sun.  Steve got in the sea and swam a bit while Lynda Lee joined me.

Interesting juxposition, I thought.

Interesting juxtaposition, I thought.

One more view from the Pelican Bar

One more view from the Pelican Bar

While Lynda Lee and I were talking, a fisherman docked at the bar and asked us if we wanted to buy some of his catch.  We declined.  However, you can buy seafood from the fishermen and they’ll cook it up for you at the bar.  Or, sometimes, the bar has something already made.  We were still full from breakfast, so we didn’t eat anything.

But, the fisherman did join some of the other gentlemen in the bar for a game of dominoes.  It seems to be a contact sport here.  At the least, it’s taken very seriously.  It was fun to watch.

A game of dominoes in progress.

A game of dominoes in progress.

About this time, we asked the bartender to call to shore so our boat could pick us up.  The wind was starting to pick up and we could see clouds on the horizon, so we decided it was a good time to go.  Also, another boat of tourists was coming towards the bar.  Call me anti-social, but I wasn’t having any of that.

But first, since we had to wait anyway, a little more relaxation and photos.

Basically, the back dock. I'm pretty sure this is where most of the fishermen will dock their boats. That's me & Lynda Lee under the canopy.  I had a sunburn by this point.

Basically, the back dock. I’m pretty sure this is where most of the fishermen will moor their boats. That’s me & Lynda Lee under the canopy. I had a sunburn by this point.

Sunning crabs. I'll bet they're delicious.

Sunning crabs.

Our boat arrived and we were ferried back to shore.  After hosing ourselves and our belongings off  – kinda – we headed back towards Montego Bay.

We ran into some pretty heavy rain and the reality of the rut-filled dirt roads hit hard.  They become mud pits.  Lynda Lee smartly had a 4-wheel drive; so, while problematic, the roads were passable.

On our way out, we passed through a town called Whitehouse where they were setting up a row of cookshops for the Saturday night crowd.  Coming back, the shops were open for business and we decided to stop.

Some of cookshops in Whitehouse getting ready for Saturday night.

Some of cookshops in Whitehouse getting ready for Saturday night.

We were immediately surrounded by vendors hocking their wares.  It all looked really good.  Lynda Lee, in her quiet way, told them we were just looking and they seemed to back off rather quickly.  One lady did say that she had some fish fresh out of the fryer.  Lynda Lee said that was the person to see.

Fish fresh out of the fryer.  She had parrot fish and red snapper.  We opted for parrot fish.

Fish fresh out of the fryer. She had parrot fish and red snapper. We opted for parrot fish.

Bammy Bread.  A very heavy and soft flat bread made with cassava.

Bammy Bread. A very heavy and soft flat bread made with cassava.

Snack time.  We had some fried parrot fish, bammy bread, and pepper shrimp (better known to us as crawfish)

Bammy Bread, Pepper Shrimp, fried Parrot Fish.

Bammy Bread, Pepper Shrimp, fried Parrot Fish.

It was, quite honestly, the best fried fish I’ve ever eaten.  I don’t know what she did, but it was magic.  If I ever get back there, I’m gonna ask her.

My dad told me when he was going to college in Florida, he and his friends would just throw these back.  Boy, did he miss out.

My dad told me when he was going to college in Florida, he and his friends would just throw these back. Boy, did he miss out.  The fish has a delicate flavor and texture.

Steve doesn't normally like crawfish, but he enjoyed these.

Steve doesn’t normally like crawfish, but he enjoyed these.

Bammy Bread. Another starch-heavy component of Jamaican cuisine. Perfect to help mitigate the spiciness of some of the food. And damn delicious.

Bammy Bread. Another starch-heavy component of Jamaican cuisine. Perfect to help mitigate the spiciness of some of the food. And damn delicious.

Lynda Lee told us that these cookstands really cater to the locals rather than tourists.  I concluded that’s why the food is so good.

The lovely Janet. The maker of the best fried fish I've ever eaten.

The lovely Janet. The maker of the best fried fish I’ve ever eaten.

As we moved further into Whitehouse, we stopped at Peter Tosh’s house.  It was one of Steve’s goals that we find it (his first reggae album purchase was Tosh’s “Legalize It”).  It wasn’t easy to find.  The entrance is tucked behind a coffee shop.

Steve took a quick tour of the grounds with the caretaker and had a rather lengthy conversation with him about Tosh’s music.  Steve seemed to be enjoying himself.  It could’ve also been the wafts of ganja emanating from the caretaker and the whole place.  Lynda & I could smell it and we were in the car.

A quick biography of Peter Tosh: He was an original member of Bob Marley & The Wailers but had a falling out with Marley and left the group in 1973.  He went on to a solo career and released nine albums, including “Equal Rights”, “Bush Doctor”,  and “Mama Africa”.  He was killed in September 1987 after a group of gunmen, one of whom he knew, invaded his home and demanded money.  After he told them he didn’t have any, he was shot and killed.

Peter Tosh's tomb. Steve gave the guide $1000 Jamaican to help build a proper museum.  However, Steve suspected the guy was going to spend it on ganja.

Peter Tosh’s tomb. Steve gave the guide $1000 Jamaican to help build a proper museum. I hope they meet their goal.

Again, we were off.

Lynda Lee had been extolling the virtues of this one jerk stand to us even before we set foot in Jamaica: Border Jerk.  It sits on the border of Westmoreland & Elizabeth Parishes, hence the name.

Once again, she didn’t disappoint.

Yes. Welcome.

Yes. Welcome.

I suspect because Border Jerk caters more the local population as opposed to tourists, the food is made with a bit more care as opposed to assembly-lining it. (Not to say they did that at Scotchies. But they had so much made that had no doubt sat around for awhile it took something away from the whole experience.)

Our Border Jerk Dinner:

Our Border Jerk Dinner: From the top: Jerk Pork; Jerk Chicken; Festival

Again, it was like comparing apples and oranges with Scotchies.  While we agreed that the chicken was most definitely better at Border Jerk – tender, juicy, and just the right balance of spicy – the pork was a different cut (I couldn’t quite tell what it was) while the pork from Scotchies was tenderloin.  They were both equally wonderful. And, we finally got to try Festival.  A slightly sweet fried flour fritter.  All this paired with a Red Stripe? Ambrosial.

Beautiful periwinkle flowers. Frustratingly, I couldn't find the names of these, either.

Beautiful periwinkle flowers. Frustratingly, I couldn’t find the names of these, either.

It must have been a strange set of circumstances for a boar's head from Florida ended up in the Jamaican countryside.

It must have been a strange set of circumstances for a boar’s head from Florida ended up in the Jamaican countryside.

We finally made it back to the resort, exhausted, around 6pm.  After some hugs, almost tearful goodbyes, and promises to stay in touch, we took our leave of Lynda Lee.

It was a great day.

There was a “Farewell to Jamaica” party sponsored by the resort and our tour group that evening.  Steve & I opted to just stay in our room and then take a late walk on the beach.  That’s about the time we decided we really wanted to come back someday.  Just hire Lynda Lee for a week and just tour around the island and see and experience as much as we could.

And, to bed.

 

Day 5, Sunday, February 2 – Departure Day

We didn’t think to bring any food back from our Saturday travels to have for breakfast, so we lurched downstairs and back to Port Maria for their breakfast buffet.  We were prepared to be underwhelmed and we weren’t disappointed.

In fact, I won’t even bore you with the details.

But, we did get this great last view of the beach:

Last view of the beach. Sigh.

Last view of the beach. Sigh.

I checked the weather back in Fort Worth.  It was 30F.  Ugh. I told Steve this and we dressed accordingly.  Many of our fellow travelers were about to embark wearing their summer togs. I figured they’d be in for a surprise.  Or, they just wanted to enjoy the experience a little longer.  I didn’t hear one person say they were anxious to go home.  I wasn’t surprised.

Many of our fellow travellers either didn’t leave the resort or went strictly to the tourist areas on the island.  I tried not to pass judgement.  A vacation means different things to different people.

So, it was back on the bus to be shuttled to the airport.  After the usual fun of getting the boarding passes, checking the bags, going through security, and finally making it to the gate, Steve & I spied some storefronts selling records, Jamaican foodstuffs, and meat patties.  You can guess where each of us went.  I think Steve bought 4 albums that he hadn’t been able to find in Montego Bay (in fact, the store owner told him to find vinyl, he’d have to go to Kingston).  I bought some jerk seasoning that Janet at the market recommended to me and some Jamaican honey.

We then made our way to the shop with the meat patties.  Our final meal in Jamaica:

Our final meal in Jamiaca.

Our final meal in Jamaica.

Steve went back the shop after we ate and bought two more for us to eat on the plane.

