Sweet Sweet Sea Bass oh how I love thee in Santo Domingo

El Poder Brutal – Brutal power
or
La Cara del Diablo – The face of the devil

Have you ever…. No its not a game. Have you ever had a meal, dish, food, entre, or dessert that smacked you in the face with its yumminess? Have you ever had to use every ounce of control to not lap it up like a starving dog – or kid? You must have also heard the expression, “it’s so good, it will make you smack your momma.” Well, I better not do that, today is her birthday. Well, six years ago, I had sea bass in a seafood sauce for the last time in Santo Domingo, Ecuador at Andalucia’s restaurant. The chef was a Columbian who had trained in Paris, married a lovely Ecuadorian girl and moved to Santo Domingo to serve me this dish. I am sure that is exactly why he went to culinary school – to serve me this amazing dish three times. It was so good that I still want to smack my momma – it was that good.

Lightly Breaded Corvina (Sea Bass) with a beautiful garlic, butter, wine seafood sauce at Andalucia’s in Santo Domingo, Ecuador

As a professor, I have had the opportunity to take students on study abroad trips. We got to travel to Ecuador and see the Andes, tropics, Amazon, and the coast of Ecuador along with the Galapagos Islands (that will be another post with about a million pictures). Three of our trips were in January right after the New Year. We headed south to the capital of Quito, then traveled west to Santo Domingo and then onto the Pacific Coast to a quaint little hole in the mountain town of Same (pronounced Saum a). We had some amazing friends who helped host our groups each time and they are responsible for introducing us to Andalucia’s. Even when I say the name Andalucia, my mouth waters. How crazy is that??

Santo Domingo de los Colorados or simply known as Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is the capital of the province Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas (pronounced by a Kentucky gal as sack a chil yas). The reason for telling you this is to learn about the indigenous people of Santo Domingo known as the Tsachilas or simply the Colorados Indians. This ethnic group was known for the men dying their hair red and using the seeds from the achiote plant to do so.

Santo Domingo has a rich, cultural heritage with the Tscachilas. We had the opportunity to visit and learn from them while we were there. We got to see the achiote pod, cut into it and even use the seeds to paint our faces similar to the Tsachilas. While there we listened to their tradition music and instruments made out of bamboo. The idea of continuing the practices and rituals of ancient people fascinate me. How often do we through tradition by the way side simply for the pleasure of the here and now. Those rich cultures provide a since of understand and knowledge of those who have gone before us. I truly wish we did more of that today.

In the province, we visited a pineapple farm, cocoa farm and a bamboo farm. Some of the sweetest pineapples are not the ones we have in the grocery stores in the US. The best pineapples are actually the third production pineapples. The first produce gets graded and if it is of great quality, equal eyes (the circles on the pineapples are called eyes), no abnormalities or blemishes then, it heads off to the good ole USA. The second production or those with blemishes are a bit smaller than the standard size and they show up in smaller markets or local grocery stores throughout the country. But, the third, oh the third time is the charm. These smaller hand sized pineapples are so sweet and juicy, you could eat them straight out of the fields. Those beauties known as queens are typically found in the open farmer’s markets.

Have you ever walked in a bamboo forest? Well, you should if you ever get the chance. Of all my travels and crazy adventures, I have only had one experience that was close to the vastness of the bamboo and that was the Black Forest in Germany, another blog – I promise with a bit of schnapps. Bamboo can grow to 100 feet tall and they are one of the fastest growing species. Did you know they can grow three feet in a 24 hour period? Yes, a bit invasive if not cared for but they are also gloriously producing massive amount of O2. Which I gratefully appreciate as it filter more of the CO2, and produces twice as much oxygen. As we hiked through the forest, it was at least ten degrees cooler in the forest. We were able to drink water from the bamboo and learned how the indigenous people used the bamboo for drinking, construction, musical instruments, weapons, and so many other functions.

Chocolate, cocoa, cacoa all of these are the same. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory and how rivers of chocolate would flow. I never once really thought about how it grew, what it looked like or the process behind it. As I have ripened with age, I have developed an appreciation for the finer aspects of this product. Dark chocolate paired with a fruit or wine, adding nuts and cheese to a tray of this wondrous creation is just what any doctor (PhD that is – ha) ordered. Cocoa tree is a short tree with a waxy leaf. It produces a fruit not like an apple tree or peach but one where the fruit or pod is produced on the actual bark or trunk of the tree not a flower off of a stem/leaf. The pod grows and ripens into a yellow/brown chocolate color, when cracked open a series of seeds enveloped in a fleshy material fill the pod up. If you tried the fleshy material covering these seeds, it would have a sweet bitter taste to them. For chocolate production, the seeds are set out to ferment, dry, and then roast. Once roasted, you will cut them up into nibs (similar to nuts) and eat them or continue the process of melting them down into glorious chocolate.

Transitioning back to the city, we had such wonderful hosts with the Velastegui’s. They own and operate Radio Zaracay in Santo Domingo. Our connection with this family started back in the 1980’s when Bowling Green, Kentucky had a sister city in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. Holger and his family studied at Western Kentucky University and developed a close relationship with faculty and friends from Kentucky. When we were there, they were gracious hosts and ensured that our time in Santo Domingo was simply the best. I love this country and the people. I have been 19 times and have truly seen and experienced new things each time because of the connections made over the years.

The connections with families in Santo Domingo opened the door to that glorious restaurant, Andalucia, for three years. I ordered the same dish every time simply because I could and it was worth it each time. I recently was shopping at Kroger, our local grocery store, and ran, literally ran to the freezer aisle when I saw the words: Sea Bass. I had wanted so badly to do this blog, to write about this dish since its creation in August, this restaurant, this city. However, in good ole Murray, Kentucky, I figured I would never see this amazing fish in our markets. Now, Nashville or Louisville yes, but not Murray. So on this beautiful January day, I bought all that they had in stock. Yes, I truly took everything that was in the cooler and I do not feel bad about it all. I take no chances! When good luck and fortune of corvina (Spanish word for seas bass) came my way, I grabbed it. My littlest, who by the way is an avid grocery shopper, asked, “why are you buying so many?” I simply said, “baby, when good things come along, you soak it all up – every last ounce.”

