Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The history of Guacamole is both short and long.

The Aztecs invented it.

History lesson over.

And since the Aztecs were happily living and eating guacamole in Mexico long before the Spanish swooped in on them in the 1500’s, Guacamole’s been around a long, long time.

Anyone who’s ever seen Guacamole turn brown and crusty at a party has reason to be afraid of it.  And let’s face it; the Avocado in its full fruit form is standoffish, even scary. Bumpy, green and black on the outside, it’s the bad apple of the fruit basket.  Unripe, they’re hard and horrible.  Overripe, they are the stuff of science fiction with the pale green flesh blighted with brown spots and stringy and the skin easily dented.

If an Avocado was a 5th grader, it would be the reason the teacher fears turning his/her back to the class.

And because of their look, Avocados are slighted.  Have you ever seen an avocado image on a slot machine? Cherries, apples, lemons, sure.  Avocados?  Never.

Nobody is the avocado of your eye.  You’ll never say, “She’s an avocado!” as a compliment.

English: A seedless avocado, or cuke, growing ...

Location: San Pablo Huitzo, Oaxaca, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in New York State so Avocados didn’t grow on trees, you know.  I knew about apples and pears. I understood strawberries and blueberries and berries of all persuasions.  I don’t remember when I first encountered the avocado but I know I was suspicious. Too wary to try it and I admit without any avocado knowledge, I was a hater.

Until a frostbite cold, stark and beautiful experience in Uyuni, Bolivia, brought me to the light.

Uyuni is possibly the ickiest city in Bolivia but also home to the largest salt flat in the world (Salar du Uyuni).  A salt lake covered much of Bolivia in Prehistoric times. Today, what remains is about 10,000 square kilometers of desolate, stunning salt desert.

Pre-warned about the ickiness of Uyuni, we booked a night bus from La Paz and planned a single day to see the flats, getting out-of-town that same night to head toward Tupiza (the town near where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are rumored to have met their maker).

I boarded the bus, my backpack deflated since I was wearing every possible layer.  Without heat on the bus  I was grateful when the combined body heat of the passengers warmed the air. The windows fogged but it didn’t matter since it was too dark to take in any view.

The trip lasted hours and hours and I was awake, sleep hard to latch on to, feeling the bus rumble on the road and feeling tortured by the sounds of snoring all around me.  Sleep eventually won out as the sun crept up on the horizon.  I drifted, only to jump up moments later when a drop of water fell on my forehead. Then another hit my nose and yet another dropped on my glasses and ran down the lens.

The windows were all closed and now streaked with water on the inside. The scent on the bus was Ode De Stale Locker Room and the ceiling was covered with droplets, waiting to pull away from the metal surface and fall on my face.

The breath we blew out during the night, transformed and collected on the ceiling was raining down on us.

I was trapped in a terrarium.

We weren’t even there yet and it was already icky. I was cold and worn through and really grossed out. And when we finally arrived, the driver parked and kept the bus doors locked with us inside. It wasn’t quite light and the streets were too dangerous to allow us to wander.

But it was all worth it.

Salar du Uyuni is isolated, unforgiving and beautiful. Just ask these guys:

It is also white crystals that run all the way up to the horizon.

We drove on it, walked on it and then ate it for lunch. Our guide, pulled white bread flour-dusted rolls from his pack, and with a jackknife, cut tomato and avocado into open rolls. Then he reached down, took a pinch of salt from the ground next to his boot, sprinkled it into the sandwich and handed it to me.

I ate two.

And I still remember that lunch as one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

The most spectacular moment of the day was sunset. The white of the salt bed held and reflected the colors of the sky and sometimes even seemed to be directing the show – as the bed turned pink, the sky followed.

I left Uyuni nourished, body and soul, by the experience and by the avocado.

I will never repeat the trip to Salar du Uyuni but I get to go back to the avocado over and over again.  I rarely slice it into a sandwich since my preferred avocado delivery system is Guacamole.

Aztecs believed Guacamole to be an aphrodisiac. I will leave you to test that theory on your own.  It clearly lights a pleasure center in my brain – I think if it as Guacrackole or Crackamole or I just think about it all the time.  Science today tells us the avocado is just plain good fat, good stuff, good for you.