Yes, it was really cold when we made it home.  After basically being waved through customs and finally finding my dad, we were on our way back to my parents.  We did stop for fried chicken to take home to Mom.  Yeah. it was good.

The next morning before we drove back to Austin, Steve & I went to breakfast with my parents.

And, I saw this.

Ice. Wecome home.

Ice. Wecome home.

Kinda drove home the fact that we weren’t in the Caribbean anymore.

 

Once again I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Jamaica has a reputation, sure.  Some of it is deserved, some not.  But, as Steve & I discovered, when you let the scales fall from your eyes, you can find a whole new world you never expected.  The people of Jamaica are lovely, wonderful people with a lot of pride in themselves and their country.

I highly recommend the journey.  And hire Lynda Lee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Arabic Breakfast فطوري العربية 3

Posted on September 30, 2013 by Sahar

One of the great things about having a parent, or parents, who were born and/or grew up in another country is getting to learn and experience mores, manners, customs, and, yes, food that are different than what you might experience daily in the wider world.

My sisters and I grew up with just such a parent.  Our father is Palestinian.  He’s originally from a town called Nablus.  When he was born, it was a part of  western Jordan. Now it is in the Occupied West Bank under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority.  Dad came to the US in 1960 to go to college.  Eventually, he met and married our mom, graduated from college with an engineering degree, co-raised three girls without losing his mind, worked for the same company for 40 years, and happily retired.

Along the way, Dad did impart in us some of his old-world wisdom.  Or, at least tried to.  And while we didn’t always appreciate the lessons he tried to teach – especially Arabic, which I’m still struggling to learn – we always appreciated the food.

And while my sisters and I certainly ate with glee the kibbeh, sayadieh (fish with rice), mjudarah (lentils and rice), mishi waraq (stuffed grape leaves), and knaffeh (sweet  shredded phyllo dough with cheese) our parents made (Mom and Dad each have their specialties), we especially enjoyed breakfast with unrestrained glee.

Breakfast at my aunt's home in Jordan

Breakfast at my aunt’s home in Jordan

Breakfast in the Middle East isn’t necessarily a rushed thing.  Well, it isn’t unless one has to rush off to work or school. Breakfast usually starts about 8 or 9 with a nice long chat over coffee.  Then, the food comes out.  It can be as simple as some jam, bread, and cheese on up to dips, za’atar (spice mix made with thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt), fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, pickles, eggs, and occasionally leftovers from the night before.

Unlike in the West, coffee isn’t drunk at breakfast.  It’s used as an aperitif, digestive, at social gatherings, and with the desserts the Middle East is so famous for.  Juice, water, or hot sweet tea is drunk at breakfast.

Just to make you hungrier, here’s a picture of my family at the restaurant my cousin Salam owns with her husband. Tarweea. It serves breakfast 24 hours a day.  And it’s amazing.

The family at Tarweea. Damn good food. And company.

The family at Tarweea. Damn good food. And company.

So, welcome to my version of Arabic Breakfast.

***************************************************************************************************************************

The recipes I’m showing you are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.  Like anywhere else, there are regional variations for each dish.  That being said, I’m going to show you the way I grew up eating these dishes and the recipes I learned Palestinian style.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

I will be making several recipes in this post:  Ful Mudammas (Fava Bean Dip), Baba Ghannouj (Eggplant Dip), Tomatoes and Garlic Poached in Olive Oil (not sure if this is authentic, but my dad makes it on occasion), and Hummous (which I’ve already made for you, http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?cat=63).

Hummous. Mmm... Click on the above link to get the recipe.

Hummous. Mmm…
Click on the above link to get the recipe.

The additions will be some lovely olives and turnip pickles:

olives, pickles, cucumber

Clockwise from top: Persian cucumbers, turnip pickles (the red color comes from a beet put into the brine), Moroccan Oil Cured Olives, Lebanese Green Olives

Plates of olive oil and za’atar.

Olive Oil and Za'atar

Olive Oil and Za’atar

Bread is dipped in the olive oil and then the za’atar.  It has a wonderful savory-slightly tart flavor.  Some people will also make a paste of the two, spread it on bread and toast the bread until the top is nice and bubbly.  It’s divine.

We also have some lebneh.  It is essentially yogurt cheese.  A lovely, delightfully slightly sour treat. Try it spread on bread with some tomato. Oh. Yeah.

Lebneh in olive oil. This stuff is the bomb.

Lebneh in olive oil. This stuff is the bomb.

Some farmers cheese is always essential on the table.  Jebne Nabulsi (Nablus Cheese) is our cheese of choice.  Farmers cheese is used in both sweet and savory dishes.  For sweet dishes, it’s usually boiled to remove the salt.  The cheese we get in the US is always packed in brine. If you’re able to buy it in Jordan, it’s much fresher. The difference is striking.

My favorite brand of Nabulsi Cheese. it's not too salty and cooks well.

My favorite brand of Nabulsi Cheese. it’s not too salty and cooks well.

 

The first recipe I’ll show you is for Ful (pronounced “fool”) Mudammas (فول مدمس).  It’s a breakfast dish made with fava beans. It’s a dish that’s been traced back to ancient Egypt and is still a very popular breakfast choice throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Now, I use the canned ones.   However, if you want to use fresh or used soaked dry beans, it’s up to you.

The ingredients for Ful Mudammas.

The ingredients for Ful Mudammas.

1 can fava beans, drained, liquid reserved

1/4 c. onion, finely minced

2 cl. garlic, minced

2 – 4 (depending on size and heat level) tabasco or pepperoncini peppers, minced

1/4 c. parsley, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon to taste

Olive oil

additional minced parsley for garnish, optional

 

1.  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix together the fava beans, onion, garlic, peppers,  about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the reserved liquid from the beans, and a pinch of salt & pepper.

Beans in the pot.

Beans in the pot.

Beans, onion, garlic, and peppers waiting to make me happy.

Beans, onion, garlic, and peppers ready to make magic.

Heat the mixture slowly, stirring occasionally.  Cook about 20 minutes.  Add more liquid if the beans become too dry.

Cooking the beans and vegetables. Be sure to not let the beans get too dry.

Cooking the beans and vegetables. Be sure to not let the beans get too dry.

2.  Once the mixture is cooked, taste it for seasoning and some lemon to taste.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and mash the beans, leaving some texture.  In other words, don’t make them a smooth mash.

Mashing the beans. Leave some texture. Don't make too smooth a mix.

Mashing the beans. Leave some texture. Don’t make too smooth a mix.

3.  Place the ful on a plate, drizzle over some olive oil and additional parsley.

The finished dish. Enticing, isn't it.

The finished dish. Enticing, isn’t it.

 

*********************

The next dish I’m going to show you is Baba Ghannouj (بابا غنوج.). It’s a smooth dip made with eggplant.  It can be served as a mezze, a salad, or a side dish.  It is sometimes served with sliced or finely diced vegetables on top.  Some will use parsley or mint.  In some parts of the Arab world, particularly Syria, pomegranate seeds or syrup are used as well.

Traditionally, the eggplant is grilled over an open flame until it’s soft and charred.  However, I’ve found the oven is an excellent alternative cooking source.

When buying eggplant, look for ones with a smooth unblemished skin and no soft spots.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 eggplant

3 cl. garlic

1/4 c. tahineh, more if needed

Salt and lemon juice to taste

Olive oil for garnish

Pomegranate seeds or syrup for garnish, optional

Parsley for garnish, optional

 

1.  Prep the eggplant.  Heat your oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.  Drizzle some olive oil on the bottom and spread to cover.

Take the eggplant, cut off the top, then cut in half lengthwise.

The eggplant. You want the flesh to be white to off white.  And not too seedy.  A lot of seeds can make the eggplant bitter.

The eggplant. You want the flesh to be white to off white. and firm. And not too seedy. A lot of seeds can make the eggplant bitter.

Place the eggplant cut side down on the baking sheet.  Drizzle to top with a little more oil and put in the oven.  Bake the eggplant until it’s soft, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Eggplant ready for the oven.

Eggplant ready for the oven.

2.  Meanwhile, if you are using pomegranate seeds, time to get the seeds out.

Hello.

Hello.

When buying a pomegranate, make sure there are no soft pots, the skin is smooth and free of blemishes, and be sure to check for pinholes in the skin.  That’s a sign of infestation or spoilage.  If you open a pomegranate and any of the seeds are brown or dried out, discard them.

Cut around the equator of the pomegranate just until you break through the skin.  Don’t cut all the way through or you’ll lose some seeds.

Pull the halves until they separate.  This takes a little doing, but it will happen.

An excellent pomegranate. The seeds are bright, red, and juicy. The membrane is firm and a nice creamy color.