Hard to get a good picture when she is in action at the grocery store, gotta love Kroger’s little carts!

So for all of you wanting to know if I mastered that taste from Andalucia’s, well, I sure did come close.

SEA BASS in a SEAFOOD SAUCE

Sea Bass filets (4-5)

1 egg

1 cup Panko Breading – I used whole wheat

1/2 cup Italian Style Bread crumbs

Salt/Pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

For Seafood Sauce

8 oz (1 cup) of Evaporated Milk (being January – we are a bit health conscious so we use evaporated instead of half n’ half.

1 cup of white wine (I used Chardonnay)

1 tbsp of minced garlic

1 tbsp of butter

1 lb of shrimp (I cut some in half and some whole)

1 tbsp of chives

1 tbsp of parsley

Salt and Pepper

In a baking dish, crack your egg and beat it. Add salt and pepper. In a baking dish or flat plate – add your panko crumbs and your Italian Style bread crumbs. Mix. Take your thawed sea bass, coat in egg wash both sides, then into the bread crumbs. Coat both sides. You can keep the skin on, it is one of the few fish like salmon that you can eat the skin. If you want heat, you could add some chili powder or cayenne to the bread crumb mixture.

In a saute pan or skillet, add oil. Cook the fish, 5 minutes on each side. I used a warmer to keep them warm while cooking the rest of the fish.

In a wok skillet or other sauce pan on medium heat, add your evaporated milk, butter, salt, pepper, chives and parsley. Once it is mixed and started to warm, I add the wine slowly (no real reason but this how I do it). Let the mix come to a boil, the reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add shrimp during the last five – six minutes of the simmer. Salt and Pepper to taste.

You may feel the need to add more butter, salt and or pepper to your liking.

I served this dish with roasted asparagus drizzled with a balsamic glaze (store bought) and a salad.

I truly hope that you have traveled to Santo Domingo and back with me in this blog. I love the country, the traditions, the people, and the food. If you haven’t signed up, please do and enjoy the latest food, travel and all. Lots of love and sea bass –

XOXO

NOLA – Red Beans and Rice

Jackson Square

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade! Here’s to the 20’s! Sorry I could not help myself. I tell you what, the teen’s, is that what we are calling the last decade? Well my teen years were awesome – so much happened in just ten years. I truly feel like it was one of the best decades of my life, two kids, another dog, three moves, new careers, a doctorate and lots of travel and food. What more could you ask for? Well naturally, I want to keep on traveling, blogging, cooking, and enjoying this beautiful planet. I thought I would share one of my all time favorite food cities in the world. I have been to 5 of the 7 continents (Africa and Antartica – I am coming to you this decade) and of all the places I have traveled, New Orleans (NOLA) is one of my favorite places. I love the atmosphere, ambience, and the aroma of fabulous food.

If you are going to NOLA, first you must understand the history of the city and the state. It was claimed by the French in 1682 by LaSalle (not the guy from NCIS, New Orleans) and the city was founded in 1718. The center of the city was formed around the Vieux Carre (a square) which is where the French Quarter is currently located. This beautiful city that sat at a high point above the mighty Mississippi river was a hub for trade for France. The territory was given as a part of the Treaty of Paris to the Spaniards in 1763. This succession allowed for beautiful baroque architecture, iron work and arches throughout the city that enhanced the French influence but two great fires in the late 1700’s destroyed parts of the city and the architecture. Spain later ceded Louisiana back to the French and three years later, Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in 1803. The Brits wanted a piece of this precious real-estate as well, thus the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson played a tremendous role in this war and was the victor thus Jackson Square in his honor.

I tell you all this to give you what the city weathered and yet keep tradition and customs alive. Still in the city today you have French, Spanish, and Creole customs alive within the city. This city truly became the blend of a unique, rich culture. This heritage is what I think draws me to this city time and time again. This is also a town that has weathered wars, slavery, storms, and fires and yet has stood the test. When Katrina came, many believed New Orleans would not survive and yet it still stands and it celebrated its 300th anniversary, in style might I add, in 2018.

For my 35th birthday, my husband had a work trip in New Orleans. We both had never been to the city and instantly signed up! This was the absolute best birthday. I had so much fun! I celebrated my birthday at several of the restaurants in the quarter or right off of the quarter. Here are a few of my favorite NOLA things: If you are in NOLA, you must go to Mothers. It is the red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo and the famous po’ boy mecca. Do not be dissuaded my the menu on the wall and the walk up-order counter. Trust me you cannot go wrong with any of it. This restaurant was established in the late 30’s and during World War II, it was coined the “TUN Tavern New Orleans” because 5 of the 7 children of the owners joined the United States Marine Corps and became a local hangout for many Marines. As a wife of a Marine, this was a must and our first dining experience in the city!

We also had another wonderful dinner of prime ribeye, garlic shrimp, and asparagus at Brennans for my actual birthday. This restaurant has been around since the 40’s and the chandeliers and ambience of the place was the perfect setting to celebrate. To top off the evening, I had the traditional bananas foster for dessert. We dressed up and made reservations for the beautiful place and it did not disappoint.

The following evening, I was still celebrating. As you are aware, I like to celebrate this momentous event multiple times. We went to GW Finn’s. The amount of mounted fish on the walls and ceilings were quite unusual but intriguing. We started with oysters on the half shell, Swordfish, Red Snapper and to top off my fabulous birthday, cheesecake. Again, you will need to make reservations for GW Finn’s.

If you are going to take time and go to this iconic city, you need to go to Cafe Du Monde’s and get you a chicory coffee and a beignet. We went to the original location that year and the line to get a beignet was two blocks long. We went back to NOLA last year but, we went to River Marketplace and had zero line. I recommend seeing the original location in the quarter and if the line is too long visit the one just down the river. They not only have the traditional beignets but also beignet fries which was easier and a little less messy.

Now if you are in NOLA, you will see iconic places like Pat O’Briens and the Funky Pirate. Here you can get the traditional a Hurricane and a Grenade. It is a wonderful way to celebrate birthdays – trust me.

