Sunday, November 01, 2015

My First Breakfast in Turkey

My first breakfast in Turkey a few weeks ago in Kayseri. The day before had been 20+ hours of travel and I needed something restorative.  This rich, spicy mutton soup did the trick. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kebab in Antalya

This wonderful eggplant and lamb kebab is from Antayla on Turkey's Liikya Coast, known to tourists as the Turquoise Coast.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pomegranates in Greece

Pomegranates are everywhere in Greece -- in backyards, hanging temptlingly over fences near city sidewalks and of course in the markets. This photo was taken in a small super market on the island of Hydra, Greece.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Greek Food Photo of the Day -- Pita Kebab with "Everything"

I'm on the road again folks, so you know what that means my irregular posing of (mostly) food photos of my adventures.

Right now we are in Athens where we had this charcoal-grilled lamb pita kebab at a locals cafe near the very meat-centric Central Market.  The waitress asked if wanted it with everything, which of course we did.  Everything turned out to be red onions, tomatoes, yogurt sauce and French fries. The pita was chewy and tasty, the meat was succulent and the overall experience a good one.  The first of many such snacks as we travel through Greece and Turkey, I suspect. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Give a Fig - With Recipes for Lamb with Figs, Hot Chocolate Fig Sauce (with Sea Salt) and a Frozen Fig-Banana Dessert

I like figs - dried, fresh and cooked. Fresh they are juicy and earthy. Dried they are little nuggets of complex sweetness. Cooked they bring color and flavor to a dish.

I enjoy creating recipes with them for both this blog and my Jewish food column in the J weekly.  Seeing fresh figs in the farmers' market or produce store sets my imagination racing about new recipes I can develop and ways I can find to eat these.

It doesn't have to be a fresh fig either to get me going.  The first time I had fig jam slathered over cheese (try a creamy blue or a soft goat cheese) on a whole wheat biscuit-style cracker was a revelation.  Dried figs are like candy in my house to eat out of hand or create confections.

Figs are in season right now in California, which means my fig radar is going full blast.  For more about the types of fresh figs, tips and recipes using figs in recipes and more, check out the California Fig Advisory Board's website.

In honor of the board's upcoming California Fig Fest in Fresno, CA later this month (August 15), I thought I would share some of my recent fig recipes using fresh figs, dried figs and a wowser of a hot chocolate sauce with fig jam and sea salt. To see my recipe for pistachio fig tart with a honey glaze click here. For my fig almond tart in a cornmeal olive oil crust click here.

In the Jewish-Christian tradition, figs symbolize endurance, peace and fruitfulness. Adam and Eve clothed their nakedness with fig leaves. Early scholars ascribed medicinal value to the fig, which is biologically a flower rather than a true fruit. Today, California grows almost 98 percent of the U.S. crop of figs. Worldwide, Turkey is the number one grower of figs. Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Syria and Greece are also major growers. 

For the Lamb with Figs below, I used black mission figs, but brown turkey figs would also work. Sample before buying since figs’ intensity and sweetness vary.

The Hot Chocolate Fig Sauce with Sea Salt can be made in advance, refrigerated and gently reheated. Use non-dairy ingredients for a vegan sauce. Bananas give the vegan Fig-Banana Frozen Dessert a surprisingly creamy texture.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Celebrate Bastille Day with Payard's Pink Champagne Raspberry Granite

Recipe and photo courtesy of Chef Francois Payard

I normally don't use others' recipes or photos but the pr person from Payard sent me these and I was smitten so I decided to share them anyway.

My fondest memory of Bastille Day is one more than 20 years ago spent at the cafe at Domain Chandon in Yountville sipping champagne and listening to cabaret singers.

This relatively easy dessert brings back those memories.   Granité is a sorbet-like dessert made without an ice cream maker.  It it has a more granular texture. The Italians have a similar dessert known as granita.

Happy July 14th!

Pink Champagne and Raspberry Granité

Makes 6 to 8 Servings

2 ½ pints raspberries
½ pint blueberries

1 ⅓ cups sugar
One 750-ml bottle rosé champagne
Juice of 1 lemon

1)    Combine 2 pints of raspberries, the sugar, and ¼ cup of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
2)    Strain the purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Stir in the champagne and lemon juice. Scrape the mixture into a shallow metal baking pan, cover, and freeze until firm, at least 8 hours. (You can make the granité ahead and keep it covered in the freezer for up to 3 days.)
3)    Using the tip of a spoon or the tines of a fork, scrape the granité into chilled dessert glasses, garnish with the remaining ½ pint raspberries and the blueberries, and serve immediately.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

In the Pink -- Pucker Up for Rhubarb: Recipes for Borscht And Buckwheat Blintzes with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Rhubarb Beet Borscht
I'm still seeing lots of rhubarb on the shelves of my supermarkets and produce stores here in California, which seems late in the season for these purplish red and green-tinged stalks.

I hope you have access to lots of fresh rhubarb where you live, but if you don't you can use frozen rhubarb available in many some  groceries, natural foods and specialty markets, and on line (no need to defrost for the recipes below, but defrost and drain first if using in baking.) That makes me think of buying some stalks, cutting in pieces and freezing them myself so I can have the tart goodness of rhubarb throughout the year.

My memories of this astringent ingredient are sweet, not sour. My Grandma Clara used to stew me up a batch of rhubarb harvested from a neighbor's field. 

The plant's stalks cook up pink.  Often strawberries or sugar are added to tame its astringency. In the borscht, I combine rhubarb's tartness with beets' sweetness. If serving cold, you may need additional seasoning.  I like to serve the soup cold at parties as "shooters" in shot glasses topped with a swirl of yogurt and sprinkle of minced dill or mint as an appetizer.

Buckwheat is from the same botanical family as rhubarb and blintzes made with the flour are an earthy complement to the tangy Strawberry Rhubarb Compote. The blintz wrappers are very versatile and can be used with a variety of fillings. Try the compote on top of cheesecake or ice cream.

Since your rhubarb may be more or less astringent than mine, taste as you add sugar since you may need more or less than I've indicated in the recipes.

Be sure to discard any rhubarb leaves as they contain toxic compounds.