An excellent pomegranate. The seeds are bright, red, and juicy. The membrane is firm and a nice creamy color.

I suggest wearing gloves for this next part. It is now time to separate the seeds from the membrane.  It’s really not difficult.  Just time consuming.  if you can remove the seeds in clusters, all the better.  The trick is to break as few seeds as possible and not include any of the membrane (edible, but very bitter).

Removing the seeds from the membrane.  Not difficult, but time consuming.

Removing the seeds from the membrane. Not difficult, but time consuming.

The remains.

The remains.

You will be rewarded for your hard work.

Your reward. They look like jewels.

Your reward. They look like jewels.

3.  Check the eggplant.  Give it a quick poke with your finger or a fork.  If it feels soft, it’s ready to come out of the oven.  Take the eggplant halves off the baking sheet and set aside until cool enough to handle.

The baked eggplant.  You want the char.  It adds a smky flavor to the final dish.  However, be sure not to let the eggplant burn.

The baked eggplant. You want the char. It adds a smoky flavor to the final dish. However, be sure not to let the eggplant burn.

4.  when the eggplant is cool enough to handle, carefully peel off the skin and discard.

Peeling the skin off the eggplant.

Peeling the skin off the eggplant.

Place the peeled eggplant in a small bowl or dish.  Set aside.

5.  With a food processor running, drop the garlic cloves down through the feed tube and chop them.

The chopped garlic.

The chopped garlic.

Add the eggplant, tahineh, and a little salt.

Ready to mix.

Ready to mix.

Puree the ingredients until a smooth consistency is achieved.  Add a little lemon juice through the feed tube while the machine is running.  When the lemon is mixed in, taste the baba ghannouj for seasoning.

6.  Place the baba ghannouj into a bowl and garish with a little olive oil, some parsley, and a few of the pomegranate seeds.

This is delicious. And I don't like eggplant.

This is delicious. And I don’t like eggplant.

*************************************

As for the Poached Tomatoes and Garlic, I really don’t know if it’s an authentic part of the meal.  However, I remember my dad making this dish from time to time, so I do, too.  My husband and I  like this dish, so I make it for that reason as well.

The ingredients

The ingredients

 

4 large tomatoes, quartered, core (blossom end) cut out, and seeded

10 – 12 cloves garlic, smashed

3/4 c. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

 

1.  Place all the ingredients in a large skillet or shallow saucepan over low heat.

The ingredients ready to be poached.

The ingredients ready to be poached.

2.  While the ingredients cook, you can mash them a bit if you like. Just cook until the tomatoes have completely broken down, about 30 minutes.

Cooking down the tomatoes and garlic.

Cooking down the tomatoes and garlic.

All done.  Yes, it's a lot of olive oil. It tastes lovely.

All done. Yes, it’s a lot of olive oil. It tastes lovely.

***********************************

Fried Nabulsi Cheese

1.  Take a few pieces of the Nabulsi cheese and cut them into smaller pieces (I usually cut them in half crosswise and then again lengthwise).  Place them in a bowl and rinse with water several times until it runs clear.  Let the cheese soak in the water to remove some of the salt.

Some of the cheese. The shape and saltiness of the cheese depends on the brand,

Some of the cheese. The shape and saltiness of the cheese depends on the brand.

Soaking the cheese

Soaking the cheese

Before you get ready to fry the cheese, take it out of the water and drain on paper towels.

2.  In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Once the butter starts to foam, place a few pieces of the cheese in the skillet to cook.  Cook until each side is golden brown.

Frying the cheese. Not the most healthy way to cook it, but hey, why not?

Frying the cheese. Not the most healthy way to cook it, but hey, why not?

Drain the cooked cheese on paper towels and eat while still warm.  It doesn’t really keep once it’s cold.

Believe it or not, this is excellent on warm pita bread with a little jam.

Believe it or not, this is excellent on warm pita bread with a little jam.

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Of course, the one indispensable ingredient for the whole meal. Bread. Khubuz خبز

 

The bread.  The most indespensible ingredient of all.

The bread. The most indispensable ingredient of all.

And, here is the final table.

The final table. Invite a few friends.

The final table. Invite a few friends.

Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points West 2

Posted on September 28, 2012 by Sahar

Finally, after much editing of photos (down to 408 from 500+), trying to remember details in the correct order, and much proofreading, I have finally finished this post.

Enjoy.

*****************

As I wrote in my previous post, my husband Steve & I decided a couple of years ago that we wouldn’t buy each other birthday gifts anymore.  We would take little trips around Texas instead.  Much more fun and the memories would last longer.

I mean, why not?  Texas is a big state with a big personality.  There’s always something new to see.  And eat.  Even in your own backyard.

We started out on Wednesday, August 29, with a very packed car and a little distressed we were leaving about 2 hours later than we originally planned.  To be honest, it’s kind of par for the course for us.

The sun breaking through the clouds. Outside Ozona.

I-10W on the way to Roosevelt

 

Our first stop was a cafe in Roosevelt recommended by our friend Joe Nick Patoski.  It was at the Simon Brothers Grocery & Mercantile.  We arrived about 2 pm and were wondering if we’d found the right place.  As Steve & I wandered around the store, we finally found the cafe.  Behind a door with a tiny hand-written sign, “CAFE”.  (I’m sorry now I didn’t get  picture of that door.)

Simon Bros. Cafe. We loved the fact that the seats were old office chairs.

 

We tried the cheeseburgers.  On Texas Toast. We weren’t disappointed.  And the fries?  Hand-cut.  Yummy.

Yummy, yummy Simon Brothers lunch.

The little mercantile was an attraction in and of itself. I have no idea how old the groceries were and when the last time the place was cleaned.  And, I loved the fact that the post office is in the store, too.

The mercantile that time forgot.

 

Roosevelt Post Office in Simon Bros.

 

After lunch and a short walk about, we hit the road again.  Then, 3 hours later, we were finally at our destination.

Just outside Marfa.

The first hotel we stayed in was El Cosmico.  As Austinites know, it was opened by Liz Lambert in 2006, and it is one of the coolest places Steve & I have ever stayed.

It’s on the outskirts of Marfa on South Highland Ave. A wonderfully rustic, organic space. I saw 7 restored AirStream Trailers, 2 teepees, and 5 safari tents.  Plus, there are several rock circles as spaces for people to pitch their own tents.

We loved it.

El Cosmico’s lobby. A lovely space, by the way. And the only place you can get WiFi. If you need it.

No cars are allowed on the grounds. This is how you transport your luggage.

Our trailer. A 1949 Airstream. It was the only one with AC. Steve made sure we got it.

View out the front. The interior is lovely.

A view into the kitchen and bedroom. The kitchen was suprisingly well stocked and the bed was really, really comfortable.

A nod to rusticity. Our outdoor shower. At least the water was really hot. Actually, it was very refreshing in the mornings.

The El Cosmico truck with a rainbow in the distance.

Once we settled in, it was time to make a quick grocery run to pick up food for breakfast. We had heard of a small grocery, The Get Go, that was supposed to be the best gourmet grocer in West Texas.  It didn’t disappoint.

The Get Go didn’t disappoint. Especially in the beer, produce, and cheese departments.

By this point, we were ready to go and get some dinner and go to see Paula Nelson at Padres Bar. It used to be a funeral home in a former life, apparently.

Marfa Sunset.

After our first choice of restaurant was closed, we headed to the outskirts of town and found Mando’s. A hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex place (well, more Mex than Tex).  Overall, the meal was very good.  The beans had lard, the beer was cold, and my flautas were delicious.  However, the salsa was quite bland. The only disappointment.

First meal in Marfa. Chicken Flautas. Mando’s. They were delicious.

After dinner, we lurched off to Padres to see to Paula Nelson (yes, her daddy is Willie).  She was just lovely and had a great band backing her up.  It was a great way to end a very long day.

Paula Nelson at Padres.

 

Day 2.  Steve woke up at 6am and told me he wanted breakfast.  I honestly thought he was joking.  Nope.  He was wide awake and wanted breakfast.

OK. Fine.

While I conjured myself out of bed (and it was a chilly morning, so it was very difficult), he went outside and started taking a few photos:

Me getting ready to make breakfast while Steve is outside taking photos.

Marfa sunrise #1

Marfa Sunrise #2

 

Soon, breakfast was ready.  Lox & Brie Omelets with fresh tomatoes. They were really, really good.

Breakfast!

So, after breakfast and a shower, I promptly went back to sleep.  I’m not sure what Steve did.

Once we were both fully ready to get moving, we took a tour of the grounds of El Cosmico.

El Cosmico’s Bottle Tree

Long view of El Cosmico’s Trailers.

El Cosmico’s Teepees.

