All of these things are true...

I had been in Jordan for several weeks and my love affair with Arabian sweets had reached a lofty peak. In fact, I would begin and end each day with a platter of pastries, smothered in honeys and syrups that would flood through heaps of pistachios on my plate.

Then it happened… I voraciously reached junkie status. More, more. Never enough! Every bakery that caught my sight was fair game,  out for a greater high, exploring the labyrinthine neighborhoods for the more legendary bakeries. But it was in Wadi Musa where my friend, Khaleed, led me right into the snare of Kanafeh.

An unmarked door led to an unnamed bakery where, despite the raging 100f degree day, a father and son were cheerfully slaving away, racking out sheets of pastries. They were using round, shallow pans and alchemy to produce what many call “Arabian cheesecake”.

This “cheesecake” was Kanafehe

A definitive oxymoron- soft and crunchy, sweet’n’salty, cheesy, gooey and crispy. All neatly encased in a glaze of simple syrup and rose water. Good enough to make one prostrate in reverence to the baker.

The ingredients are few yet they lend themselves to an endless array of pastries. We all know and love baklava but it wasn’t until I discovered Kanafeh that the Arabian culture opened up before me, so delicate and sweet behind that mysterious veil.

Now, please excuse this appauling photograph…

…but 1879!!!

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Knafa, Kanafeh, Kunafa? Whatever it is… Tel Aviv, Israel

Let’s just say there’s no right/wrong way to spell it- “A rose by any other name” and all that-

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Kanafeh in Ramallah, Palestine

 

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Kanafeh and assorted pastries in Wadi Musa (Jordan)

There are three variants of kanafeh but in this recipe we’ll focus on khishnah (rough Kunafa)

Ingredients

  • 1 Package- Kataifi Pastry (kataifi is something like spun phyllo. Rather than laid out in thin sheets, it is processed in a way that produces vermicelli-like noodles. Check out this great video to see how it’s made)
  • 1 cup- Ghee
  • 2 cups- Akkawi cheese (you can substitute with mozzarella)

Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup- water
  • 1 1/2 cup- sugar
  • 2 tbsp- Rose water (or orange blossom water)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Optional Toppings

  • Pistachios (crushed)
  • Almonds (whole or crushed)
  • Whatever else catches your fancy (if you dare stray from pistachios…)

As with all recipes- preheat your oven (350f/180c)

Prepare the simple syrup (so that it can cool entirely before the kanafeh is finished) by mixing the water and sugar in a pot- bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Promptly remove the syrup and allow to cool for several minutes. Then add the rose water, or orange blossom water.

At this time, you’ll want to begin shredding the kataifi. This is best done with a food processor but can be achieved by hand. As packaged, kataifi comes in endless noodles and you’ll need to shred them further- so that the average noodle is around one inch in length.

 

Once you have the noodles at the right size, place the kataifi in a large mixing bowl and gently incorporate the melted ghee (clarified butter.)

As the noodles set, begin the process of cutting down the cheese, or even shredding it if possible. I’ve experimented with many cheeses, some sweeter, some saltier, and there’s no rule for what you use. Just be sure to have 2 cups of a quality melting cheese to your liking either shredded or cut in long, narrow strips.

Taking a 9×13 pan, spread out a generous layer of the processed kataifi (about 2/3 of your noodles). Press the noodles firmly into the pan working it into a flat, even surface so that you can then evenly distribute the cheese, all of the cheese.

Follow the cheese with the remaining kataifi and, again, pack the noodles into the cheese, evenly.

With the oven heated, cook the kanafeh until the noodles have become a golden brown (around 10-15 mins)

Once the kanafeh has baked through you’ll want to allow it to cool for 10 mins

At this point, the kanafeh should have become more firm and set into its cheesy, sexy self.

Now, carefully place a cookie sheet atop the baking dish with the kanafeh and invert the pan so that the kanafeh is now on the cookie sheet.

Litter the surface with crushed pistachios and drown your darling with the simple syrup/rose water concoction.

Voila.

OK, so the example given below, about that. I had a tough time finding kataifi, so I substituted the noodles for simple phyllo sheets… no harm done. Yet, I will admit that iteration does neglect all the pleasing textures that comes along with kataifi. However, i’ll take what I can get. So get creative.