Rhubarb Beet Borscht
Serves 6-8

1 1/2 lbs. beet roots, trimmed
8 cups vegetable stock or broth
2 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 lb. fresh rhubarb stalks, trimmed
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. sugar or more as needed
1/2 tsp. lemon juice or more as needed
Garnishes (see below)

Thinly peel beet roots. Cut into 1/4" dice (4 cups). Bring stock to simmer. Add beets and garlic. Simmer 15 minutes until beets have begun to soften. Slice rhubarb into 1/4" pieces (3 cups). Add rhubarb, salt, pepper, and cardamom to soup. Simmer until rhubarb is falling part and beets are completely soft, 30-40 minutes. Taste. Add sugar and or lemon juice to balance taste sweet-tart. Cool and puree half in blender or with immersion blender and return to pot. Serve warm with garnish(es) or chill. If serving cold, taste and correct seasoning before garnishing.

Garnishes: Chose from one or more: sour cream or yogurt; sliced hard-boiled eggs; sliced, boiled potatoes, and minced fresh dill or mint.
Creative Commons license see below

Buckwheat Blintzes with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
Makes 10-12

4 Tbs. melted butter, divided
1 recipe Buckwheat Blintz Crepe Batter (see below)
1 recipe Blintz Filling (see below)
1 recipe Strawberry Rhubarb Compote (see below)
1 Tbs. butter

Melt 3 Tbs. butter. Heat 8" omelet, fry or crepe pan over medium heat. Brush lightly with melted butter.  When sizzling, lift pan up and pour in 1/4 cup batter, swirling to coat bottom evenly. Return to heat.  Cook for 1 minute or until the top of the crepe is set and bottom is light brown or has brown spots. Turn out on a clean dishcloth. Repeat until batter is done, reapplying the melted butter before each crepe.

Lay browned side down. Place 2 Tbs. of filling in middle, leaving about a 1" margin at top and bottom of crepe. Fold top over filling, then fold bottom over. Fold one side over, then the other. Repeat with remaining crepes. Melt 1 Tbs. butter in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Fry in batches for 2 minutes on each side. Serve topped with compote.

Buckwheat Blintz Crepe Batter: Combine in a blender 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup buckwheat flour, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup cold water, 2 eggs, 2 Tbs. oil and 1/4 tsp. salt. Blend on high until well mixed, then for 20 seconds.  Let sit for 1 hour and blend again.

Blintz Filling: Combine 2 cups ricotta cheese, 1 beaten egg, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Mix well.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote:  Simmer 1 cup thinly sliced rhubarb with 1/2 cup of orange juice until just soft. Add 2 cups quartered strawberries, 1 Tbs. lemon juice and 2 Tbs. sugar.  Simmer until strawberries are just cooked. Chill. Use at room temperature.
Photo credits: Soup: Blog Appetit; Rhubarb, By RhubarbFarmer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Another version of this post appeared in the j weekly.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My, My, My Negroni

Inspired by Negroni cocktails I had during the recent Negroni Week, I thought I would celebrate the Golden State Warriors' championship win tonight with the tipple.  

I also had almost everything at home for this simple cocktail except orange peel for the garnish.  I ended up garnishing my cocktail with slices of a Frog Hollow Farm apricot.  To complement the garnish I added a splash of peach schnapps. I liked the results and I share them with you as "My Negroni." For a traditional negroni, simply leave out the schnapps and garnish with the orange peel. I thought my version was a tad smoother.

For a more woodsy version of a Negroni, I direct you to the excellent Sunset Magazine version I had on my recent media tour. It is not more complicated, but the taste is more piney and the ingredients are more specific. The Forest Negroni is the creation of Sunset editor Nino Padova.

My Negroni
Makes 1 large drink

I used a traditional shot glass as a measure

1 measure Campari
1 measure sweet red (rosso) vermouth
1 measure gin
1/4 measure peach schnapps
2 slices of apricot or 1 slice peach

Fill shaker with ice. Pour in Campari, vermouth, gin and schnapps. Shake well.  Strain into chilled glass. Garnish with apricot slices.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Last Hurrah at Sunset Magazine's Menlo Park Campus This Weekend. Come Celebrate the Best of the West!

Sign from 2014 Celebration Weekend
If Sunset Magazine is said to celebrate the life in the West, the sale of it's famed 1951 Cliff May-designed Menlo Park campus is the end of an era and this weekend's Celebration Weekend could be the public's last chance to experience the mid-century landmark.

The move represents not just a change for the home, garden and travel icon of the West but for the population it serves in the coastal and southwestern U.S. Ever larger homes and gardens in suburbia are in many areas being replaced by an urban lifestyle accented by chickens, sustainable container gardens and recycled, homemade artisan maker-style crafts and projects.

Perhaps that shift in interests is reflected by the magazine's planned move in December from it's seven acre suburban campus filled with indoor and outdoor test kitchens, test gardens, wine cellar and offices to Oakland's Jack London Square. A second facility with wine and garden facilities is also planned for Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

At least that's the take I get from talking to Sunset editors at a recent media preview of the June 6 and 7 Celebration Weekend and from Editor in Chief Peggy Northrup's blog post.

Editors at the magazine vow to continue its coverage for both suburban and urban sectors of its audience and their passion for helping their readers live better shone throughout my tour.

The public can come experience all Sunset has to offer during the magazine's 17th annual Celebration Weekend at its campus at 80 Willow Road in Menlo Park.  It is always well attended but Sunset is expecting upwards of 20,000 attendees this year, so I recommend buying tickets in advance. (Plus you'll save $10). Tickets to some tastings and special activities are already sold out.

I went to the weekend last year and thoroughly enjoyed the food samples, kitchen tour, gardens, special exhibits and vendors for home, garden and travel as well as the entertainment and food trucks.
(Here's my write up of last year's event.)  Check the Sunset website for a full schedule of cooking demos (from famed chefs and Sunset staff) as well as entertainment, gardening, decorating and travel presentations..