No matter where you go in the city, the blend of cultures, religions, people, food, and drink create an amazing experience in this beautiful city. The traditional Red beans and rice always brings back these amazing experiences. So here is my recipe for red beans and rice – New Orleans style.

Red Beans and Rice

2 Smoked Sausage links cut into bite size pieces

1 can of Dark Kidney beans, drained

1 can of Light Red Kidney beans, drained

1 red onion diced

1 tbsp of minced garlic

1 can of rotell

2 tbsp of chili powder

1 tbsp of oregano

1 tbsp of olive oil

3 cups of chicken broth

2 cups of Jasmine Rice

1 Bay leaf

Green onions diced – optional

salt and pepper to taste

In a rice cooker, take two cups of Jasmine rice and three cups of chicken broth and set to cook. I have used a Hamilton Beach rice cooker for the last 10 years and it is a must in our house.

In a large stock pan, add the oil, cook the onions, garlic, sausage, and beans till the onion is translucent. Once the rice is cooked, add the rice to the pan, rotell, chili powder, oregano and bay leaf. Stir, cover, and cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Once it is done, add sliced green onions for garnish – optional. If you wish to add more heat, you can add more chili powder, red pepper flakes, your favorite hot sauce, or an actual chili pepper in there. If you want to add a bit of extra flair, in the last 4-5 minutes add peeled, deveined, shrimp. Salt and pepper to taste.

This is a one pot meal. My kids love this and it brings me back to the French quarter each time. My husband and I will add a bit of red pepper flakes to our bowl for extra heat. I hope you have enjoyed NOLA and red beans and rice. If you haven’t been to New Orleans, do it! You will love the city as much as I do. If you haven’t subscribed yet to my blog, please do so to get the latest blogs.

Happy New Year, Happy New You, Happy New Decade, and may this be a year of good food, glorious travel and great friends! Saluer!

You better Belize it – Amazing Pineapple Jam

On this cold December day, I cannot help but think about the warm sun, sand, and the Caribbean Sea. The smell of salt in the air and the breeze off the ocean. You see back in May, I had the opportunity to travel to Belize on a study abroad with some outstanding students. We traveled throughout the country and hit one of the islands along our trip. While on the mainland, we saw beautiful orange, grapefruit, sugar cane, and pineapple farms. We toured and climbed an amazing ancient Mayan archaeological site, Xunantunich (pronounced: shoe naan too niche). I am saving this one for another blog post – so stay tuned.

After our mainland exploration, we took a ferry boat ride to the island, Caye Caulker. As soon as we arrived, we knew father time ran slower and the island vibes sang through the night. We walked from the ferry terminal to our hotel in sand and sidewalk. We were only there for three short days but this island is truly singing my praises and I will return to Caye Caulker. Not only do you have great access to the beach, bars, food, but also to some amazing snorkeling. We were able to take a charter out with Carlos Tours for a full day and snorkel around the island. His crew was amazing and Carlos ensured we got to see the best of the best in Belize. They also prepared a wonderful lunch for our hungry students that was sensational. We got to snorkel with varieties of colorful fish, stingrays, and even sharks! Let’s just say that I allowed the students to get out first and snorkel then slowly head into the water. I will have to say these sharks were being feed quite well by our captain however, I did not want them to confuse me for food.

On the island the food was fresh and delish. Each morning at our hotel, they served us breakfast in an open air restaurant. We had exceptional views and breezes from the ocean along with the local cemetery. It was literally adjacent to our dividing wall! We were also there during a full moon which was extra special! Or creepy – not sure but we survived. At breakfast, you typically get scrambled eggs, bacon and toast along with fresh fruit. The pineapple jam was absolutely delicious. It was as if I could taste the sweet ripened fruit freshly cut from the farm and a hint of cinnamon. After devouring the wonderfully robust coffee, I asked our server what brand was the jam and where I could buy it. He stated it was not from the store but a speciality jam created by one of the local cooks in the hotel. I immediately told him I would kill for the recipe and I love canning jams. I left it at that and we went about our day. When we arrived back to the hotel, I had a hand written note with the recipe for this glorious masterpiece. So on this bitter cold morning, I sip my robust coffee and eat my pineapple jam and toast and reminisce of warm sea breezes and island adventures.

Pineapple Jam

Notes – you can skip the canning piece if you just want to gobble it up right away. Also, this is for a water bath canning, you could use a pressure cooker as well.

3 Fresh Pineapples, diced

3/4 cup of white sugar

1 tbsp of cinnamon

Ladies and gentlemen its that easy. Take diced pineapple, sugar and cinnamon and cook on medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Then take an emulsifier or a potato masher and puree the pineapple to the consistency of your liking. We like a bit of chunkiness but not a lot in our house.

For water bath canning. Make sure your water covers 1″ above the rim of your jars. For three pineapples, I was able to make a dozen small 4 oz jelly jars. Do not forget to sterilize your jars prior to canning. With the jam warm, fill each jar leaving 1/4″ gap at the top. Wipe the rim clean and screw on lid and band. Bring your water bath canner to a boil, place filled jars with tongs into the water. Boil for approximately 10 minutes. Using the tongs, carefully remove the jars and place on a clean kitchen towel for 24 hours. You should start to hear the lids pop a few minutes after you have removed them from the canner. And there you have a Tropical Paradise Hotel Especial.

This jam is not only wonderful on toast and biscuits, it is also amazing on a banana split! My kids beg for me to add this and my strawberry freezer jam to our homemade banana splits. I tell you this island is absolutely Belizable and my time in this small Central American country was fabulous. If you get a chance to head to Belize, you better do it! Trust me you won’t regret it!

Belize it! It is really that awesome!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Shrimpin’ in Orange Beach, Alabama

We just got back from a fabulous fall break in Orange Beach, Alabama. I hate to admit it but I had never heard of Orange Beach until my cousin talked to me about renting a condo with them. For those inquiring minds like me, I immediately googled favorite stops and things to do in and around this emerging beach town. I was excited for our family to have a bit of a getaway after an intense few weeks at home with work, soccer, track, and school.