Since Guacamole is avocado mixed with anything, recipes vary. I like the simple set up that lets the ingredients stand out.

My guacamole/guacrackole/crackamole recipe is:

  • 2 Avocados, mashed but chunky
  • 1 medium onion, white, chopped, about a cup
  • 1 medium tomato, juice and seeds removed, chopped
  • Cilantro to taste
  • Jalapeno to taste
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Liberal dash of love

– Mix but don’t mush!

– Eat fast so you don’t have to share!

And of course, have a margarita!

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Yes, Easter was more than a week ago. But this post is about hunting for what you want (and waiting) so the time lag is fitting.

I’ve never been good at hunting for anything.

I remember being very young and lining up in a park for an Easter Egg Hunt.  By “hunt” I mean bright-colored plastic eggs set in plain sight on the lawn.  I plotted a complex strategy for a toddler (run straight forward and grab eggs) and visualized my empty basket filled with Easter bounty.  I came up empty.

In the minutes it took the throng of kids to grab every egg in sight, I managed to collect just one, single, broken, empty egg.  Where did I go wrong?

  • I might not have sprinted off the start line.
  • I probably should have better assessed the competition and repositioned to be in a cluster with weaker kids.
  • And, it’s fair to say that between my glasses (since age 2) and my eye-patch (a constant childhood accessory), that I couldn’t tell a clump of  grass from an Easter Egg.
Glasses, eye-patch, perfect

Glasses, eye-patch, perfect. But who did my hair?

One-eyed - Is it any wonder I couldn't find an Easter Egg?

One-eyed – Is it any wonder I couldn’t find an Easter Egg?

Sometimes, even with the best of plans, reality stacks against you.

This past Easter weekend, reality topped strategy when we embarked on a hunt for a great margarita in the great state of Vermont.

We started off at SoLo Farm & Table in Londonderry, VT.  Recently nominated by Bon Appetite as one of 2012 best restaurants, it was a strategically sound choice.  Great restaurants have great bars, right?

The food at SoLo is worth the trip.  I loved the Oxtail croquettes.  They were a menu special and quite special they were.  I love croquettes so much that I could probably devote a blog to them, so I’m biased.  If you go and they have these on the menu, get two orders.

We also had Duck Confit Hash (this was a little weird and skip-able) and Pekin Duck Breast and Roasted Suckling Pig (amazing). If I go again, I’ll remember the portions are giant and order for sharing and more tasting.  This meal was so good I was sad when I was full.

I was also a little sad because I didn’t find the margarita I was looking for at SoLo.  It was off-balance with too much citrus  and not much tequila.  I think the flower was sad for me too.

The margarita hunt continued in Manchester, VT at the chic and spendy Equinox Hotel.

We spa-ed and lunched and I ordered a margarita at the fancy-schmancy Marsh Tavern.  I was sure the Equinox employed top-notch mixologists and my hunt would be over in moments. And then my “margarita, rocks” came “up” in a martini glass.

Marsh Tavern Marg

Marsh Tavern Marg

It looks like a gift from heaven with the sunlight glinting off the glass. But it just tasted weird. Like maybe lavender infused the home-made mix.  The independent panel of judges reports that the Bloody Mary was just “meh”.  So the drink ordering tip at Marsh Tavern is go for wine.

We sat at the table, pooling our mental powers to come up with a sound strategy for finding a good margarita – we Googled it.

After ruling out the option to buy a franchise to a chain called “Margaritas” we settled on a local called Gringo Jacks.  A Yelp review suggested the best way to enjoy Gringos was after a long hike … we spent several hours shopping (and that’s almost the same thing) so off to Gringo Jacks we went.

Cactus Glass - 'Nuff Said

Cactus Glass – ‘Nuff Said

My newly appointed Syracuse Bureau Chief has a smart rule of thumb – A margarita that comes in a cactus glass probably isn’t that good. ‘Nuff said.  And with this third margarita try, I started to think that I needed to refine my search – there seems to be a tequila shortage in Vermont and someone needs to get to the bottom of that.

But if you hike or ski or don’t do either, and  you’re with a big group, this is a bright, happy place to be.