This year I attended a media preview of Celebration Weekend.  Some highlights of that are below.
Please watch for a separate post with a cocktail and a mocktail recipe from the event.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Trip to Queens and Central Asia

Bukharian Jews lived in Uzbekistan in Central Asia on the spice route, so the seasonings in their food are complex and satisfying. These mantu (meat-filled dumplings) are from Salute in the New York City borough of Queens.  It is located in a neighborhood filled with amazing kosher and non kosher food providers with Russian, Middle East and Central Asian specialties ranging from pickled vegetables, cured meats, savory and sweet pastries to cheeses and much, much more. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Smorgsaburg in Brooklyn -- NYC Photo of the Day

With 100 or so vendors of all kinds of international treats all around me, what did I choose?  The fries from the Bolivian stand.  And they were great tossed with garlic, cilantro and Parmesan cheese and served with cilantro sauce. Several Smorgsaburg locations throughout the great counties of Kings and Queens depending on day and season.  This one was at the spectacular Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

For more info check out the Smorgsaburg website.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NYC Photo of the Day -- Coffee Soda

Think of the Manhattan Special as the Red Bull of its day, which goes back to 1895. Cold, sweet and intense, this espresso soda fueled many NYU study hours for me.  Now available in diet, which does help with the post drink jitters, it still is an acquired taste.  It is thick and syrupy, very coffee flavored, sweet and slightly carbonated.  Pretty much everything I like in one small bottle.  The Manhattan Special makes regular iced coffee seem like it's for sissies.

I've only ever seen this in New York.  It might exist elsewhere but to me it's something I can only drink when I'm in a New York frame of mind.

Update: BevMo carries the regular non-diet version.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Pizza of My Heart -- NYC Photo of the Day

Yes, this happened. This specimen is from Bleecker Street Pizza near where we ar staying. 
Great crust and texture, dry sausage. I'd go back but try a different topping. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

NYC Photo of The Day -- Lebanese "Pizza"

These flatbreads covered with meat, tomatoes and onion are the work of  Manousheh on Bleecker Street in the West Village.  The staff was great, the oven roaring hot and the flatbreads crispy and tasty.

A quick dinner on the go after we sprinkled Aleppo peppers and squirted house made hot sauce on top before we took off to see Post Modern Jukebox in concert.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

NYC Food Photo of the Day -- Breakfast on a Roll

This photo is of what for me symbolizes the on-the-run, to-go breakfast of New York, a hard roll (known as a kaiser roll), split, buttered and stuffed with freshly fried eggs.  Ideally wrapped in waxed paper and quickly shoved in a paper bag, it is the deli and coffee shop breakfast of my young adulthood. Perfect with a cardboard cup of java to go.

This is the first in a series of (almost) daily (mostly) food photos of my month-long visit to the Big Apple and environs. 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

From Floaters to Sinkers -- Matzah Ball Making 101

This is probably the trickiest and most detailed cooking post I’ve ever written, mostly because matzah balls are the most divisive Ashkenazi food I know.  Everyone has an opinion and most think their way is the best way.  Positions are taken young and kept for life.  I suspect marriages have failed because of sinkers and floaters.

With all that pressure, some home cooks are concerned about their matzah ball making ability and opt to use a mix (which still needs added ingredients and requires shaping and cooking) or ask others to make and bring the dumplings to their Seders.

Basically the debates center around ingredients, technique and whether the matzah ball itself is fluffy (a floater) or dense (a sinker).   Which is pretty much every aspect of matzah ball making. Oy.

One friend tells me she really prefers denser matzah balls, but she eats what she gets since she feels she “has no control” over how they turn out.

I can’t promise perfection, but I can give you some tips and recipes that should help anxious matzah ball makers.  Read on for my matzah ball recipes and my suggestions for gaining some control over the process and learn how to make the dumpling of your dreams, or at least close to it.

There are a variety of issues that affect your kneidlach success – the matzah meal itself, seasoning, leavening, liquid, and fat, as well as the shaping and cooking.

For some, the only good matzah meal is homemade, made of pulverized whole matzahs.  I’ve never done this myself, but it seems pretty straight forward and will yield the freshest matzah meal.  To make your own, break sheets of matzah into 1-2” sections and either grind in a food processor or put into double plastic bags and crush with a rolling pin, meat mallet or other heavy device.  You are aiming for pieces the size of commercial matzah meal (about 1/8”or less, be careful not to grind the matzahs too fine, then you’ll have made matzah cake meal).

If you are like me and use commercially prepared matzah meal, taste it before using.  If it tastes stale or rancid your matzah balls will, too. 
The freshness of your matzah meal will also affect how it absorbs your liquid ingredients, so homemade might need a bit less liquid. Add a bit more liquid if the mix seems too dry, although a drier batter is preferred if you want dense matzah balls.

Seasonings are another point of controversy – some recipes use a lot of salt, others just a trace.  Some salt the boiling water, others do not.  My preference is to add about ¼ to½ teaspoon of salt per cup of matzah meal and use very slightly salted boiling water (maybe a ¼ teaspoon for a big pot of water). Pepper is a deal breaker for some, mandatory for others and then there is the question of white or black pepper.  My choice is freshly ground black and I specify the amounts I like to use in the recipes below.

Adding garlic powder and onion powder are options.  If you are used to matzah balls from a mix you may want to include those, since the mixes have them listed as ingredients.  How much to add?  I’d say that depends on your preference.  Start with a ¼ to ½ teaspoon each per cup of matzah meal.

Other variations include adding 1-2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh dill or parsley for each cup of matzah meal.   I prefer to sprinkle the herbs on top of my soup instead of putting them in the matzah ball.

My basic rule is to add the minimal amount of any seasoning and cook up a small test matzah ball and then taste.  If the seasoning is too light, add more to the rest of the batter to compensate.  Keep in mind the kneidlach will be served in a seasoned chicken soup.

For leavening I use eggs and only eggs.  Different size eggs will yield different amounts of liquid.  I usually use large or extra-large eggs.

Some recipes, particularly those promising fluffy results, include baking powder (which is available kosher for Passover).  It is also an ingredient in commercial matzah ball mixes.  The basic amount to add seems to be 1 teaspoon per ¾ cup of matzah meal in addition to the eggs.  Adding baking powder might be good insurance if a lighter matzah ball is imperative for your family and you do not want to risk a cannon ball.