Being so close to the Florida state line, it was easy for us to take a drive along Gulf Beach Highway. The FloraBama line is hopping with new condos, restaurants, and plenty of things to do for all. We took a day to visit the first Naval Air Station in the country down in Pensacola, Florida. For visitors to come on base, I assumed there would be an application to fill out ahead of time just to see the Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime museum, the Naval Aviation Museum and Fort Barrancas. However, we were able to drive up to the gate, show proper ID, roll down the windows for the guard to view our car, and that was it. We were only allowed to travel on the Blue Angel Parkway and Taylor Road to see the visitor sites. The lighthouse is an amazing site to see however you must be 40″ tall in order to climb inside of the lighthouse. A small entrance fee into the museum and lighthouse but totally worth it except for your calves – they will strongly disagree. We even got to talk a walk out to the beach and see the lighthouse from the beach area. We then headed over to the Naval Aviation museum, the admission is free so another win for us Dave Ramsey folks. Jack our guide and former pilot was an amazing tour guide. He walked us through from start to finish sharing with us his personal stories of the Korean and Vietnam War. The sheer progress we have made in aviation over the last 100 years is phenomenal. The kids loved climbing in and out of the planes. We had fun shooting down the enemy and dodging them left and right to avoid their deadly missiles. We finished up the last portion of the morning walking through Fort Barrancas. The old Spanish fort was deactivated after World War II due to advancements in technology. The sheer infrastructure and design blows your mind away at this 1800’s old fort. Used during the civil war by the Confederacy and later surrendered to the Union, the brick and stone walls still stand and serve as a reminder of our need to secure our borders. The National Park Service now runs the fort and you can tour it for free.

We finally got to spend a very windy day at the beach but enjoyed putting our toes in the sand, building castles and finding lots of seashells for our classmates back home.

Sometimes you just need a little salt in the air to relax the mind. Our trip would not be a trip without focusing on the food. From the popular fast food restaurant of the Shrimp Basket to the Original Oyster House and finally to The Gulf, food was superb and hit the spot. The Original Oyster House was actually in Gulf Shores just a few miles down the road from us. The friendly service and upbeat decor made for a lively evening. I highly recommend the mouthwatering, with just the right amount of salt and breading, gator bites. My grilled flounder was great with a bit of cajun seasoning and the baked, stuffed crab was my husband’s highlight – though he did not order it and ate half of mine. You feel my struggle. It had diced green and red peppers in it that truly topped it off.

We tried Shrimp, tomatoes, mushroom, and pesto pizza at Lillians. If you love pesto like my cousin Erin – you must try this. It was delicious but oh so different. We wrapped up our short five day trip with a stop at The Gulf. So here is the low down, it is a bit pricey for the amount of food and the fact that you go to the counter and order your food, sit down and wait outside. However, I will tell you it was the best meal we had while we were there. I could have ordered more but you know I am frugal and my husband is even more so than me. I ordered grilled sea scallops, pureed cauliflower with pomegranates, and crispy brussel sprouts. My husband ordered the shrimp taco and we got an appetizer of crispy (which means slightly fried but not really) cauliflower. I wanted to immediately buy cauliflower and make this over and over again.

When you are on vacation, you typically do not want to cook but I am probably one of the exceptions to the rule. I love to try the grocery stores and local shops. I decided since it was the National Shrimp Festival, we would have a shrimp boil back at the condo. Blalock Seafood and Specialty market was high on my priority list to visit. Now, I have been to grocery stores that sell seafood and fish and Pike’s market in Seattle, but I have actually never bought seafood from the market. In good ole Kentucky, it is frozen or if you are lucky Kroger will have a sale on some fresh salmon or tilapia but never seafood. Blalock’s is a family owned and operated market place which I loved supporting. They had ahi tuna, mahi mahi, a white fish that I have no clue what the name was, shrimp – lots of shrimp, and lots of seafood dips to accompany your meal. I was floored when I walked in to find a selection of wine – bonus points. I walked away with four pounds of shrimp for 8 hungry souls and my go to Zatarrain’s shrimp boil in a bag. This by far is a one pot meal and so, so easy – just takes a bit of time and timing.

Shrimp Boil

4 lbs of Shrimp, shell on

2 large onions (I like red but my cousin likes yellow – so I went with yellow)

6 medium sized, diced potatoes (I had Yukon Gold so that is what we used but a red would be great as well)

12 Niblet (aka mini) ears of corn

2 14 oz packages of your favorite sausage (I like polish sausage but any will do)

1 tablespoon of butter

1 Lemon sliced in half

Salt and pepper

In a large stock pot, add 5 quarts of water. Drop the Zatarrain’s bag in the water with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of butter. Dice your potatoes. While you are waiting for the water to boil, slice your onion into strips and dice your sausage into 1 -2″ pieces. Rinse the shrimp with cold tap water and set aside. Once your water has come to a boil, add your potatoes, boil for 15 minutes.

Next add your corn, onion and sausage. Continue to cook for five minutes, Squeeze both halves of your lemon in the water, add a touch more salt and pepper, drop lemon halves in the water. Add shrimp and boil for 1 minute. Turn off heat and set aside. Drain water and serve.

This was so awesome and a nice meal to have in the condo. I hope you enjoy our travels and foods. Till next time Orange Beach….

At The Original Oyster House, they have a gift shop. I am a loyal and dedicated National Lampoons fan for life!!!!!

The Emerald City – Seattle

Oh Seattle! How I love this city with its eclectic culture, breathtaking views, and marvelous cuisine. I first went to Seattle in January of 2010 for a conference. It was actually warmer in Seattle than in Kentucky that year, which blew my mind. My idea was mountains, January, and the Pacific Northwest would be a blistering cold trip for us. Oh how I was wrong. When we flew in to SeaTac the temperature was 55 degrees compared to the single digits in Kentucky. Seattle was crystal clear for the first few days and we got to see spectacular views of Mount Ranier before the drizzle of rain the last few days of our trip.