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So, any takers?

Yallah’bye!

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All of these things are true...

A couple weeks in my desperate affair with Arabian sweets had reached dangerous highs. In fact, I would begin and end each day with a platter of pastries, smothered in honey and flooded with syrup and pistachio.

Junkie. That’s what you’d call me. A baklav-addict. More, more. Never enough. Every bakery was fair game as I lurked ancient cobbled alleys, out for a greater high, wandering deeper into the labyrinth in search for legendary bakeries. All of this was is good and well but it was in Wadi Musa where my friend, Khaleed, led me right into the snare of Kanafeh.

I followed him downtown through an unmarked door into an unnamed bakery where, despite the raging 110-degrees, a father and son were cheerfully slaving away, racking out sheets of pastries. Round shallow pans and alchemy. Arabian cheesecake.

This cheesecake was Kanafehe

The edible oxymoron – soft and crunchy, sweet’n’salty, cheesy, gooey, and crispy. All neatly encased in a glaze of syrup and rose water.

The ingredients are few yet they lend themselves to an endless array of pastries. We all know and love baklava but it wasn’t until I discovered Kanafeh that I finally tasted the essence of Arabian culture: so delicate and sweet behind that mysterious veil.

Now, please excuse this appalling photograph…

IMG_2298
Knafa, Kanafeh, Kunafa? Whatever it is… Tel Aviv, Israel
…but 1879!!!

Let’s just say there’s no right/wrong way to spell it. A rose by any other name

523975_3679462710501_1083950525_n
Kanafeh in Ramallah, Palestine
IMG_2093
Kanafeh and assorted pastries in Wadi Musa (Jordan)

There are three variants of kanafeh but in this recipe we’ll focus on khishnah (rough Kunafa)

Ingredients

  • 1 Package- Kataifi Pastry (kataifi is something like spun phyllo. Rather than laid out in thin sheets, it is processed in a way that produces vermicelli-like noodles. Check out this great video to see how it’s made)
  • 1 cup- Ghee
  • 2 cups- Akkawi cheese (you can substitute with mozzarella)

Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup- water
  • 1 1/2 cup- sugar
  • 2 tbsp- Rose water (or orange blossom water)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Optional Toppings

  • Pistachios (crushed)
  • Almonds (whole or crushed)
  • Whatever else catches your fancy (if you dare stray from pistachios…)

As with all recipes- preheat your oven (350f/180c)

Prepare the simple syrup (so that it can cool entirely before the kanafeh is finished) by mixing the water and sugar in a pot- bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Promptly remove the syrup and allow to cool for several minutes. Then add the rose water, or orange blossom water.

At this time, you’ll want to begin shredding the kataifi. This is best done with a food processor but can be achieved by hand. As packaged, kataifi comes in endless noodles and you’ll need to shred them further- so that the average noodle is around one inch in length.

Once you have the noodles at the right size, place the kataifi in a large mixing bowl and gently incorporate the melted ghee (clarified butter.)

As the noodles set, begin the process of cutting down the cheese, or even shredding it if possible. I’ve experimented with many cheeses, some sweeter, some saltier, and there’s no rule for what you use. Just be sure to have 2 cups of a quality melting cheese to your liking either shredded or cut in long, narrow strips.

Taking a 9×13 pan, spread out a generous layer of the processed kataifi (about 2/3 of your noodles). Press the noodles firmly into the pan working it into a flat, even surface so that you can then evenly distribute the cheese, all of the cheese.

Follow the cheese with the remaining kataifi and, again, pack the noodles into the cheese, evenly.

With the oven heated, cook the kanafeh until the noodles have become a golden brown (around 10-15 mins)

Once the kanafeh has baked through you’ll want to allow it to cool for 10 mins

At this point, the kanafeh should have become more firm and set into its cheesy, sexy self.

Now, carefully place a cookie sheet atop the baking dish with the kanafeh and invert the pan so that the kanafeh is now on the cookie sheet.

Litter the surface with crushed pistachios and drown your darling with the simple syrup/rose water concoction.

Voila.