For denser matzah balls, I beat the whole egg.  For lighter, fluffier ones, I separate the yolk from the white.  I beat the yolk until combined, but whisk the whites for about a minute until foamy and add separately.  See recipes for specific directions.

I prefer seltzer as my liquid. Some recipes use just a little liquid (mostly denser ones), others use more.  For years I’ve used seltzer thinking it helps lighten the texture but I’ve never done a scientific testing.  You can also use water or strained chicken soup instead.

If you use seltzer, be sure it is plain, unflavored seltzer.  Do not use club soda, which has salt added or sparkling mineral water which may also contain salt as well as natural mineral flavors.

Fat is another variable.  I think a neutral-tasting vegetable oil helps give fluffier results, but melted (and slightly cooled) chicken fat (schmaltz) makes for the tastiest matzah balls.

I think the shaping is crucial in determining the density of your matzah ball.  The less handling, the fluffier your dumpling.
For ethereal, cloud-like kneidlach, use one spoon to pick up a portion of the batter and another spoon to slide the portion into the boiling water.  This results in free-form dumplings that are incredibly fluffy with no chewiness. Warning, even some floater enthusiasts find these too light.
For fluffy kneidlach floaters that actually look like matzah balls, wet your hands with cold water and handle the dough as little as possible to form rough rounds.  Don’t compress and don’t roll the balls in your hands any more than necessary.  I’ve seen batter destined for fluffy balls made dense by over handling by cooks who are determined to have perfectly round, evenly shaped matzah balls.

For dense, heavier matzah balls (I can’t actually guarantee they will sink, but they will have the slightly chewy texture those who like sinkers prefer), shape with wet hands, rolling and compressing the dough until if forms smooth, even rounds.

How your kneidlach are cooked can also help determine their fate as sinkers or floaters. Put your matzah balls in a pot of simmering water with plenty of room and they will expand more and have a lighter texture.  Crowd them and they will not expand as much and remain denser.

If you are multiplying the recipes or do not have a big enough pot to simmer the matzah balls in, either use several pots at once or cook them in batches. 
Many recipes tell you not to peek once your matzah balls are simmering.  For the fluffy matzah balls, I like to check after about 30 minutes to turn the dumplings over or spoon simmering liquid on them if it appears their tops are drying out.
Sometimes I find the matzah balls take more than the stated time in the recipe, so be sure to check for doneness and not just go by the clock.  I test by cutting one in half.  There should be no raw spots.  A fluffy dumpling should be uniformly creamy white inside.  A denser matzah ball will be more compact and darker, but still uniform.  Both types should taste cooked through.

Once the matzah balls are added to the water, make sure the water stays at a simmer.   The more intense boiling can break apart the dumplings.

I prefer to reheat the matzah balls in simmering chicken soup.  For a recipe and techniques for chicken soup, please check out my Chicken Soup 101 post.

I drain the cooked matzah balls on wire racks set inside baking trays.  For storing in the refrigerator, I place in sealed containers, separating layers with oiled waxed paper.  For longer storage, I freeze on a baking tray and then put the frozen individual dumplings in an airtight container or plastic bag.

Bring the refrigerated matzah balls to room temperature before using.  Defrost the frozen ones by placing them on wire racks until they are room temperature and then reheat in the soup.

Below are two recipes.  One is for fluffy matzah balls and it is based on a recipe from my husband’s Aunt Betty, who was the matzah ball making maven of her generation.  Another recipe is for dense matzah balls.  For a gluten-free option using chicken and almonds, click here. I can’t make iron-clad promises about texture and density in matzah ball making but I can promise that with time and an understanding of the variables, you will get a feel for what makes a good matzah ball for you and your soup.

Floaters -- Fluffy Matzah Balls (Adapted from Aunt Betty’s Recipe)
Makes about 20-22 matzah balls

4 large eggs
1 cup matzah meal
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup plain seltzer
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Separate eggs.  Whisk egg whites for 1 minute until foamy.  Beat yolks in a large bowl until combined.  Add oil, seltzer, salt and pepper to yolks. Mix well. Slowly stir in matzah meal with a fork until well combined.  Fold in a third of the egg whites.  When incorporated, fold in another third and then the remaining third.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.  (Batter will thicken as it chills).

Before shaping, bring a very large soup or stock pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Chill a plate and lightly coat with oil.  Wet hands and gently shape into 1” rough balls being careful not to over handle or compress the dough, placing finished balls on plate.  When they are all formed, gently add balls.  Once the water has returned to a simmer and the matzah balls are floating on top, cover and cook at a simmer for about 50 minutes.  (After 30 minutes of simmering time, check and quickly turn the balls while they cook).  Remove with slotted spoon and drain.  Store as directed in article or reheat in chicken soup.

Sinkers -- Denser Matzah Balls (Adapted from the Back of a Matzah Meal Can)
Makes 8-10 matzah balls

 2 large eggs, beaten
2 Tbs. water, plain seltzer or strained stock
½ cup matzah meal
2 Tbs. oil or slightly cooled, melted schmaltz
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
Dash ground black pepper

Mix eggs with water, matzah meal, oil, salt and pepper. If the dough is too stiff to stir, add a bit more water. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

Bring a large pot of slightly salted water to a boil. Wet hands, roll dough into 1” balls, pressing and shaping to compress into a smooth round shape, placing shaped balls on plate.  When they are all formed, gently drop balls into boiling water, then bring back to a simmer.  Once the water has returned to a simmer and the matzah balls are floating, cover and cook at a simmer for about 30-40 minutes.  Remove with slotted spoon and drain.  Store as directed in article or reheat in chicken soup. 
This originally appeared in Temple Beth Abraham's Omer publication.

For Serios Eats 9/15 matzah ball primer, see the article at

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Skip Cookies this Purim, Go For the Hammered Taschen: Specialty Holiday Cocktails Help Adults Drown out Haman

Shushan Sunset and Sunrise.  I can't tell the difference, so be careful.

While dressing up, acting out Purimshpiels (Purim plays), making noise and listening to the story of how Queen Esther and Mordecai defeated Haman are for all ages, one holiday tradition is strictly for adults – drinking alcohol. Various sources advise us to imbibe until we cannot distinguish the difference between a curse on the evil vizier Haman’s name and a blessing on the Jewish hero Mordecai’s.