We ventured throughout the city seeing the iconic sites of Pikes market, the first Starbucks and then a ferry boat ride to Bainbridge. This city was amazing and we even hit a few museums. The Sci-Fi museum is a must for any lover of Star Wars, Star Trek, and ET. On our second journey in 2016, we visited Chihuly gardens and glass museum. It was sheer perfection with the larger than life sculptures. The details that were so life like had you making a second glance to see if it was actually a pumpkin, flower, or not.

One highlight that is very near Chihuly gardens and the Sci-Fi museum is the space needle. Going at night will literally take your breath away. Even in January with the wind biting through your so called windbreaker jacket, it was well worth it. The culture and vibe of a city at night in lights creates the perfect setting for our final night in the Emerald City.

Food, glorious food. The selection of fresh seafood, chowder, teas, and numerous ethnic foods along with my all time favorite cheesecake are literally a block or two away from anywhere you want to go in downtown Seattle. We woke up the first morning and went to Pike’s market. We selected fresh bread and cheeses along with Washington’s number one produce, apples. We followed that up with a lunch of Pacific northwest chowder and cheesecake. I was in awe of the amount of tea shops as we walked the city streets on that first day. The Asian influence in Seattle is evident in the cuisine, tea shops, and spice stores. We walked into a tea shop and had our first tea experience. Little did we know at that time in 2010, we would travel a mere six years later back to Seattle and then leave there for China to adopt our daughter. Isn’t is cool sometimes when you see how this experience set the tone or the pace for an amazing journey years later.

We ventured to Bainbridge Island the next morning, while we were there we felt a bit like we were playing in the best movie of my childhood, The Goonies, the scenes looked so similar but we were not in Oregon. After we ferried back over to Seattle, we tried a flight of local craft beers. Everywhere we travel, we like to try the local food, beer and liquors. We had a crab boil for lunch but I was dying for salmon for dinner. If you are in Seattle you must try salmon. It is fresh from the market and will ultimately change your world.

To bring a little bit of 2010 and 2016 home, I made salmon for dinner. I love when I can find a whole filet on sale. This time I added a bit of flair with a cedar plank. Salmon cooked with a cider plank adds the extra smokiness to the dish. Sides? Well for our family we like potatoes but are love riced cauliflower or rice as a side dish. Our family is a 100% Royal Basmati rice family. My colleague and office mate’s family were from India. She introduced me to basmati rice in 2007 and we have never strayed. The aromatic rice blends well with any meat dish, especially salmon. I typically go for a green veggie when eating salmon or any other colored veggies. Asparagus is always a win with a bit of Stir fry oil and salt lightly baked or broiled to accompany your meal.

Salmon

  • Salmon Filet, thawed, skin on
  • Cedar plank soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes in water
  • 2 Tablespoons of Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon of Splenda Brown Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of ground Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of course salt
  • 1 teaspoon of course pepper

Preheat grill or oven (375 degrees), Take cedar plank and place it on a baking sheet if you are going to cook it in the oven. I lined my baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place Salmon skin side down on plank. Mix your seasonings in a bowl and rub on the top side of the salmon filet. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes in oven. Grill for approximately the same time. We had enough salmon for two adults and two children, plus seconds for the kids and left overs for our lunch the next day.

Sides: Basmati Rice and Baked Asparagus

  • 2 cups of Basmati Rice
  • 3 cups of water
  • Hamilton Beach Rice Cooker
  • dash of oil

It takes 12-15 minutes to cook the rice, the cooker will automatically kick off and keep the rice warm while your salmon finishes cooking in the oven or on the grill.

Asparagus in my mind needs very little to make it delectable. A little bit of oil (stir fry or extra virgin olive oil) and salt go a long way. I roast this in the oven or the grill for about 12 – 15 minutes on 375 degrees.

Last, we like avocado in our home. We drizzle extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with Himalayan Pink salt. When you combine heart healthy foods and kids, you typically do not get great results. However, in our house our kids love grilled foods and veggies. Certain veggies may not be their favorite but they still have to eat it. Our oldest loves the stems of the asparagus and not the tips. Our youngest only wants tips on her plate – so it is a win-win for us. Our kids loved this salmon meal so much the other night they asked for seconds. I hope you enjoy a bit of the Emerald City in your home with this Salmon dish.

Cheers!

M.I.C.K.E.Y. M.O.U.S.E. Mickey Mouse!!!!

Magic Kingdom, December 2011

There is truly no place in the world like Disney World! It does not matter your age, the magic is alive in the characters, food, cast members (employees), and the ambience of the parks. My first trip was after I completed my qualifying exams for my doctorate. Yes, I was an adult in my thirties, the first time I experienced the magic and it was like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one. We had no kids at that time but that did not stop us. I wanted to plan every detail to literally make up for the 30+ years of never going to the happiest place on earth. My former, associate director is a Disney Vacation Club member. He and his wife are master’s at all things Disney related. James sat me down and we literally mapped out all four parks with time schedules and our dining reservations. I was so thrilled to know the ins and outs of the fast pass, dining reservations, park hopper, getting to the park early with breakfast reservations, safari tips, and just how to navigate with the Disney World App. They were lifesavers and continue to train this young Padawan to this very day. Did you catch that? Star Wars is another post for another day, promise. As a type A personality, this was my organizing mind’s grace.

Wow, we look so young! It is amazing to look back on these pictures and truly see the magic. We arrived at 9pm to Disney’s All Star Movies resort. We wanted to stay on property to make the most of the experience, extra magic hours, shopping, etc. Did you know if you find something at one of the shops and you are staying on property, you can just have them send it to your room??? Yes, so worth it no carrying or lugging around all those bags!!! Now that I am celebrating the beautiful decade of the 40’s, I appreciate less stress and less carrying a ton of junk around. My back and shoulders thank me too. I have two kids remember. So back to the magic, we woke up and arrived at Epcot. We stayed there for the majority of the day, cruising with living on the land (as an agriculture gal – this hit the sweet spot) then walking through the world showcase is every travel lover’s dream. 11 countries in walking distance – ha. In Norway, they have school bread. It was a snack with our dining plan and I wanted to steal my husband’s snack for the day to grab another. Highly recommend the school bread in Norway. We loved every minute and stayed late at the park to see the firework display.