I promise there is a moral to this story. And there’s a happy ending too.

Finally, I found Easter Eggs – LOTS of them.

Easter Eggs!!

Easter Eggs!!

We eventually did find a GREAT margarita – back in New York City at Mesa Grill. And who doesn’t want to grill and chill with Bobby Flay and this seriously good marg?

Mesa Grill, NYC

Mesa Grill, NYC

Now to the moral: Sometimes, the journey is the point and the thing you think you need, really isn’t important. Yes, I do love a good margarita and I couldn’t find one in Vermont (sorry, Vermont, it’s true). But I had something even better – good friends who were willing to humor me and help in the hunt.  We also had parking mishaps and discount shopping and lots of laughter. And I know the laughter was genuine since the drinks didn’t have any tequila in them.

And mostly we had fun.

When you have friends, your molcajete is always overflowing.


Coming soon: A margarita to fall down for.

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The People Watching:

1. A woman in stilettos and a sea-foam, sequined, skin-tight, cut out back, hem “cut up to there” dress is carrying a giant eco-friendly McDonald’s sac complete with a picture of the Golden Arches and a cheeseburger and fries.

2. A woman, old, with a big smile, tiny clothes and a fanny pack is strolling with a friend. Her grey hair is dulling her brown dye but her eyes, bright blue and busy, stand out on her tanned, boney face. As she passes, I notice the outline of what I can only guess is an incontinence protection pad bulging through her skin-tight, age defying, and butt hugging leggings.

3. A gorgeous 4-yr old girl in a radiant pink dress with cloth flowers in the same bright color adorning her neck is running to her dad, hugging his leg, running away laughing and looking over her shoulder at him before she runs back and hugs his leg again. He holds her stuffed monkey in one hand and his cell phone in the other and never skips a beat on his phone call.

4. A little boy is walking with his Grandfather. He (the little boy) is wearing railroad inspired pinstripe denim pants and blue t-shirt with a striped clip-on tie attached.

5. A man in his early 30’s sits by me with a group of friends. He’s thin, and pale with a Bradley Cooper kind of  face scruff but his danger rating is more Johnny Depp. He’s telling his friends that his parents pay for his cell phone but they’ll only pay for talk time and not for data.  He’s angry. Who in this century can have a cell phone without a data plan? (Sorry Johnny, I’m sure you have and pay for your own data plan.) His friends seemed at a loss for how he can get data on his phone.

6. There’s a woman  in city camouflage (faded, ripped jeans, a grey button down and sunglasses) surreptitiously taking iPhone video of a little boy wearing an F train t-shirt. He’s running back and forth with a slack jaw making his voice bounce with every step – “ehha, ehha, ehha, ehha, ehha …” until he bounces past and away from the camerawoman to his waiting parents.

The Six Things I Learned:

  1. McDonald’s will never be enviro-chic.
  2. To keep ’em guessing, make sure your depends don’t show.
  3. A knee can’t reciprocate a hug.
  4. It’s always possible to find a compromise.
  5. Grow up! (Sorry, not something I learned, just what I was thinking).
  6. Sometimes, to keep on trucking is the best thing you can do.

Had I been in let’s say, Times Square, I’d have written about the proliferation of Naked Cowboys and Elmos or maybe the guy who walks around with blue dyed live rats on his head (I’m sure after the rat image, you’re all grateful I wasn’t in Times Square).

New York is full of quirky and funny and normal people worthy of watching. And with all of this built-in free entertainment, you may never need a drink. But if you’re a little thirsty and maybe hungry too and want to people watch at a place with great food, reasonable prices and a bartender who knows the right end of a tequila bottle (and all the other spirits), check out Kelley & Ping in Soho.  It’s a self-service noodle bar by day and at night, transforms into a candle lit full shebang.  So go enjoy a strong, no kidding around margarita with your Bulgogi (or Pad Sew Yew, or what ever Asian inspired deliciousness strikes your fancy from their menu).

And enjoy the crowd – the tourists, artists, hipsters and average New Yorker’s like me.

Margaritas and chopsticks? Why not at Kelley & Ping?

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Blissful, beautiful – What could make this any better?


Maybe add one (or two) of these?