Some do suggest drinking only a little bit more than you usually do or indulging only enough to fall asleep since when you are asleep you can’t hear the difference between the two names.

These days moderation and designated drivers are advised, but many of us still take a sip or several to celebrate the Jewish victory, perhaps from a bottle of schnapps or whiskey after the Megillah reading. These cocktails are a little fancier. Think of them as your tipples in Purim costumes.

Two of the drinks are named after the ancient Persian city of Shushan to mark the extra day of fighting that walled city endured. The Shushan Sunrise is non-alcoholic and uses grenadine syrup, a pomegranate flavored sugar syrup available in liquor stores and other markets. The Shushan Sunset features pomegranate liqueur. Both were made with fresh lemonade from the supermarket’s refrigerator section.

Pomegranate liqueur is also featured in the Queen Esther champagne cocktail. Crown Queen Esther by dipping the rim of a champagne flute in lemon juice and then in sugar or powdered sugar before mixing the cocktail.

Vashti’s Venom has a bit of a bite from the bourbon, a bit of sweetness from the cherry cola and a bit of sharpness from the vermouth, giving the drink qualities I imagine Vashti must have had to attract and anger a king. Substitute cola for cherry cola if desired.

The popular apricot jam-filled hamantaschen cookies were the inspiration for the Hammered Taschen. Cookie crumbs on the glass rim and apricot nectar help recreate the flavor of the three-cornered pastry, an Ashkenazi favorite for the holiday.

Shushan Sunrise (Non-Alcoholic)
Serves 1

1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. grenadine syrup
1 cup lemonade, chilled
Mint leaf, optional

Fill 12 oz. glass with ice. Pour 1 Tbs. grenadine syrup over ice. Add lemonade. Stir. Drizzle remaining syrup over top. (Do not stir.) Garnish with mint leaf if desired.

Shushan Sunset
Serves 1

1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. pomegranate liqueur
1 cup lemonade, chilled
Mint leaf, optional

Fill 12 oz. class with ice. Pour 1 Tbs. of the liqueur over ice. Add lemonade. Stir. Drizzle remaining liqueur over top. (Do not stir.) Garnish with mint leaf if desired.

The Hammered Taschen
The Hammered Taschen

Serves 1

2 vanilla wafers
1 Tbs. lime juice plus extra for rim
1 Tbs. triple sec
1 Tbs. peach schnapps
2 Tbs. vodka
3 Tbs. apricot nectar

Crush cookies into a very fine powder. Dip rim of chilled martini or other cocktail glass in lime juice and then in cookie powder. Set aside. Combine 1 Tbs. lime juice with the triple sec, peach schnapps, vodka and apricot nectar in cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake well and strain into prepared glass.

Queen Esther
Serves 1

1 tsp. pomegranate liqueur
Brut champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
3-4 pomegranate seeds, optional

Pour liquor in bottom of chilled champagne flute. Fill glass with champagne. Float seeds on top as garnish if desired.

Vashti’s Venom
Serves 1

1 Tbs. bourbon
1 tsp. sweet (red) vermouth
1 cup cherry cola, chilled
Maraschino cherry, optional

Fill 12 oz. class with ice. Pour bourbon and vermouth in glass. Stir. Add cherry cola. Stir gently. Garnish with maraschino cherry if desired.

This originally appeared in the j weekly.  Plus the cocktails were field-tested at a very fun adults only cocktail party.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I'm Baaack!

I've been home about a week and I've caught up on my sleep but not my mail/email.
Once I dig out I'll post a few more photos, work on some Southeast Asia recipes and post some other recipes as well.

More soon. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Call It a Pizza, Taco or Crepe, It is Still Vietnamese and Delicious

This street vendor was one of many we saw in Dalat, Vietnam, cooking this snack  over a charcoal grill.

First she heated a rice paper wrapper, then broke some quail eggs on top, scrambling them with some chopped chives or scallion tops. 

Next came dried shrimp, sausage slices and other seasonings including chili sauce. After everything was cooked, she folded it over, wrapped the end in scrap paper and presented it to the waiting customer. 

It was fast, inexpensive ($1) and delicious. 

It's too hard working on my iPhone with this so I'll update with more info and links later. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Strawberries in Dalat

Dalat, Vietnam, is famous for its strawberries, presenting Gary and me with a dilemna.

Strawberries are one of those foods I won't eat overseas because of the water that goes into the production and cleaning the fruit.  Just too much alien bacteria for my body to handle (heck, even French strawberries got me sick once.). This from a person who eats lots and lots of street food, too.

Anyway, we ended up buying a box of delightful smelling berries.  We picked out one.  I submerged it in a class of purified water and agitated that poor berry until all its little pips had fallen off the outside of the fruit and the water turned cloudy. We dried it off and had a taste.  A bit sweet, a bit tart, but not as compelling as our in season California strawberries or those Parisan wild ones whose siren call ended up with me being sick all those years ago.

The local Dalat strawberries were also featured in a scrumptious local jam, with lots of large pieces of fruit and a nice balance of sweet and acid.  I slathered the jam on my breakfast baguette every morning we were there.  The rest of the fresh strawberries we gave to the helpful young woman who worked the hotel's front desk.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On a Roll -- Lacy Vietnamese Spring Rolls

In every country I visited I signed up for a cooking class, looking for ones that were hands on, a bit beyond basic and with a mix of dishes familiar and unfamiliar.

In Hanoi, I had a half day class (with market tour) at Hanoi Cooking Centre.  It turns out I was the only student who signed up for the Central Coast Seafood class so I got one-on-one instruction.

Here we are making lacy fried spring rolls with taro, pork and shrimp.  I'll post with a recipe when I test it out with American ingredients when I get back to my kitchen.

This style of spring roll uses two types of rice wrappers -- a lacy outer and a rectangular inner.
Here the instructor is rolling one up.  His hands were quicker than my camera. 

These are fresh wrappers rather than dried so they needed no soaking. The rolls are fried twice but were still not greasy.