El Cosmico’s Safari Tents.

El Cosmico’s Hammock Village.

Now, off to see a bit of modern art. Prada Marfa. There’s really no point to it except as perphaps a commentary on consumerism.  Admittedly, it’s not really my thing.  But, if you’re in the area, it’s a must-see.

First, however, one must pass through Valentine.  A town with a population of 217 and the only incorporated town in Jeff Davis County. It’s best known for Prada Marfa, where the post office will do a special postmark on Valentine’s Day, and where “Cahill, US Marshall” was set.

Valentine, Texas. On our way to see Prada Marfa.

Prada Marfa.

The plaque explaining Prada Marfa.

Not long after it was completed in 2005, Prada Marfa was broken into and its contents stolen. To thwart any future attempts, all of the shoes on display are left shoes only and all the bags have had their bottoms removed.  Plus, the door is sealed (so no going inside for a closer look) and security cameras were installed.

Some people just don’t appreciate art.

Some of Prada Marfa’s contents.

The literal emptiness of Prada Marfa and its surroundings.

 

So, after closely observing Prada Marfa, we headed back to Marfa for lunch.

I saw this sign on the way back and made Steve turn around so I could get some pictures. I loved it.

Quite simply, the coolest old relic roadside sign I’ve ever seen. On the way back to Marfa.

 

So, now for lunch.  Steve & I decided to go to a place we’d been before, The Food Shark.  Popular with locals and tourists alike, it has some of the best felafel outside of the Middle East I’ve ever eaten.  My hummous is better, though.

Yeah. I said it.

They have a standard menu of Middle Eastern specialties like hummous, felafel, fatoush, and lots of fresh salads.  Their specials go fast. In fact, the day we were there, they ran out of the special, Shrimp with Soba Noodles, right before I got to the window.

If you get there during the peak lunch hour, be prepared for a wait.  So, patience is required.

Food Shark. The only food trailer in Marfa.

Steve’s lunch. The combo plate.

My lunch. Felafel.

A can of Harissa. A very popular condiment in North Africa, especially Tunisia. It’s used pretty freely at Food Shark.

 

After lunch, Steve & I went exploring around Marfa.  We’d been there before, so there wasn’t much new for us to see.  But, hey, we needed to work off lunch.

The predominant industry in Marfa, next to tourism. The Judd & Chinati Foundations.

 

Steve had been interested in going on a tour around the Chinati Foundation.  I was not.  Minimalist art simply isn’t my thing.  Honestly, I find it boring.  I told Steve he could go if he wanted, but he decided against it.

Well, maybe next time.

For those of you who don’t know who Donald Judd is or what the Chinati Foundation is all about, here’s a little background:

****************

Donald Judd was a sculptor in New York who bagan as a painter early in his career.  By the early 1960’s he came interested in how objects (namely, boxes and stacks) interplayed with the space around them.  In 1971, he came to Marfa and rented a house to get away from the art scene he had come to hate in NYC and to use the starkness of the desert landscape to create.

In 1979, with help from the Dia Art Foundation, Judd purchased a 340 acre  tract of desert land near Marfa  which included the abandoned buildings of the former U.S. Army Fort D. A. Russell. The Chinati Foundation opened on the site in 1986 as a non-profit art foundation, dedicated to Judd and his contemporaries. The permanent collection consists of large-scale works by Judd and other artisits. Judd’s work in Marfa includes 15 outdoor works in concrete and 100 aluminum pieces housed in two renovated artillery sheds.

Originally conceived in 1977, and created in 1996, the Judd Foundation was formed in order to preserve the work and installations of Judd in Marfa, Texas and at 101 Spring Street in New York.

Donald Judd passed away in 1994 of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in NYC.  (Some information from www.wikipedia.org)

Outside the Chinati Foundation in Marfa

Outside the Chinati Foundation. Marfa.

 **************
Marfa itself is the county seat of Presidio County, Texas.  The town’s permanent popluation, according to the 2010 census, is 1,981. It’s nestled between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park.  it was founded in the 1880’s as a railroad stop and grew expodentially through the 1920’s.  During WWII, the Marfa Army Airfield served as a training ground for pilots.  It was closed in 1945.
Marfa is probably best known not only as the home of the Judd & Chinati Foundations, but also the Marfa Lights (mysterious lights in the Mitchell Flats ouside of town. Some believe they’re UFOs. Others, atmospheric conditions cause them.)  During the filming of the movie “Giant” the cast stayed at the largest hotel in town, the El Paisano

The front facade of the Hotel El Paisano.

The lobby of the Hotel El Paisano

The hotel has a room dedicated “Giant”.  They’re very proud of their connection with that movie.

Some “Giant” memoribilia.

“Giant” on a continual loop.

The town is completely reliant on the tourism that the park, Judd & Chinati, the lights, and “Giant” fans bring.  They’ve also started a music festival that happens in late September.  It’s also home to many (overpriced) art galleries.  And a lovely little bookstore with, of course, an art gallery attached. Plus, it has one of the best public radio stations anywhere, KRTS.

Marfa Fire Station

Palace Theater, Marfa.

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa

 

Dinner that night was at Cochineal (named after the little insect used to make natural red dye).  A lovely little restaurant opened in 2008 by Tom Rapp and Toshi Sakihara. It’s menu changes almost daily to keep up with what’s freshest and the whims of the chefs.  We picked a good day to go.

Once you were inside, you could be anywhere. The dining room was a very simple space. Small, but not overcrowded.  It was still a little too warm for us to sit outside, but the patio was proving popular.  It was full when we arrived.

Reservations are recommended, by the way.

Cochineal’s dining room.

So, we began with cocktails.

Cochineal’s Cocktail Menu. Just the beginning of a wonderful meal.

Moscow Mule. The classic cocktails are always the best.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of Steve’s cocktail.  I believe he had the El Diablo. He said it was quite good.

Cochineal’s Dinner menu for August 29th, 2012.

Appetizer Time.  Cream Cheese Dip with Crab and Horseradish. Hot, slightly gooey, smooth with just enough texture  from the crab and heat from the horseradish. I’ve got to figure out how to make this.

Our appetizer. It was really, really good

Me. I had the Rack of Lamb with Truffled Potatoes and Garlic Broccolini.  The lamb was cooked perfectly medium-rare with just enough seasoning. (I find that to be a real issue with many restaturants who serve rack of lamb. Simple is best. It doesn’t need a crust.)  The potatoes were smooth without being starchy and the truffle wasn’t overpowering.  The Broccolini wasn’t reated as an afterthought, like so many vegetables are.

Sahar’s Dinner.

Steve’s dinner was Barramundi en Croute with Vegetables and Pico.  I had a little of his fish.  It was perfectly cooked.  I’ve never had Barramundi before, so the fact that it wasn’t too strong a flavor was a surprise.  Steve said that the pico and vegetables were good, too.  He must have liked it.  He ate it all.

Steve’s Dinner.

We figured as long as we were there, we’d just go for it and get dessert, too.  Yum-my.

I had a wonderful date pudding reminicent of sticky toffee pudding.  It had a caramel-bourbon sauce that had just the right balance of sweet and slightly bitter.  And the bourbon flavor wasn’t too strong.

Sahar’s dessert. Lovely. Just lovely.

Steve opted for Lemon-Lime-Basil Shortbread Cookies.  I didn’t get to try any.  He ate them too fast.

Steve’s dessert. He liked it.

After the bacchanalia of dinner, we decided to take a short walk around Marfa.  We were struck by a creche of Mary.

St. Mary’s Church. Marfa.

 

Back to the car. To our trailer. And to bed.

Day 3.  We checked out of El Cosmico and headed to where we would be staying for the next 3 nights, The Gage Hotel in Marathon.  But, first, we had to pass through Alpine.

Alpine is located in a wide valley in the foothills of the Davis Mountains in northwest Brewster County. The town began in the spring of 1882, when a few railroad workers and their families pitched their tents along a small spring-fed creek at the foot of what is now known as “A” Mountain.

Alpine grew very slowly until 1921. Then came the opening of Sul Ross State Normal College (now Sul Ross State University) and the construction of the first paved roads into the area. The college, along with ranching and the transcontinental railroad, made Alpine the center of activities in the Big Bend area of Texas. In the early 1940s, with the establishment of Big Bend National Park, Alpine came to be looked upon as the entrance to the park. Since the early 1960s the rapid influx of affluent retired people into the area has been an important factor in the town’s continued growth.

Alpine is the largest town in and the county seat of Brewster County with a 2010 population of 5,905. (Information from tshaonline.org)

Steve and I decided to get out and have a walk around town.  We stayed there on our last trip in 2010, but we didn’t really explore Alpine.  This time, we decided to rectify the situation.