We arrived back to the hotel at midnight or so, set our alarms, laid out our clothes, got our 5 hour energy drinks ready for the morning, and crashed for a few hours. From seeing the beauty and garden areas at Epcot to waking up and adventuring in Hollywood Studios, we were making the most of our 4 night, 5 day trip. Toy Story Mania and Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios did not disappoint. As you can tell, Jamie is the fierce competitor and takes it very seriously. I on the other hand, loved being in the moment and did not want to slow down. So naturally he won that round of Mania. We work so hard in our careers and education and now we were getting to play hard. Hollywood Studios Brown Derby Restaurant for lunch was sheer perfection. We had previously went to Le Cellier in Canada’s world showcase at Epcot and devoured the steak and pretzel bread. Both places had phenomenal food and with free dining, you simply could not beat it. At the Brown Derby, they had a special (you know I love specials, coupons, clearance sales -any and all of the above). By selecting the pre-fixe menu option, you got two tickets to Fantasmic. We immediately said yes and could not have been more pleased. A wonderful show on the water was the cherry on the top of another great day at the park.

Back at our room, we have this cool towel artwork that makes coming home and putting up your feet extra special. We stayed at the value resorts for two reasons: money and we were never there except to shower and sleep. The rooms are great and have everything you could need for the 5-8 hours of sleep that we got in there. As I have gotten older, kids, I can see the lure of being closer to the parks to come back for quick naps. However, our kids were bosses this past March and we stayed at All Star Movies again. We were at Magic Kingdom when it opened and they had to tell my kids no more rides in the evening around 10pm. Our youngest napped in our arms during the It’s a Small World line and ride and then was powered up and ready to go. So the value resorts worked for us.

One of the things I loved the most about my first trip was the little touches, the pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse, the characters visiting every table, the flowers and gardens, and the Ghirardelli chocolate mints on your pillow. Everything was so special and the details made it truly magical. As this is my birthday week, I wanted to celebrate by bringing back that first magical experience at Disney World. I love celebrating life in general and all things that bring me joy. My family, cheesecake, pancakes, booking a new trip -oh-lala, reading, sowing (latest adventure), cooking, etc. This is how I celebrate the anniversary of my birth. I love this time of year. It reminds me of how blessed I am to have another year. It took me a while to truly appreciate my birthday. In September of 2001, I had my first job teaching, my first apartment, and my first time truly adulting. I was so excited to celebrate, I planned to make a cake and eat chicken lasagna. The only real problem was that my family and Jamie were a few hours away on the actual day. On my birthday, no one at the school said happy birthday to me. I had not shared that it was my birthday and I guess somewhere inside I thought they would telepathically figure it out??? So I was a bit bummed. Of course I got the phone calls from my loved ones but this was the first time in my life that I truly celebrated my birthday alone. I sat at my kitchen table looking out the window feeling sorry for myself. It had been an emotional week, our country faced the largest terroristic attack in history. Over 3000 people lost their lives and at that time, we did not know if there would be more. And here I was, sitting down eating a meal and feeling sorry for myself. What a stupid thing to feel when I had not told anyone. I was the reason no one in my new town knew about this day. It was on me and I owned it. I made a promise that from that moment on I would celebrate life. For the past 18 years, I have had birthday month, week, and of course, day celebrations. I embrace the beauty of life and hope that my enthusiasm is contagious. So this week, I thought I would bring back the magic for my family and make Mickey Mouse pancakes for supper. I just love having breakfast food for supper. There is something special about it and I can’t quite put my finger on it. For my birthday, I enabled one of my special helpers which added a little extra sweetness.

Naturally, I have one child who loves pancakes as much as I do and one that thinks it is too sweet. Therefore, I have to make two different batters. I am not reinventing the wheel nor am I cooking from scratch. I like to cook from scratch when I have the time but on a Monday night, lets just be real. Get it done, working mom. Krusteaz brand has the best, fluffiest pancake mix around. You can add a tablespoon of lemon juice and a dash of vanilla to give you more of a buttermilk flavor but last night was straightforward by the bag. My daughter loves to cook, stir, and get the batter ready while I prepped the other one. The peanut butter protein packed, Kodiak Cakes brand mix hits the spot with the hubby and older daughter. They are both protein eaters and love all things peanut butter. I always add more milk than required just to thin the batter out for making Mickey Mouse pancakes with the protein flapjack mix.

I have had folks ask me, how in the world do you make these into Mickey Mouse shapes without a mold. Well first, molds are always sticky, hard to clean, and typically a pain for me. I am old school, so take a 1/3 measuring cup. Fill it up. Pour; then immediately go back and fill it up halfway, Drop the batter in the upper left-hand portion of the circle to create an ear and repeat with the other side. It is literally that simply. Sometimes my Pinterest approach is an utter failure. I have come out numerous times with Olaf shaped pancakes instead. See, it is all a matter of perspective. Enjoy and have fun with it after-all, it is my birthday week.

Breakfast for Dinner while watching Frozen – nothing better on the Eve’s eve of my birthday.

This particular posts did not have my usual recipes nor creative food aspects, but it carried magic nonetheless. I truly hope you enjoy the simple comforts of good food, good memories, and a little M.I.C.K.E.Y M.O.U.S.E. on this day.

XOXO Kristie

Ireland, I am coming home

County Kerry

For our tenth anniversary, we traveled to Ireland and did a CIE tour. As a little girl, I was fascinated with Ireland. I had posters of Ireland scattered across my walls. I am not sure where the fascination came from but my love of green, the accents or the movie Circle of Friends, were the key ingredients. I knew my maternal grandmother was a Dunn and came from Ireland. She died of cancer when my mom was 12. When I turned 9, my mom gave me her class ring. She graduated high school in 1944 and I have worn her ring on my right hand since I was nine.