Since there were no other students and we made a lot of food, the centre invited Gary to come join me for a dinner featuring the foods I made.  It was the first time he had been able to eat my cooking in weeks

Friday, February 13, 2015

Nuts for Cashews

Piles of ripe, unprocessed cashews in the market in Nam Cat Dien, Vietnam.

These nuts (technically seeds) grow beneath a dupe or false fruit.  The false fruit falls off and the cashews are harvested, the skins and shells mechanically removed due to toxins and then the seed itself undergoes some heat treatment to get rid of the poison ivy-like chemicals (yes, even the ones sold as raw.)

In some countries the cashew apple is used as a fruit (it is astringent and can irritate some folks).  In others it is fermented into a wine or made into a liquor.  I saw it as a fruit in Vietnam and tasted some vile liquor made from it when I was in southern India.

Vietnam was the world's largest grower of cashews in 2012. I also show plantations of the plants with their colorful cashew apples in northern Cambodia, where they (and rubber trees) were being planted to reforest the deforested jungle and forest areas.

A note: due to Google Blogger mobile inadequacies photos aren't laid out exactly how I'd like them and you, the raeader, are used to, but once I return home I'll clean everything up.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Restaurant Kitchen in Phongsaly

The north of Laos has a different look and feel than the rest of the country, you definitely feel the presence of its giant neighbor, China.  Its presence is felt in the look of some of the people, the food, and in the ever present signs and symbols of SinoPower, the Chinese power agency that is building hydroelectric dams throughout the area.

It was the food that concerns me here.  Phongsaly had a style of restaurant I really enjoyed.  Pick your protein and key vegetables from a refrigerator case and the chef, usually a woman, cooks them up for you as she desires.

We found pointing at what others were eating was a good technique for ordering and we did find that chicken, for example, was always prepared the same way.

Above is a kitchen from one of these restaurants.  Once again I was amazed to see who well food can be prepared without all the conveniences of our Western modern kitchens.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Iced Coffee by Dong Nai River

I'm in a beautiful lodge within Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, about four hours from Ho Chi Minh City.  (Forest Floor Lodge.)

Here's what they brought me for my iced coffee. I'll write more about Southeast Asian filtered coffee and iced coffee later, but I just wanted to share this lovely moment.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Say It with Roses -- Valentine's Day Chocolate Rose Berry Cake

Roses are the traditional symbol of love. This Valentine's Day continue the theme with this rich, dense (and gluten-free) chocolate cake featuring rose water. Brands vary in strength so you'll need to taste as you go. Rose water adds a subtle floral taste, but If it is not available the recipe works fine without it. 

Chocolate Rose Berry Cake
Serves 8-12

1/2 cup butter plus extra for pan
10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
6 eggs, divided
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup ground almond flour
1 cup raspberry jam
1/2 to 1 tsp. rose water 
3 tbs. confectioners sugar
Whipped cream topping, optional (see below)
Raspberries for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 9" springform pan with butter. Line bottom with parchment and grease. Cut 1/2 cup butter and chocolate into pieces and melt, stirring occasionally until smooth. Separate four of the eggs and whip whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl beat yolks and remaining eggs with sugar, vanilla, cocoa and almond flour until smooth. Working in batches fold in chocolate. Gently fold in egg whites in batches. Pour into pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until top is firm and springs back to the touch. (Cake will be wet inside). Let cool in pan, remove sides, invert on plate and remove bottom of pan and paper.

Stir jam with 1/2 tsp. of rose water. Taste. Add additional as needed. Once cake is completely cool, use a serrated knife to horizontally cut in half. Spread top of bottom layer with jam, place second layer on top cut side down. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Spread with whipped cream topping and decorate with raspberries.

Whipped Cream Topping: Whip 1/2 pint heavy cream with 2 Tbs. sugar and 1/2 tsp. (or to taste) rose water until soft peaks form.

This recipe first appeared in the j weekly.  

Note: Because it contains no flour the cake may be suitable for Passover if you leave out the confectioners sugar and use products verified for Passover use.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Dry Me Some River Weed in Laos

These racks hold drying river weed from the River Ou. All throughout Laos, women and children collect the weed from the Mekong, its tributaries and other rivers, sort it, shape, press and dry it with sesame seeds and thin slices of tomato.  The dried squares are broken into sections and eaten as a snack or used with traditional Laotian fish or vegetable pastes or dips.

The texture is much like the dried seaweed snack sheets and that product would make a good substitute.

Here is a local Nong Khiew woman preparing the weed for drying.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Spicy Wood and Water Buffalo Stew

This stew features water buffalo meat and chips of what the Laotians call "spicy wood."  I think it is called mai sakahn and is a peppery tasting vine that is just for flavoring. The chips are not eaten. The stew also contained water buffalo skin and Mekong river weed. 

It was strong flavored but good with lots of smoky overtones. 

We ate it in a restaurant in Luang Probang, Laos.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Ice Cream for Breakfast -- Make Every Day a Sundae (Or at Least on February7)

Try an ice cream taco for breakfast
Ice Cream for Breakfast is this Saturday, February 7.

My friend Jan introduced me to this wonderful celebration a few years ago and I've since been determined to spread the word. (For more info on this celebration of the sweet and icy, click here.

I'm in Vietnam far from my home kitchen and not able to whip up new creations, so I thought I'd post links to some of my previously posted ice cream creations that might be adapted for breakfast.


Here's some recipes to try from my j weekly column and Blog Appetit

Ice cream sandwiches and tacos
Chocolate (or other flavor) waffle ice cream sandwiches
Ice cream cake (add some chopped bananas)
Strawberry shake (made with ice cream)

You can also make a fruit, granola and ice cream parfait, or top some pancakes with ice cream and maple syrup, or ....

Let's be honest, you don't really need recipes for this!  If you want more ice cream or sorbet inspired, please search this blog, I have lots of frozen treat recipes for you!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Crisps (or Chips) Ahoy -- Lobster and Other Flavored Potato Snacks

The availability of snack food, or processed ones in general, varies throughout Southeast Asia. But one junk food seen almost everywhere is the potato chip (called crisps in much of the world). While they have the standard salt, salt and vinegar and barbecue flavors the ones in SE Asia also feature lots of seafood seasoning such as shrimp, squid, and lobster (shown above).