There was a record store he wanted to see; but, it was closed.  Labor Day weekend.  In fact, we found quite a few businesses closed for the holiday.  No matter, we still had a lovely time.  Even bought some original art.

I think if I was to move anywhere else in Texas, it would be Alpine. Just enough town with open space nearby.

Granada Theater marquis. Alpine.

Our Lady of Peace Church. Alpine. I’m not a religious person, but I enjoy religious architecture.

Husband Steve with Tres Amigos. Alpine.

Back in the car to our next destination. Marathon. Or, as the locals say, Marath’n.

Road into Marathon.

Marathon is the second-largest town in Brewster County. It’s out on TX90 with a population of 433 (2010 census). The town was founded when the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway built across what was then part of Presidio County. A crew building east from El Paso reached the townsite in March 1882. (Some information from tshaonline.org)

The main attractions of the town are the Gage Hotel and the fact that it’s only about 45 minutes away from Big Bend National Park.  It’s another town that is completely dependent on the tourist industry.

The Gage Hotel. Marathon.

 

I would term the Gage as upscale rustic.  The hotel itself was commissioned in 1927 by Alfred Gage, a businessman and rancher.  It was intended as a hotel and main administrative building for his 500, 000 acre ranch.  In 1978, J.P. & Mary Jon Bryan bought the Gage and returned it back to it’s original Trans-Pecos glory (from www.gagehotel.com)

It was very different from where we stayed for the previous 2 nights.  And, for shmoes like us, quite elegant.  Plus, it had an indoor shower.

Our room at The Gage. Upscale Rustic.

Courtyard at the Gage.

Skull art that Steve found outside the White Buffalo Bar. Gage.

 

We took a very short walk for lunch after we checked in.  Pizza at Guzzi’s. Decent, if utilitarian, pizza. I wasn’t expecting that.

Boneless hot wings (which as we all know are boneless, skinless breast). They were average. But we were hungry.

Sahar’s lunch. 6-inch pepperoni pizza.

Steve’s lunch. 8-inch Royale Pizza.

So, off for a quick nap before our next destination.  Big Bend National Park.

Big Bend National Park was opened on July 1, 1944.  It is The park covers 801,163 acres (1,252 sq mi)and is larger than the state of Rhode Island.  It’s the least visited of all the national parks with only about 300,000 visitors a year.  The park was named after the large bend where Texas and Mexico meet along the Rio Grande.  The park is in the Chihuahuan Desert and is surrounded by the Chisos Mountains.

It’s simply an amazing place.

I wanted to head to the Chisos Basin and the Window, the most popular spot in the park, to see the sunset.  A little corny, sure; but so worth the journey.

Big Bend is about 40 miles from Marathon.  The main ranger station is at Panther Junction about another 30 miles in.  It seems like forever to get there because there is a 45mph in the park. And, yes, they do enforce it.

The road from Marathon to Big Bend.

We made it to the Chisos Basin, finally.

While waiting for the sunset at The Window, we decided to take a hike down the Basin Trail.

Casa Grande at the Chisos Basin.

Peaks in the Chisos Basin.

Bottlebrush flowers. They smelled amazing. The whole valley was filled with them.

Early evening in the Chisos Valley

We hiked the trail about half of its 1.6 miles.  It started to get dark and we turned around.

Off to see the sunset.

Sunset at the Window.

Sunset at The Window.

 

After a rather encyclopedic photographic study of the sunset, we decided we were hungry and headed out the south way from the park.

After about another hour’s drive through the park and another 30 minutes outside it, we finally made it to Terlingua.  We ended up at High Sierra Grill (at the El Dorado Hotel) for a rather late dinner.

The night we were there (Friday) was surprisingly slow.  There were fewer than 10 other people when we arrived.  And most of them were drinking at the bar.

There was musical entertainment that night.  Steve felt bad the musician was only playing to so few people, so he bought 3 of his cd’s

The musical entertainment at High Sierra Grill.

One of the more interesting uses of a vending machine.

Steve had a cheeseburger. I had chicken fried steak. Not the best I’ve ever eaten, but it was most definitely above average. Certainly better than Threadgill’s.

Yeah. I said it.

My dinner. Filling. And very starchy. Note the absence of any vegetable other than the potato. Covered with cheese.

 

After another 90-minute drive, we were finally back in Marathon and to bed. Very late.

Day 4.

Saturday. We had made plans to get to the park early. That didn’t happen.

We started off the day by, what else, foraging for breakfast.  One of the shop owners near the hotel told us about this one place, the Burnt Biscuit Bakery.  She said they had great fried pies.  Well, that sold us.

You can’t go wrong with a good fried pie.

But, we figured we’d better go with some savory protein first.

Our breakfasts. Burnt Biscuit Bakery.

I had a sausage & cheese croissant. I’m still trying to decide if the croissant was homemade or a pre-packaged one. I’m leaning towards the latter. Steve’s biscuit was definitely made in-house, however.

The proprietress was quite friendly & chatty. I sensed that tourists had been thin on the ground lately.  She let it be known that she and her husband (the baker) were looking to sell so they could move to the Panhandle to be closer to their kids and grandkids.

I almost bit. But,  changed my mind when I decided that Steve would most likely not go for the idea.

As a reward to ourselves, we bought a couple of fried pies.  Steve had peach. I had cherry.

The shopkeeper was right.  They were delicious.

A very fresh cherry fried pie. A Texas delicacy.

Burnt Biscuit Bakery. Marathon, TX

 

Back in the car and back to the park.

We spent about 4 hours driving through slowly and stopping frequently to take in the sights, the fresh air, and to take lots of photos.

(I generally don’t buy souveniers. I take photographs. They last longer and its a whole lot cheaper.)

The Chihuahuan Desert & Chisos Mountains. Big Bend Nat’l Park.

Ocotillo Cactus and Creosote Bush. Big Bend Nat’l Park.

It’s really hard to take a bad photo here.

Purple Prickly Pear.

One of the best things about Big Bend. It’s not completely overrun with tourists. You feel like you can breathe.

I dare you not to look at this and not have your mind cleared out.

Chenizo. One of the few flowers still blooming in the park.

Ocotillo Cactus in the Chihuahuan Desert. Big Bend. I really fell in love with this. I’m going to try to find some here in Austin to plant in my yard.

 

We drove back to Terlingua to have a light dinner (well, light for West Texas) at the Starlight Theater.

A little background on Terlingua:

The name Terlingua has been applied to three different settlements in southwestern Brewster Country. The original site was a Mexican village on Terlingua Creek three miles above the confluence with the Rio Grande. With the discovery of quicksilver in that area in the mid-1880s, the Marfa and Mariposa mining camp became known as Terlingua; the original site was then referred to as Terlingua Abaja, or lower Terlingua. In 1902, in addition to the mine complex, Terlingua consisted of several temporary structures occupied by some 200 to 300 laborers, mostly Mexican. Three years later the population had increased to 1,000. Quicksilver production peaked during World WarI. By 1922 40 percent of the quicksilver mined in the United States came from Terlingua, but production began to decline steadily during the 1930s. On October 1, 1942, the Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy. A successor firm ceased operations at the end of World War II when most of the population dispersed. Terlingua became a ghost town. During the late 1960s and early 1970s tourism brought new life to the village. Terlingua became famous for its annual chili cook-off and in 1967 was deemed the “Chili Capitol of the World” by the Chili Appreciation Society. In 2000, the permanent popuation of Terlingua was 277. (information from tshaonline.org)

Steve & I visited Terlingua Ghost Town on a previous trip, and we tromped around what was left of the homes and cemetary there.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town

Terlingua Ghost Town

The homes in Terlingua Ghost Town where were all the workers at the 4 mines in Terlingua, mostly Mexicans. The homes were essentially mud brick with some wooden support.  Most of the roofs are now gone, but I did see some tin corregated ones. Whether they’re the original or put there by squatters, I don’t know.

The cemetary is fascinating, if not a little depressing.  Most of the graves were not only of the Mexican workers, but their families as well.  And they were all young.  I think I only saw one grave of someone over 50.  Hardscrabble living and mercury poisoning no doubt contributed to the sort life span of these folks.

Cemetary at Terlingua Ghost Town

Cemetary at Terlingua Ghost Town

We arrived in Terlingua a little early.  Since the Starlight didn’t open for dinner until 5, we had a cold beer on the porch of the Terlingua General Store.  My favorite thing: signs all over the place saying “No dogs on the porch”. There were dogs all over the porch.

Finally, the Starlight opened. We were hungry and in a hurry.  We had tickets to go to a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory. 90 minutes away.

So, yeah. We were cutting it close.