Johnnie Elizabeth Dunn and James Hoyt Meredith’s wedding photo

When Jamie and I started dating, I told him how I saved changed for years to fund my travels. Ireland was the icing on the cake for me, so for our tenth anniversary we booked a southern Ireland tour in November. The 10 day trip was nothing short of amazing and life changing. Have you ever gone to a brand new place and yet it felt familiar as if you had been there before? Well Ireland was like seeing the new and the old, watching pieces of the quilt bind together from childhood dreams to reality. We started in Dublin. We flew in a day early to explore. We soon realized that was a brilliant idea as we watched others came in the day of the trip.

We were just down from Phoenix park, so we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the park. It was lovely even in November. We explored the park, went to Jameson’s distillery and Jamie volunteered, uhm begged, to be a taste tester. We walked for what seemed like miles trying to find the entrance to the Guinness factory. They have 60 kilometers fenced in the city. It took us a while to find the main tourist entrance. We drank and we ate. The first night we had, leg of lamb with roast potatoes and carrots. We were tired and worn out from touring and walking but the mouthwatering lamb was just what I had envisioned for my first sit down meal in Ireland.

We travel down the coast to Waterford, Cork and onto Kerry. From there we traveled over the river Shannon into County Mayo. We visited the house and town where the movie The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. If you haven’t watched this movie, you should. We stayed in Galway and had the best Thai food, crazy right? Then made our way back to yet another distillery, Tullamore Dew before heading back to Dublin. We kissed the Blarney Stone, walked the Cliffs of Moor, saw dolphins in the river Shannon, and touched the Emerald Isle. If you have yet to go, here area few pictures from our trip.

When we have a rare night to ourselves, I like to relive our favorite stops. Ireland is always on our mind so I pop in The Quiet Man dvd, grab the dutch oven, and make leg of lamb with roast carrots and potatoes. With a glass of Jameson, ginger ale, and a twist of lime, we are back to our first night and our first meal in Dublin.

Hope you enjoy!

2 tbsp of olive oil

1 4lb boneless leg of lamb

3-4 medium potatoes – cubed

1 cup of carrots – diced or use the chips and no cutting

1/2 cup of diced celery

1 medium onion diced

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 cloves of garlic

1 tbps of Thyme or 1 fresh spring of Thyme

1 cup of Red Wine/Pinot Noir

1 cup of water or enough to fill the dutch oven half way

Salt and Pepper

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In your dutch oven, pour the oil in the pot and turn heat on high. Take your boneless leg of lamb (leave the strings on to hold it together) and coat with salt, pepper, one clove of garlic, thyme, and a bit of the rosemary.

When the dutch oven is hot, place the leg of lamb fat side down and cook to sear the meat. Flip the lamb over to sear the other side. Once it has been seared on both sides, add the potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, rosemary and the remaining garlic and thyme. Add the cup of red wine and water to reach half way in the dutch oven.

Now, place your lid on your dutch oven and place in the oven. The rule of thumb is 15 -18 minutes per pound of meat. I cooked this leg of lamb for 1:10 minutes.

Once you check the temperature of 130 degrees, allow the leg to rest for a least five minutes prior to slicing. I roasted some asparagus as well to accompany our meal.

Hope you enjoy a little taste of Ireland.

Bienvenidos al Ambato, Ecuador

Mountain Chimborazo in the Andes Mountains

My first true international experience was in 1998 on a Study abroad trip to Ecuador. In May, my professor told me he had a vacancy on his July study abroad trip to Ecuador. He asked if I could come up with $500, a passport, and money to eat and shop on? I did not even hesitate, YES YES I will go! Now, I did not grow up with a lot of money or resources at my disposal. I worked two jobs while being in college. I immediately went back to my dorm gathered everything that would fetch a dime and took it to the one and only Shady Ray’s pawn shop. I pawned a vacuum cleaner, microwave, jewelry, and then made my way to the USPS to get my passport expedited. I have no regrets though I did have some tough conversations with my parents who were not pleased about my decision.

Fast forward to July 1998, I had all of my items packed and headed to the beautiful Andes Mountains. We arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, explored the city and walked the line at the equator. We then headed south to one of the most beautiful areas that I have ever been to in my travels, Pillaro (pronounced pee-ja-row). When I had dreamed up Ireland or any lush green places in my mind, South America was never on my list. However, this special place became so much more than just a dot on the map or a city to mark off my list. It became a part of me. Sounds weird right? Weird as I type it just now but that is what I remember. It transformed me by its beauty, its people and its bounty.

Pillaro, Ecuador

Not only was the geography breathtaking, but the people became family. Their home and hearth were welcoming to me, my family, and my students. I have traveled to Ecuador nearly 20 times in the last 21 years. It is a rich and beautiful country in more ways than one. What I take home with me each time are the memories. A few years ago, okay more like 12 years ago, I bought an Ecuadorian cookbook in hopes of recreating some of my all time favorites. I would refer to the locals and get their take on the recipes to tweak these delectable dishes. So over the years, I have honed in and learned how to make locra de papa. It is a potato soup like no other. Over an open wood fired flame, a Quitcha woman helps prepare the soup for our group. We work in the beautiful fields with their purple flowers and dig our potatoes. This lethargic process makes the soup so much richer.

So from Ecuador to Kentucky and from my kitchen to yours, Locra de papa. The potatoes are the key to this recipe. I use small Yukon gold potatoes which are rich in flavor.

Locra de papa; Pillaro, Ecuador

Locra de papa

8 medium Yukon Yellow Gold potatoes sliced thinly

2 medium Yukon Yellow Gold potatoes cubed

1 tbsp of oil

1 medium onion diced

2 cups of milk

Water to cover the potatoes

Salt and Pepper

Garnish – cheese (queso fresco); avocado; popcorn

Place oil in large stock pan, on medium heat, and add sliced potatoes and onion. Fry the potato/onion combo till the onion soften and begin to break apart. You may have to do this in batches if your pot is not large enough. Next, add water to cover the potatoes and throw in the cubed potatoes. This is where I will season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat for 15-20 minutes. The original fried potato should have dissolved but you may want to take a potato masher to puree any remaining chunks. Then gradually add the milk to the soup. Allow to cook on low for an additional few minutes. The soup should pour out of the ladle into your bowl. Next add the garnishes, queso fresco or your desired cheese, freshly sliced avocado are a must. Enjoy!