Other flavors I've seen are chili, seaweed, and rosemary. Friends tell me of one in Thailand with two flavors mixed in one bag -- lobster and cheese.  

Leave a comment below with any exotic chip flavors you may have spotted on your travels.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Fresh Fish Today (and Every Day)

Anywhere a river runs through it, near it or within motorcycle driving distance there is freshwater fish in Southeast Asia.  Often served grilled (sometimes with a salt and or herb crust) trussed in bamboo splints, it was always good.  Usually the fish was wild-caught tilapia, although sometimes in stews or braises it would be wild or farmed catfish.

At many markets, the fish would swim in a pan or tank of water until it was chosen for someone's lunch or dinner. Then it would be killed, gutted and filleted as desire by the fishmonger, usually a woman sitting on the ground or a low stool with a round wooden butcher block in front of her.  

This fish awaits a hungry customer in Luang Probang, Laos.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A Different Bowl of Soup in Vang Vieng, Laos

As regular readers of this blog and my Facebook feed know, we eat a lot of soup.  This one was different than any other we had in Laos.  For under $2 (15,000 kip), Gary got a big bowl of noodles laced with a slightly spicy red curry sauce, chicken and coconut milk.  The menu at the restaurant called it Lao Noodle Soup.  The restaurant had no sign out front, so if you are in Laos and want a bracing bowlful, it is right across from Wonderful Tours (which we also recommend) in Vang Vieng, a town once known for "happy shakes" that has been cleaned up and made a center for slightly adventurous tourism and natural beauty.  Plus it had some of the best inner tubing I've ever done.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Together for the For the First but Not the Last Time

I keep getting press releases that announce sirarcha (chili paste sauce) with mayonnaise is the new taste sensation of 2015.  While I don't disagree that sirarcha mayonnaise (or wasabi mayo or chipotle mayo) is seriously good, my new love is ketchup mixed with the chili sauce.

I first tried this as a dip for fries in Banlung, Cambodia, and I've been mixing globs of ketchup and the sauce on the side of my plate to accompany all kinds of dishes from noodles to sandwiches to fried rice since.

Sometimes I make it spicy, sometimes the chili is just a hint but the combo's sassy sweet-hot-acid taste is always a nice addition. 

Try it yourself. Always practice safe condiments and don't double dip if you are sharing.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

How Sweet They Were

These fried dough treats are from the market in Banlung, Cambodia.  The provincial and commercial capital of Ratanakiri Province, a remote region near the Vietnamese and Laotian borders with a large ethnic minority population and beautiful jungle and nature preserves, it is also where guest houses, hostels, hotels and restaurants cluster for the locals and the increasing number of foreign visitors who mostly come to trek and see a wild area before more deforestation takes place and the once mighty mahogany forest is totally replaced by cashew and rubber tree plantations.

To get back to the fritters, these are made of rice four as near as I could ascertain and covered in sugar.  The ones with the sticky brown topping are frosted with palm sugar syrup, which is sweet without being cloying and has a strong taste of its own, perhaps a bit vegetal, that I found very pleasant.

Conveniently, these pastries were located right next to my favorite coffee vendor in Southeast Asia, but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beef on a Stick in Siem Reap

Let others ooh and ahh over the monuments at Angkor Wat; plenty of folks have brought home amazing photos and insights of these temples.  I want to sing the praises of a local restaurant not featured in Tripadvisor or Lonely Planet in a humble neighborhood just minutes away from the night market and Pub Alley but worlds away in terms of style, intent and customers. 

Near the Wat Damnak was a small stall with a charcoal grill out front, a child's artwork on the walls, small plastic chairs, low tables and the best lemongrass marinated grilled beef you can imagine, served with a side of tart salad papaya salad and cool green tea.

This is one of the recipes I plan on developing when I get home, so watch for more info and directions.  Meanwhile the memory of this meal is one of my favorite souvenirs.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Grinding New Obsession -- Fresh Green Peppercorns

Look closely.  See those little green nuggets mixed in with the crab and seasoning?  They are fresh green peppercorns.  They are used whole, usually attached in grape-like bunches to a bit of stem.
Not only do they add a bit of heat and a lot of flavor to what they are cooked with, but you can eat the fresh peppercorns (and even the stems) for additional heat and deliciousness.

I first had this amazing seasoning, so different from the brined or dried green peppercorns we see in the USA, in Phnom Penh, when an Israeli expat who grows them brought some for the local Chabad to use in a beef and green peppercorn entree for Friday night dinner.

I next had them at Otress Beach 2 (near Sihanoukville), Cambodia, which is near the peppercorn growing region of Kampot.  The green peppercorns are the fresh unripened and undried fruit of the plant.  They are very perishable and hard to ship, which limits their availability.  Besides having this crab dish and a sautéed seafood dish with them in Otress, we had them on Koh Rong Salaem island off the Cambodian coast.  We also spotted them in a few markets in Cambodia.  Here's a link to a crab and peppercorn recipe .  Once I return home and see if I can find fresh green peppercorns I'll post my own recipes.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rice is Nice

Rice is a foundation ingredient throughout Southeast Asia. Here is a small store selling different kinds and grades of rice and rice steaming baskets used for making sticky rice. The baskets are made from bamboo which gives the rice a subtle flavor. In the background are some of the small baskets with lids used for serving sticky rice in Cambodia and Laos. This market was in Vientiene, Laos, on a street filled with rice, spice and housewares merchants. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We Get a Kick from a Tabletop Grill

Ever hear of  sepak takraw or kick volleyball?  It's a sport my husband follows and he g0t introductions to the Cambodian national team before we headed out to Southeast Asia. After watching an informal practice the players took us out us to a bbq/grill restaurant where we cooked over a table top charcoal grill prawns, squid, beef and veggies. There were several sauces, of which the lime, pepper salt was our favorite. We also snacked on air-dried beef, crispy fried duck tongues and other local delicacies. We also had lots and lots of Cambodia brand beer (served with large ice cubes.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Khmer and Get It: Banana Pancakes in Cambodia

I had these banana Khmer pancakes with chocolate and coconut caramel in Phnom Penh. I had Khmer or Cambodian pancakes throughout the country and they varied from something like we'd make in the USA to a crepe to something made in a special shaped pan,.  No matter what they looked like they were always delicious.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spying inside the Russian Market