And definitely add lots of these:

Ah, Paradise!

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Peruvian cuisine is special and wonderful and if not underrated in the United States, at least hard to find. When I was in Peru, I was grateful for the amazing flavors and new experiences. I saw and ate my first purple potato and loved how proud the people are about the variety of potatoes grown in Peru.  So the food – Peruvian Corn,  Purple Potatoes  and  flavorful meat and fish are part of my experience and part of the magic of Peru.

Anticuchos are a traditional and popular Peruvian specialty – basically, marinated meat on a stick.  In Peru, they’re easy to find in restaurants and street carts. In New York, to try Anticuchos and everything else, you should go to Nuela, 43 W 24th St, NYC.

Anticuchos made with beef heart are the most popular variety.  Americanized versions steer clear of organ meat and at Nuela, they’re with Beef Lomo (Tenderloin).  But if you have the chance to try them, I suggest you don’t ask too many questions and just take a bite.

The night I went to Nuela, foodies of the highest order made up the Independent Panel of Judges  – a tricky group to please, and a panel member declared the Beef Lomo Anticuchos the …”best steak” she’s ever had. Peruvian Corn and Potatoes made the side and it was so good we ordered it twice.  They also served us Pandebono, a Columbian cheese bread that was hot, light, melty and so good I might even try to make it.  Luckily, I found this recipe online at mycolumbianrecipes.com. (Ok, confession time – I won’t make it – I’ll just go to Nuela and order it.)

They serve Pisco cocktails and the margarita?  It was good.  A little sweet but fresh.  But the food is the show stealer here.

So check out Nuela and fall in love with Peruvian cuisine.  And, NYC, it’s great for groups!

Margarita at Nuela

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For many, Cinco de Mayo celebrations last as long as the meal and the hangover that follows. I like to spread out my fun so for me and a few margagogo National Correspondents, Cinco de Mayo was a four-day journey of food, drink and more Maine travel.

Tres de Mayo:  Always working, we fit in a margarita while waiting for a flight in the JetBlue terminal at JFK.

margagogo at work courtesy of @mscharlies

Revolucion lured us in with a chalk message on a sign board and the promise of quac. The dream of guacamole wasn’t realized and the margarita was a near miss since the bartender was MIA. As we weighed the pros and cons of self-serve, a harried guy ran into the scene, took our order (two margs, rocks, one with salt and one without) and in a brave attempt to deliver our request, grabbed a salt shaker to shake table salt on a glass. The salt specs  skidded off the sleek, dry surface to coat the counter. We give the bartender and “A” for effort, helpfulness and humor.  For execution, I need to work out a grading curve for airports.  This drink is a classic example of mix abuse – eye-popping sweet and the Milagro tequila he used couldn’t save it. But how high should expectations be in an airport bar?

We ended the day in Maine at home making dinner including Scarlet Margs and margarita ice cream. True, these margaritas aren’t traditional but they are happiness in a glass. And the margarita ice cream? I made it late in the afternoon so it wasn’t quite frozen, making it more like a margarita parfait and giving me a new recipe tip – allowing the full freezer time is optional.

Quatro de Mayo: The rain didn’t stop the ramp up in fact, it accelerated it. Guacamole, movies and more Scarlet Margs followed by dinner at The Dolphin Restaurant and Marina in Harpswell, Maine. I’ve met lots of people who’ve never been to Maine. If you’re one of those people, the lobster stew at The Dolphin is reason to get in your car now and start driving north. It’s cream and butter and lobster and amazing. I suggest you get a cup (not a bowl) because it’s rich and it comes with a blueberry muffin. If it will make you feel better about yourself, get a salad. But Whatever you do, don’t get the margarita. It was a startling show of mix abuse. I think a pint size serving of margarita is a sure sign of trouble.

Cinco de Mayo: El Camino, 15 Cushing Street,  Brunswick, Maine garnered raves from the Independent Panel of Judges.

El Camino, Brunswick, Maine

El Camino, Brunswick,Maine

Velvet Bronco + Year-Round Tinsel Tree

El Camino embraces the decorating I recommended in my last blog post, they make a mean margarita offering all kinds of tequila and margarita choices and the food is great. I think the group favorite was the special Fundido de Camarones. We aren’t sure how they made it but we’re really glad they did. The only problem with El Camino is the hours. It was open from 5PM – 9PM. But when it Maine, do as the Mainers do. You can eat, drink and be home before the sun sets.