The art of making Chinese noodles

China holds a special place in our families heart. It all started with a single piece of paper and $50. We decided it was time our family expanded back in 2014. My husband and I both traveled and loved seeing different cultures and foods from around the world. In my travels, I had been to several orphanages and felt a desire to adopt an international child. After various rules, restrictions and even government regulations, we settled on a child from China. So in October of 2014, we began the process to adopt and two years later we traveled to China to get our daughter. Prior to heading to China, I was fortunate to have a graduate assistant from China. She taught me so many lessons about Chinese heritage and culture. She shared the holidays of Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival, which our family celebrates each and every year. She brought me various foods to try and sample. I tried beef tendons (not for me) and moon pies (which I simply adored but not like the southern delicacy). Kanglei’s mother flew over a few weeks before we left to help us with our girl and to get Kanglei on track for completing her doctorate. They truly became our family and made our transition so much more because of their generosity.

In October of 2016, we left for China to get our 5 year old daughter. It was a special and stressful experience for us as a family. We traveled first to Beijing and got to do some sightseeing before we flew down to Guangzhou. We were acclimating to the time difference and culture for 48 hours before our lives completely changed. We explored the city and after an exhausting travel of 24 plus hours, we were ready to sit down and eat. Trying different foods in a language you could not decipher was a challenge and yet so much fun. We looked at pictures and pointed, sure lets try it! Most food we tried was mouthwatering. A few were questionable and one was scorching hot. My husband did not mind but I downed by drink in two seconds flat. After a few days there, I knew that I wanted to learn what my daughters favorite foods were so that I could make them at home and bring a little bit of China to her. I remembered how I felt when my Aunt Georgia and Aunt Ruth made my favorite foods. It always made me feel so loved and I wanted that for my girl.

Kanglei and I at the Festival of the Moon celebration in Kentucky.

If you were to ask my daughter what her favorite food is, every time she will tell you soup, rice and noodles. I have taken lessons from Mrs Meng (Kanglei’s mom) and even at the Confucius Institute since my travels. I can use a butcher knife and cook with chop sticks. My daughter loves helping me make a noodle called, cat-ear noodle. No cats were involved, I promise. This is such an awesome and rather easy noodle to make. You can pair this with a Kung Pao chicken or ground chicken dish similar to what you use in lettuce wraps.

The process for making the noodles is very simple and fun. We had a competition going on to see who could make more noodles. The ingredients are so simple: all-purpose flour, water and a little extra flour for the work surface. That is it. When you pair this with a flavorful meat, it is a wholesome meal. There are a few key ingredients from China that you must have on hand for most dishes.

I buy 13 Spice powder from Amazon. You can use 5 spice but I have found that most Chinese use the 13 spice in their meat dishes. They also use a vinegar in most all of their meats as well for flavor and tenderization of the meat. The cooking wine sets the bar and adds extra zing to most chicken and pork dishes.

In every province, similar to our states, there is a food or delicacy. My daughter is from the Guangdong province. They are known for amazing dumplings, noodles and dim sum.

We loved the flavors and the beauty of the country. The open markets are quite unique with items that we hardly ever see. Dried starfish, shrimp and items I could not decipher. In the grocery stores, you would see meat hanging on racks and lots of fish on ice. The food was always served in a family style setting and typically on a turn table. My two trips to China were memorable for different reasons but the food was spot on each time.

So let’s get started bringing a bit of China home!

Cat Ear Noodles

  • 1 cup of All-purpose flour
  • Less than 1/2 cup water
  • Little extra flour for the working surface

Slowly blend in water and mix with a pair of chopsticks until water is integrated with the flour and there is no dry flour left.

Knead the dough until the dough forms. It will be a bit sticky.

Cover the dough with a damp paper cloth and let it stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Dust the work surface with flour. Transfer dough onto it and continue to knead until the surface turns smooth and the texture is stringy. When it starts to feel sticky add a little extra flour.

Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a log and medium thin rectangle. Cut into long bars. Then cut into little squares approximately 1″.

Take your rectangle bars and cut them down to small cubes or squares to get the right size cat ears.

Once you have your cubes, press and roll the cubes with your thumb back and forth to create the cat ear. Then put the ears in the boiling water. Boil the noodles for 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Guangzhou Chicken

1 tbsp of Stir Fry Oil (I buy this in bulk on Amazon – I am a bit obsessed)

1 lb of ground chicken (you could use turkey or pork if you desire) .

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 onion diced (I am a red onion fan and use it in my cooking)

1/4 cup of Hoisin sauce

2 Tbsp of soy sauce

1 Tbsp of Shao Xing cooking wine (if you can’t find this at your local Asian store use rice vinegar instead)

1 tsp of 13 spice powder

1 Tbsp of Sriracha if you like a little heat

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in saucepan over medium high heat, add ground meat and cooking wine. Once it starts to brown add the onion and garlic, 13 spice powder, hoisin sauce and the soy sauce. Once it has completely cooked add salt, pepper and Sriracha to taste.

On a plate, ladle out the noodles, then add the Guangzhou chicken to your noodles for a delicious South China meal.

Just 50…no big deal

50 posts, 50 places, and 50 foods from around the globe to your table!

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

Did you know Theodor Suess Geisel was dared to write a children’s book with only 50 words! Well, instead of looking at this as an impossible challenge, a hurtle that could not be matched, or simply giving up; he created the masterpiece, Green Eggs and Ham. As a child, I devoured those 50 words over and over again. In fact, I checked out that book from the library so often that my parents started calling me Sam. My children each have their very own Green Eggs and Ham book. I wrote a note of encouragement in each of their books. I want my girls to always see the possibilities in life, to never let the constraints of life get in the way of exploring this beautiful world and to always try green eggs and ham xoxox Mom (aka your biggest cheerleader). This blog was a dare, a challenge to myself to take my passion for trying new foods, traveling to new places, and bringing those experiences home while creating a space for people to join me on this amazing journey of life. As my good friend Sam said, “Would you, could you, why YES I CAN…” Thanks for traveling along with me. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates. ~ Kristie