One of several markets we visited in Phnom Penh. I never figured out exactly why it was called the Russian Market.  There were no nesting dolls, caviar or vodka in sight.  Supposedly this became the market used by foreigners in Cambodia back in the 1980s when most foreigners there were ... Russian   The proper name for the market is Phsar Tuol Tom Pong. Like many of the markets I've been to in SE Asia, lighting in the market is very dim.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

You Don't Know Jackfruit

I've become obsessed with jackfruit, shown here in a market in Cambodia.  There is a lot of waste since these nuggets of creamy tasting sweet tart goodness have quite extensive natural packaging (and each of them also contains a large seed).  I've had jackfruit before but never had access to so much with so little work on my part for so little money.  I may have overdone it a bit. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Going Bananas for Cambodian Dessert

Another recipe from my Phnom Penh cooking class.  Sago (tapioca) noodles, coconut milk, bananas and  palm sugar. It thickens as it stands but stays a bit on the liquid side. Delicious, easy and satisfying with lots of texture but not at all too sweet or gooey. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Breakfast of Tourists

Rice porridge soup, or rice noodle soup when we can't find it, is our breakfast of choice when we are in Asia.  This is the first bowl of many this trip.  This one was slurped in a little noodle soup stand across from our hostel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  The stand was set up on the sidewalk with a low table and little plastic chairs.  After the breakfast trade was done, the Noodle Lady packed up and the sidewalk became a motorcycle parking lot. (Sidewalks are not for walking in Phnom Penh.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Southeast Asia Photo of the Day

I can't promise every day, since I don't have wifi availability all the time, but I'll try to share some of the amazing (usually) food related pix of my current trip on a regular basis.  I'll mostly be keeping them in chronological order. I might also share some ideas or recipes.

First up this photo from Phonm Penh, Cambodia, is the Green Mango Salad I made at La Table Khmere Cooking School and Restaurant. A little sweet, a little tart, a little salty with a nice crunch and lightness, I'll be making this again when I get home.

Monday, January 05, 2015

From Knish to Cheesesteak and Back Again. A Story of Diners, Delis and the Opposite of Dives

Well, this report has been a few months coming, but I'm finally taking a few minutes (when I'm off on another adventure, of course) to report on what Gary and I did on our Thanksgiving vacation.  (Note:  due to the limitations of Blogger aps and ipad interfaces I can't easily add the links to this report. I'll update with those as soon as I can. In the meantime, Google, bing or any other search engine should be able to find what you need. Nothing esoteric here. You can blame Blogger for the mishmash of fonts and odd photo handling as well.  Blogger doesn't seem to do mobile well.)

We spent two weeks on the East Coast, obsteniosuly to visit friends and celebrate Thanksgiving with family, but It was also about eating delicious things, seeing sights and riding public transit.  Below are some highlights. Watch for more analytical and recipe filled posts on some of the dishes and experiences I had.

Gary and I first flew into JFK and took the AirTrain and two subway trains to our hotel by Lincoln Center.   It was a fine hotel, especially since we picked it blind off Hotwire.  Great neighborhood with lots of nearby restaurants on 9th and 10th avenues (Hell's Kitchen) to choose from for reasonably priced ethnic food.  Our first night we had Turkish tapas (that's what the resto called what I'd call a mezze platter).

Next day we headed to my people's version of the Old Country -- the Lower East Side.  We had a late breakfast of Yonah Schimmel's knishes, a full afternoon of tours at the LES Tenament Musuem, and a late lunch of a Katz's pastrami sandwich which was big enough to share.  Yes, Katz's still has that sign posted about sending a salami to someone in the Army.  They also have a sign over the both where Harry Met Sally filmed the "I'll have what she's having" scene.

We also checked out the Essex Market and Russ and Daughters, but we were full, so we only looked and didn't taste.

Next up was the taping of the 13th to last Colbert Report ever with special guest Jon Stewart.  Between Steven Colbert and Stewart we couldn't stop screaming and laughing, although part of that might have been sheer terror the staff would do something to us if we didn't respond BIG.  (At least four staffers had us practice our screams, yells, claps and laughs before the show started.). They need not have worried, we the audience were so psyched on our own and so entertained we would have shouted ourselves hoarse without the pre-show encouragement. 

Dinner that night was back in Hell's Kitchen for more ethnic food, this time empanadas at Empanada Mama, open 24 hours for all your meat and veggie stuffed pastry needs.

The next day we headed to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  It was moving, affecting and extremely effective at making the stories of victims and their families come alive.  A somber but necessary high spot of our visit.

Dinner that night was with friends at the vegetarian Candle 79.  The company was great, the food tasty as well as beautifully presented and it's quiet white tablecloth ambiance  perfect for catching up with old friends.  Afterwards we took in as light but fun Broaway musical -- Honeymoon in Vegas.

Next up was a subway ride to Penn Station, a short jaunt on NJ Transit and AirTrain to Newark Airport to rent a car for a visit to friends in Philly.  Highlights included Independence Hall, the Barnes Collection, a great tapas meal with some college friends and lots opportunity to visit with other dear friends who also hosted us.

Of course and we had a cheesesteak, which we split.  I've eaten the classic Pat and Geno cheesesteaks before, so I was willing to try something new, Sonny's. It was good, but surprisingly NOT that much better than my local cheesesteak shop.

Then it was off to Long Island where my sisters made a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner and I got a chance to eat in a number of diners where I had my old standby soup and tuna melts. (Until they bring back automats, diners are my fave retro food destinations.)

A few days later we wrapped up our trip by returning our car at John F Kennedy airport and taking public transit to NYC.  We stayed at the Hyatt Herald Square, this time a Priceline find.  We ate breakfast and a few other meals at one of the city's amazing salad bars which was part steam table, part short order cook, part grill and part sandwich shop. 

We walked and walked.  Spent time at the Cloisters, New York's restored middle ages monastery, explored the Met museum, and saw the Tony-winning Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder.  

We also had dinner in the West Village with high school friends of our oldest son.  

Soon enough it was time to roll,our suitcases out and return to JFK for the trip home.