 

Starlight Theater, Terlingua

The late, great Clay Henry. The Beer Drinking Goat and one-time mayor of Terlingua.

We just ordered appetizers for dinner.  It was a good thing we did.  They were huge.

Steve had  Wild Boar & Venison Sausage with a Barbecue Dipping Sauce.  My dinner was Chicken-Fried Antelope with a Coors Beer Gravy.  I liked his sausage better than my antelope.  I think it’s a pretty safe bet it was farm-raised.  I was expecting a gamier, more venison-like flavor.  It just tasted like beef to me.

Chips, salsa, and guacamole. The guacamole was good. The salsa was marginal. Starlight Theater. Terlingua.

Steve’s Dinner. Venison & Wild Boar Sausage. Starlight Theater.

Sahar’s dinner: Chicken Fried Antelope

We then rushed off to the McDonald Observatory, just outside of Fort Davis.  If you haven’t been there, go.  It’s an amazing place.  We went (for the second time) to a Star Party.  For those of you who don’t know, a Star Party begins at around sunset.  One of the observatoy’s employees does a presentation at the outside ampitheater talking about what we’re going to be seeing that night.  Then, everyone gets to look through very powerful telescopes at the night sky.

That night, there was a full moon, so many of the dimmer stars weren’t visible.  But, we did get to see Saturn and a very close up & personal view of the Moon.

They also do tours of some of the larger telescopes during the day.  Next time, we’ll have to do that.

Sunset at McDonald Observatory

Some of the telescopes we looked through at the Observatory.

Full moon over McDonald Observatory

 

Once we saw all we could and enjoyed the cool evening, we drove back to Marfa.  Our friend Joe Nick Patoski’s wife, Chris, was playing in Joe King Carasco’s band that evening at Padres.  (You old-time Austinites will remember Joe King quite well.)

We arrived about halfway through the show.  We hadn’t seen Joe King in a while.  He hasn’t really lost any of his entertainment value. And, yes.  He still wears his crowns.  That night was a classic.

Joe King Carasco at Padres. Marfa.

A la James Brown: Joe King being helped off stage by his “doctor” and Joe Nick in his genie turban waving him good bye.

 

We finally got back to Marathon at 2am.  So, the plan on getting up at 5am to go back to Big Bend was out.

Day 5.  My birthday.

We finally dragged ourselves out of bed at about 9 am.

Breakfast was at the Marathon Coffee Shop.  It was delicious, and big.  We needed the big for the hike that we had coming.

Steve, as is his habit when it’s on the menu, ordered migas.  I opted for short-stack of pancakes with bacon and hash browns.

Can’t go wrong there.

Steve’s Sunday Morning Breakfast.

Sahar’s Birthday Breakfast. Part 1.

Sahar’s Birthday Breakfast. Part 2.

We packed the car with cold water, and a backpack filled with Gatorade, dried fruit and nuts, and a first aid kit. Off we went to hike Boquillas Canyon.

Boquillas Canyon is down at the tip of the Big Bend where Mexico and Texas are separated by the Rio Grande.  At one time, people were able to cross back and forth pretty freely.  However, in 2002, the crossing was closed.

But first, of course, we had about a 2-hour drive down to the canyon.  So, we stopped often to take photos. Again.

Looking over what used to be a swamp in the Ecoene Period. About 30 million years ago.

Shale. From millions of years of underwater sediment. Chihuahuan Desert.

More Ocotillo Cactus. Chihuahuan Desert.

Spiny Fruited Prickly Pear. Found only in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The far horizon is Mexico.

 

We finally made our way to Boquillas Canyon.  There were more people there than we had seen in our entire time in Big Bend. Maybe 20. Some were tourists like us.  Others, Mexican Nationals who apparently regularly cross the river to sell trinkets to the tourists.

I would’ve done it, too (in spite of the warnings up in the park telling us not to).  If I had brought any money.  And entertainment was provided by one gentleman singing “Guantanamera” while fishing in the river.  He really did have a great voice.

 

As we wee beginning the hike, I was struck by some holes in the rock.  I found a sign explaining them.  They are mortar holes cut into the rock.  The indigenous poeples of the area used the mortar holes to grind mesquite seeds, roots, and other grains for food.

Each one of the holes is about 12″ deep.  I don’t know if they were originally cut that deep, or, if over time, the holes were simply worn deeper into the rock.

Fascinating. I love history. And archaeology.

Mortar holes cut into the rock.

 

First, to go down into the canyon, we had to go up the front side. And with the heat being what it was that day, about 100F on the canyon floor, it was no small feat.

Heading down into Boquillas Canyon. US on the right. Mexico on the left.

Down in the Boquillas Canyon. The cliff face on the right is Mexico.

All river rock up to the cliff face on the Texas side. Shows how high the Rio Grande can get. Very.

Texas on the left. Mexico on the right. Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in the center. Boquillas Canyon

Dogweed growing in the river rock.

 

We were down in the canyon for a couple of hours walking around, resting in the shade. Watching the burros on the Mexico side.  We didn’t go as far as we would’ve liked because the trail because there was a point where it became very difficult to navigate.  Since my husband & I aren’t experienced hikers, we opted out of getting too adventurous.

What we scaled to go into the canyon. It was an easy trail, but with the heat. Yikes.

So, after each of us downing a full bottle of Gatorade when we got back to the car, we went to Rio Grande Village for lunch.

Rio Grande Village is basically a campground with shower and laundry facilities and a small convenience store.

So, we had a convenience store lunch:

Sunday lunch. Convenience store sandwich, chips, and Powerade.

Since we had managed to work off our rather large breakfasts, as bad as this was, we were grateful to have the food.

Just a little perspective as to where we were.

 

Then, we headed out to Big Bend for the last time. On this trip, anyway.

Our final look at Big Bend.

 

So, after going through the Boarder Crossing Checkpoint for the 3rd time, we made it back to the hotel to clean up and enjoy well-earned naps.

Dinner that night was at the 12 Gage, the hotel’s restaurant.  I can describe it no other way than that it’s basically an upscale steakhouse that takes itself a little too seriously.

It’s the big fish in a very small pond.  In fact, it basically eats all the chum.  The other restaurants in town (and there aren’t many) seem to get absolutely no business when the hotel restaurant is open.  Perhaps, when tourism is up, the other places could get the run-off customers who either couldn’t get a reservation (yes, we had to make reservations) or don’t want to pay $200 for dinner for 2.

But, we dove in anyway.

As Steve and I usually do when we go to a more expensive restaurant, we do the whole play.  Appetizers, Main Course, Desserts, maybe a snifter and/or coffee.  We figure, what the hell. We’re already spending the money and more than likely we’ll never come here again anyway.

Needless to say, we don’t do this often.

12 Gage’s menu. I could’ve worked out with this thing.

Bread with Poblano Butter. Very good. The butter was soft and the bread warm.

As always, we started off with cocktails. I don’t know if there was someone new at the bar or the recipes weren’t followed, but our drinks were very underwhelming.

My cocktail. Strawberry Mint Mojito. Meh. I tasted neither mint nor strawberry. Or even lime. Just very well-style rum.

Steve’s cocktail: Prickly Pear Margarita. I think he was shocked at the bright pink color. He drank it, but wasn’t impressed.

Things looked up when the appetizers came.

Sahar’s appetizer. Fried Green Tomatoes with Crab Remoulade. Very good. But not spectacular.

Steve’s appetizer. Shrimp  & Crab Cocktail. He said it was good. I’ll have to take his word for it.

So, on to the main course.  Since we were at a steakhouse, we ordered steaks.  His was beef.  Mine was bison.

Steve’s dinner. Ribeye Steak with Fried Potatoes and Vegetables. He said the steak was really good.

Sahar’s dinner. Bison Steak with Tomato/Leek Jam and Compound Butter. The sides are Spaetzl with Cheese and Vegetables. The steak was huge. Enough for 2 people. I could’ve done without the butter and jam on top. The spaetzl was good. The vegetables were kind of an afterthought.

Dessert.

Steve’s Dessert. Strawberry-Peach Pie a la Mode. He was very happy.

Sahar’s dessert. Flan. It was perfect. Creamy and dense. The best part of my meal.

 

We ended up with a small box of leftover steak to take back to the room.  It was Monday’s lunch.

Steve & I discussed which meal was the best of the trip. And while it was almost like comparing apples to oranges, we decided our meal at Cochineal was it.  Overall, we felt the quality was better, there was more attention paid to depth of flavor and, most important to me, the vegetables were treated with kindness; not an after thought.

This is not to say we didn’t enjoy 12 Gage.  We did.  But, it just doesn’t seem like it has to or wants to try to be something better.

And then, off to bed.

Final Day.  Monday. Check-out day.