Seis de Mayo: @Foodista tells us that May 6 was “National No Diet Day.” I was thrilled to hear this especially since May is also “National Hamburger Month” but I was fooded out from the Cinco de Mayo ramp up and celebration and I couldn’t take full advantage. So let’s eat to “National No Diet Day” happening more than once a year.

Ocho de Mayo: For any of you who are wondering, the margagogo West Coast Bureau Chief sent in a Cupcake Royale (Seattle), Margarita Cupcake picture and review. I think the umbrella alone sells this treat but the review is mixed.  My WCBC says, “I may stick to my cupcakes in chocolate form and my margaritas in drink form, but it certainly added a little extra something to my Tuesday afternoon.”

So there you have it – Cinco de Mayo wrapped up with an umbrella on top.

Coming soon:  Peruvian food in NYC.

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I spent a month in Mexico.

Floating Band Xochimilco, Mexico City

Quetzalcoatl, in Teotihuacan













I explored the country, colors, culture and flavor of Mexico and printed the experience in my memory – a beautiful slide show I have the luxury of flipping through and sharing.  Cinco de Mayo brings the pictures out, literally and figuratively and since much of my Cinco de Mayo celebration is internal, I don’t have a lot of planning to take care of. One of my favorite Mexico memories is sitting in Plaza Garibaldi listening to dozens of mariachi bands play and watching limos pulled up, strike deals and whisk bands away to  gigs. The night was full of music and costume and joy and I was gifted with an amazing pick up line. A man told me, “You are very attractive because you’re a little fat.” That line was later topped by the man who told me that he wanted to be with  me because my nose isn’t too big and the next man who said he loved me because I reminded him of his horse. We can dwell on that mixed message all day. But instead –  Cinco Cinco de Mayo Celebration Ideas for procrastinators!

1. Geek out on history:  Beside the commercial pull of the holiday ( Google alerts advised me more than once that I better buy Cinco de Mayo supplies before they run out) there’s history behind the celebration.  Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day but a celebration of the Mexican victory over the French in The Battle of Puebla in 1862. The victory was short-lived as it gave Napoleon III a reason redouble his invasion efforts. But in a chaotic and uncertain time, it gave the people of Mexico something to feel good about and rally around. So along the theme of unity see #2.

2. Camp it Up: Grab your friends and family and decorate to the nines, Mexico style. When I was in San Miguel de Allende helping the family I lived with decorate for Easter, I went for perfection, biting my lip as I cut colored strips of paper to hang in the windows. My house mom looked at me with wide eyes and said “Nothing in Mexico is exact!” and then she cut the paper with crazy speed, making a multi-colored beautiful banner in minutes. So go for it. If you have kids, they’ll be all over it. If you don’t, you might enjoy decorating more if you add drinks. See #3.

3. Scarlet Margaritas:

I found this recipe on myrecipe.com and my independent panel of judges approve. The drinks are festive and a taste sensation. Win/Win. And a little home cooking (see Margarita Ice Cream and Margarita Cupcakes) can save you from dealing with #4.

4. Restaurant Roulette: Let’s face it, if you’re in a city whose populus embraces Cinco de Mayo, you must be creative and focused if you want restaurant Mexican food on the 5th.  In NYC, all my favorites are booked.  So the options – Try for a walk-in table. Go early, wear comfortable shoes and bring a snack because the bar seats might be full and there might be a wait. Try a lesser known, neighborhood joint. Or, be like me and try #5.

5. Flee:   Find a place that hasn’t gone loco for Cinco de Mayo. I’m heading to Maine and when I called the restaurant I want to try on Saturday night, they told me that they don’t take reservations, are open from 5PM – 9PM and on a Saturday night, the wait could be 40 minutes. I’m not sure if Cinco de Mayo crossed the mind of the person who took my call. And no, 9PM is not a typo – they really close that early. So I think post dinner, I’ll have my friends back to my place for #2 & #3.

Cinco de Mayo is knocking on your door!

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