We cheked out of the hotel. And, as we were packing the car, discovered we were taking home more than we came with.

Sigh…

But first, we took a quick walk around Marathon.

The French Grocer. Started in 1920 by the French Family. A very well-stocked grocery. It’s the only one around, so it’s very well stocked. In fact, we bought lunch supplies there.

Quite possibly the greatest tomao plant ever. In front of French Grocery Co., Marathon.

 

Then, we stumbled upon Eve’s Garden. An Organic Bed and Breakfast.  This place has to be seen to be believed. We were just standing outdise looking around and, Elaine, the caretaker/carpenter, came out and invited us in for a tour.

She said that she and the owners think that they’ll be finished in the next 2-3 years.  I will say, the place is really interesting.  They’re trying to make the building as organic/green as possible.

Eve’s Garden. Front Entrance.

Outside sitting area. Eve’s Garden.

Eve’s Garden

Interior courtyard. Eve’s Garden.

Privacy wall. Interior courtyard. Eve’s Garden.

 

And, then, it was time to head home.

A final shot of Marathon.

 

It was a 7-hour drie back to Austin.  We stopped just outside of Ozona (about where we stopped on the way out) at a rest stop and had our final meal of the trip.  Sandwiches made with the leftover steak from Sunday, chips, Peligrino, and fried pies.

Our final meal on the road.

 

Yeah.  We’ll be going back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kibbeh – Arabic Comfort Food 1

Posted on August 24, 2012 by Sahar

For my next blog post, I decided to make a dish that is near and dear to my heart; one of my ultimate comfort foods – Kibbeh.  My sisters and I grew up eating this dish.  Rather ravenously, I might add.   It’s part of our heritage.  Putting it together was a collaborative effort for our parents.  Mom always made the filling, Dad put it together – whether as little footalls for the fryer or in the baking dish for the oven.  It was always a much appreciated treat.

Kibbeh (كبة‎) is a popular and much-loved dish throughout the Middle East.   It is generally made with cracked wheat (burghul), spices, minced onion and ground  meat, gnerally beef, lamb, or goat, or a combination.

It can be shaped into stuffed croquetes (basically little footballs) and deep fried for mezze or made into layers and baked for a main dish. Some folks also eat raw kibbeh. Like Arabic Steak Tartare, minus the quail’s egg and capers.

In Israel, Kubbeh matfuniya and kubbeh hamusta are staples of Iraqi-Jewish cooking. Kubbeh soup, served in many oriental grill restaurants in Israel, is described as a “rich broth with meat-stuffed dumplings and vegetables”.

A Syrian soup known as kibbeh kishk consists of  stuffed kibbeh in a yogurt and butter broth with stewed cabbage leaves.

Fried, torpedo-shaped kibbehs have become popular in Haiti, Dominican Republic and South America – where they are known as quipe or quibbe – after they were introduced by Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian immigrants in the early 20th Century.

(some historical information from www.wikipedia.org)

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Now, on to the recipe.

I make this with a combination of beef and lamb.  You can use all of one or the other if you like.  Goat is also very popular (in the Middle East, anyway) in Kibbeh as well.

As I stated in my Hummous post (3/19/12), I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to my Middle Eastern food.  The one thing I have in the traditional recipe I’ve changed is the amount of onion I use.  Most recipes can call for up to 4 onions.  I use 1 medium-sized one.  Otherwise, it’s pretty authentic.

 

The ingredients

Spices (clockwise from right): Black Pepper; Kosher Salt; ground Allspice; ground Cinnamon

Pine Nuts. These are not inexpensive. They can go for upwards of $20 per pound depending on where you shop. If you decide you don’t want to go to the expense, slivered almonds are a good substitute.

 

Kibbeh Filling

2 tbsp. clarified butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground)

1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds

1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste

 

Raw Kibbeh (the top and bottom layers)

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground beef)

2 cups cracked wheat (burghul)

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste

 

***********

In this recipe, I call for clarified butter.  I don’t use much, but it’s a necessary traditional flavor component.

A note on clarified butter:  I always like to have it on hand.  It has a much higher smoke point than regular butter (450F vs 350F) so it doesn’t burn as quickly.  Plus, it’s delicious. There are some chefs who deep-fry in clarified butter.  You can buy it off the shelf in Indian and Middle Eastern Groceries (Ghee and Samneh, respectively).  When buying, make sure the container indicates that the clarified butter was made with milk.  If it says “vegetable” anywhere on the container, it’s essentially margarine.

However, clarified butter is very easy to make at home.  It keeps for several months and tastes a whole lot better.

Here’s a lovely essay on clairfied butter from the New York Times (5/6/08): http://tinyurl.com/bobsuje 

Basically, clarified butter is butter where the milk solids have been removed.  It can be made with either salted or unsalted butter. (I prefer to use unsalted. I can control the amount of salt in my recipes.)  It’s always best to use European style butter.  It has a lower water content and a higher butterfat content.  Not only will it taste better, you’ll end up with a higher yield.

To make clarified butter, slowly melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (I usually do 2 pounds at a time. I recommend doing at least 1 pound.)

Melting the butter.

 

Once the butter has melted, take it off the heat and, with a large spoon,  carefully begin skimming the milk fat off the surface.

Milk solids on the surface of the melted butter.

Skimming off the milk solids.

I generally discard the milk solids, but some people do use them for other things.  Like spreading on toast or pancakes.  It’s certainly up to you.

After skimming off the milk solids.

Carefully pour the butter into a storage container or into a measuring cup.  Leave any residual milk solids and water in the saucepan.

About 3 cups clarified butter is my yield from 2 pounds of butter.

What’s left in the saucepan is mostly water and any residual milk solids.  Go ahead and discard.

The water and residual milk solids left over.

*************

Now, time for the Kibbeh.

1.  Make the Kibbeh Filling:  In a large skillet,  heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the meat (in this illustration I used lamb) and cook until it is no longer pink.  Add the pine nuts or almonds and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.  Cook another 3 – 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the filling to begin cooling. (There may be some extra fat in the skillet. If there is, go ahead and drain it off.)

The completed Kibbeh filling. Yummy. I have a hard time not standing there with a spoon over the skillet eating.

 

2.  Make the Raw Kibbeh: Put the bulghur in a fine-meshed strainer and rinse it off under cold running water.  Do this until the water runs clear.  Let it drain.

Close-up of bulghur wheat. I like to use a medium sized grain. Too fine a grain will give the kibbeh too soft a texture.

Rinsing off the bulghur.

Put the bulghur in a medium bowl and cover with water.  Let the bulghur soak until it begins to soften; about 20 – 30 minutes.  Drain in a fine sieve, pressing out as much of the water as possible, and set aside.

Soaking the burghul.

 

3.  Take the meat and put into a large bowl. (In this illustration, I used beef for the Raw Kibbeh.).  Add the bulghur.

The meat and burghul. Getting ready to mix together.

 

Now, time to use your hands.  Dig in and mix the ingredients together.  You want them to be thoroughly mixed.  Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice.  Mix until the spices are well incorporated.

The meat, burghul, and spices all mixed together.

 

Now, you need to taste for seasoning.  For me, the best way to taste for seasoning is to take a small amount of the mixture and give it a quick fry on the stove.  That way, I’ll get a better idea of how the finished dish will taste once it’s been completely cooked. Plus,  I won’t be eating raw ground beef.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a little of the clarified butter.  Take a small amount of the mixture and form it into a roughly quarter-sized patty.  Once the butter is hot, add the patty to the skillet and cook.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes.  Take the patty out of the skillet, allow it to cool for a minute, then taste.

Adjust the seasonings as needed.

 

Cooking the mixture to taste it for seasoning.

Or, you could be like my mom or my Arab aunties and just know by smell when the seasoning is right.  I’ve not ever been able to master that skill.

4.  Once you’re happy with the raw kibbeh, prepare a baking dish.  (In this illustration, I used a 12″ x 18″ dish, and it was a little large.  Use something closer to an 11″ x 15″.) Give it a quick spritz with non-stick spray or grease it with butter or olive oil.

Take half of the raw kibbeh and spread it over the bottom as evenly as you can.  It’ll take some doing, but you’ll get there.  If you wet or grease your hands, it’ll help make the process a little easier.

Begin preheating the oven to 375F.

The raw kibbeh spread in the bottom of the baking dish.

5.  Take the Kibbeh filling and spread it evenly over the bottom layer of the Raw Kibbeh.

Kibbeh filling added to the baking dish.

6.  Time to put the top layer on.  Because of the filling, you won’t be able to spread the top layer the same way as the bottom.  So, a different method is needed.

Take small amounts of the raw Kibbeh and flatten them out into thin pieces and lay each piece on top of the Kibbeh filling.

Putting on the top layer.

Be sure to fill in any little gaps as needed.  I know that it will seem like you’ll not have enough for the top layer; but, if you persevere, you will.

7.  Once you have finished completing the top layer, cut through the layers in diamond or square shapes approximately 2 inches each.  This will help with even baking and make cutting the finished Kibbeh easier.

Cutting the Kibbeh.

 

If you like, take some extra pine nuts or almonds and press one into the center of each diamond or square.  Drizzle a little clarified butter or olive oil over the top.

Kibbeh ready for the oven.

8.  Put the Kibbeh in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until it is well-browned.  If you like, turn on the broiler for about 3 – 5 minutes after the initial cooking time to make the Kibbeh golden brown.

The Finished Kibbeh. De-licious.

 

Let the Kibbeh sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

9.  It’s a good idea to serve this dish with a bit of yogurt on the side.  It will help cut the richness of the dish.

However, I prefer to make a quick salad with the yogurt.  I’ve based this on a recipe very similar that Mom always made.

The salad ingredients.

1 cucumber (If you can go with Hothouse [English] or Persian. If you use standard cucumbers, peel and remove the seeds)

1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped

3/4 c. plain yogurt (I like to use full fat Greek yogurt)

Salt & black pepper to taste

 

Cut the cucumber into whatever size pieces you like. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Adjust the seasonings if you like.

The finished salad.

 

10.  Serve.

Dinner is ready. It tastes much better than it looks in this photo. I promise.

 

Enjoy! Sahtein!

 

p.s.  If you like this, I’m teaching even more classic Eastern Mediterranean dishes on Sunday, September 16, at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Boulevard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koshari: The National Dish of Egypt 1

Posted on June 30, 2012 by Sahar

When you mention the word “Koshari” ( كشرى) to an Egyptian, you will likely see someone with a blissful look in their eyes and a smile on their face.  It is regarded by nearly every Egyptian, as well as food historians and enthusiasts, as the National Dish of Egypt.  It’s a wonderful starch-fest of pasta, rice, lentils, and, sometimes, chick peas.  The addition of caramelized onions and a spicy, tangy tomato sauce complete the ensemble.

However, Koshari isn’t Egyptian in origin.  It is said to have come form the Indian dish “Kitchiri” (meaning a dish with rice & lentils) brought to Egypt by British Occupation troops in the late 19th – early 20th Century.  The British troops found the dish filling, delicious, and, most importantly, safe to eat.  The local inhabitants took a liking to this new dish and it became immensly popular.

Additonally, rice isn’t native to Egypt.  So, the Indian origin of the Koshari makes sense.  The Indians got rice from the Persians who most likely learned about it from the Chinese.  Rice wasn’t introduced into Egypt until approximately 1000 BCE. (It seems like a long time ago. But, in this part of the world, it’s a blip in time.) Also, the tomato sauce served with the dish is another Western addition.  Tomatoes & chiles are native to the Americas.  So, Koshari is a great example of what happens when cultures clash – in a good way.

Because it is a vegetarian/vegan dish, it is popular with Coptic Christians during Lent and other religious fast days.

This is a colorful description of how Koshari is served on the street and in the restaurants of Egypt:

“As the Koshary man scoops, he knocks his metal spoon against the sides of the bowls, making the Koshary symphony that you won’t hear elsewhere. When the Koshary man prepares an order of more than four the restaurant fills with sound as if it was a rehearsal for a concert. “The restaurants of Koshary are very noisy. One sits to eat while the Koshary man practices his drums in your ears.”

Abou Tarek, by the way, is the place to go.

(Some information from abissadacooks.blogspot.com; theegyptiancorner.blogspot.com; and, wikipedia.org)

Egypt!

 

***********************

Now, on to the recipe.

 

I generally make this recipe with brown rice and whole wheat pasta.  The more traditional recipes are with white rice and regular flour pasta.  Use whatever you like.  Also, chick peas are completely optional.  I like to use them.

 

The ingredients

 

 

1 c. brown lentils, picked over and rinsed

1/2 c. pasta, like elbow, gemelli, penne, etc. (I like to use whole wheat)

1 c. rice (I like brown rice)

1 can garbanzos (chick peas), drained

3 lbs. onion, peeled and sliced thin (about 1/4″ thick)

1/2 c. olive oil

1 tsp. ground cumin

Sat & Pepper to taste

 

Stewed Tomato Sauce

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 c. onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

2 tsp. white vinegar

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

 

1.  Cook the rice.  Bring 2 cups lightly salted water to a boil and add the rice.  Turn the heat down to low, cover the saucepan, and cook until the rice is done, about 40-50 minutes.  Remove the rice from the heat and set aside.

2.  Meanwhile, cook the lentils.  Bring 4 cups water to a boil and add the lentils.  Cook until the lentils are soft, about 25 – 30 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

3.  Cook the pasta.  Bring 4 c. salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and stir until the water comes to boil again.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and set aside.

4.  Cook the onions.  This is actually is the longest part of the whole process, but for me anyway, is the best part.  The trick is to be patient when cooking the onions.  I cook them over medium-low to medium heat.  You can cook the onions as little or as much as you like, but the traditional way is to caramelize them.

Heat the olive oil over high heat.  Add the onions.  (I also like to add a teaspoon of salt.  It helps to release moisture from the onions and breaks them down a little faster.)  Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover with a piece of foil. (I find steaming the onions also helps with breaking them down.)  For the first 30 minutes, stir the onions occasionally, making sure you keep them covered.

Onions. The beginning. It's amazing how much they'll have cooked down at the end.

Onions. The beginning. It’s amazing how much they’ll have cooked down at the end.

 

Keeping the onions covered. I like to cover them for the first 30 minutes of cooking. I find the steaming helps the onions to release their liquid and keeps them from overcooking too quickly. However, it’s up to you.

 

After 15 minutes. The onions are beginning to wilt.

 

After 30 minutes. They’re beginning to wilt and quite a bit of liquid has been released.

 

After 45 minutes. The onions are beginning to brown.

 

After 1 hour. The liquid is beginning to evaporate and the onions are soft and continuing to brown.

 

5.  Meanwhile, make the sauce.  Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are soft.

 

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

 

6.  Add the tomatoes and lower the heat to low.  Cover and simmer the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After adding the tomatoes.

 

7.  After 20 minutes, add in the cumin, cayenne, vinegar, and salt & pepper to taste.  Set aside until the Khoshari is done.

 

The finished sauce. It can be served warm or at room temperature.

 

8.  While the sauce is cooking, the onions will continue to caramelize.  At this point, you will need to begin keeping a closer eye on the onions and stirring them more frequently.

The onions after 1 hour 15 minutes. The browning will be accellerting quickly at this point. Keep a very close eye on the onions at this point.

 

Onions at 1 hour 30 minues. You can stop at this point if you like. However, I go a little further.

 

 

Onions at 1 hour 45 minutes. Perfect.

9.  Once the onions are done, remove them from the heat, take them out of the oil, drain, and spread out on paper towels.  Keep the oil.

 

Draining the onions. Amazing how much they shrink during cooking.

 

10.  In the reserved oil, heat the rice, pasta, lentils, and garbanzos over medium-high heat.  Add the cumin, salt and pepper to taste.

Reheating the rice, pasta, lentils, and garbanzos.

 

11.  Add in the onions and mix thoroughly.  Taste for seaoning and heat through.

Yumminess.

 

12.  Serve the Khoshari with the sauce on the side.  Or, on top if you like.

Dinner. A dinner that will fill you up.  And, despite the high oil content, it’s olive oil. Monounsaturated fat.

 

Enjoy! Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Points East 0

Posted on March 20, 2012 by Sahar

For the next 2 weeks, I’ll be posting photos and thoughts on my trip to New Jersey & New York City.

I’ll be hitting some new restaurants, helping out with culinary walking tours, eating some wonderful home-cooked meals, and attending the opening gala of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference.

Most photos will be food-related, no doubt.  But, I’ll try to add a little of the local scenery and color in as well.

 

A few photos from my last (and way too long ago) visit:

Union Square Farmer's Market. 9/2010

 

Diner. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Amazing burgers. 9/2010

 

From the Cool Old Ruins Dept. Brooklyn. 9/2010

 

Touristy, I know. But, damn, their corned beef & matzo ball soup are excellent. 9/2010

 

Some of the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. Harlem. 9/2010

 

Soup dumplings. 'Nuff said. Flushing, Queens. 9/2010

 

Fruit & Medicine Garden. The Cloisters. Washington Heights, Manhattan. 9/2010

 

Boardwalk. Asbury Park, NJ 9/2010

 

See you all on the East Side!



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