OK, so the example given below, about that. I had a tough time finding kataifi, so I substituted the noodles for simple phyllo sheets… no harm done. Yet, I will admit that iteration does neglect all the pleasing textures that comes along with kataifi. However, i’ll take what I can get. So get creative.

20140418-111911.jpg
20140418-111902.jpg

So, any takers?

Yallah

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It was 2012.

While the rest of humanity prepared for the Mayan Apocalypse, I was in the process of selling off ALL my belongings, the profits of which went towards a one-way ticket to Africa and a few months of vagabonding to, you know, “figure out my life.” While researching my first stop –a little known Kingdom called Morocco!– I came across an article about this peculiar dish called tagine. Growing up in an international family I’m naturally obsessed with global cuisine and this is my absolute favorite.

Even the name is sexy.

Say it with me, “Tah-Jeen.”

See! Don’t you feel more exotic?

No plans of visiting a Moroccan bazaar? A quick jaunt to Sur La Table will seal the gap between your grill and Marrakech as we travel together, in our shared craving for the exotic.

Oh, look at you with that shiny new Tagine. Welcome to a new you. Hi there. Here’s the thing. This is my favorite disk. Well, that I have personally made. so IMO, buying a tagine is a tremendous investment. Not only will you impress others but your abilities will be forever evolving. As this is one of the worlds most enchanting dishes.

But it was in the Kingdom itself that I had my first tagine. A friend of mine knew of a place, in a village way up in the Atlas Mountains, a day drive from Marrakech. The kind of place with rickety plastic tables, and shredded tarpaulins as tablecloths. Yet, where dining over the tagine was no less than a ceremony. It was dimly lit, in this crag on the mountain, in the banks of a river carrying icemelt from the previous winter.

We ordered the lamb which came out sizzling on a bed of onions, carrots and garlic surrounded by green olives, dates, and preserved lemons in a rich oily sauce. This being my first meal in 21 hours I dug in eagerly. It may be cliche but this truly was a surreal experience, chowing down, pouring mint tea late into the night.

The next evening I found myself lost in the ancient markets, stumbling down cobbled alleys and seeking to end the craving, like some junkie, shuffling for my next fix and finally with feverish delight slipping through the corridor of an invite-only restaurant: where belly dancers, in sheer skirts and charming bras, were swaying about as clouds of hookah smoke billowed about to the tunes of a hypnotic flute.

…good memories. #takemeback.

Now, back in the states, I’ve had to learn to master the dish for those frequent cravings. This is the most true, and most manageable recipe i’ve found online.

Image and recipe by the Ethnic Spoon

tagine-chicken-1

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup onion chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 Roma tomato cored and diced
  • 1/4 cup peas frozen
  • 3 carrots sliced
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 tsp curry
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 Tb fresh parsley chopped
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt (paleo diet: sea salt)
  • 3 lbs chicken whole roaster cut into pieces
  • 1 lb potatoes (paleo diet: sweet potatoes)

FOR FULL RECIPE & INSTRUCTIONS CHECK OUT The Ethnic Spoon. I absolutely love Analida’s blog and recipes. They’re among my go-to websites.

Et Voila! Have you come across any dishes abroad that left a huge impression?

N. Andriani

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Summer is long days, the sun pouring its song across orange-evening skylines with everything its got. Summer is falling across damp grass, wine bottle in hand, picnic blanket shaken out and mosquito bites. Summer is sun-burns and sand-where-you-don’t-want-it vacations. Summer is lush, drunk on springs abundance. The death of winter is almost forgot, the rebirth of spring a dizzy memory and the autumn far from the horizon for summer is here and now.

Over Memorial Day Weekend I had a few friends over on whom I was able to experiment with some new recipes which I’ve picked up on the road. Now, I’ve never been to Thailand but these wickedly delightful grilled corns are another great reason to visit Thailand, not to mention Asian Snake Whiskey and my Buddhist tendencies.

One more thing, i’m a heavy wine drinker. I’ll take or leave, usually leave, beer. I’m a gin snob but not that jerk who won’t enjoy a cheap bottle… all I’m trying to get at is that I love me some good wine. These days, at least my current fixation comes from Spain.

So for this meal we uncorked a bottle of Verdejo from Finca Montepedroso, which I highly recommend to accompany this meal.

Grocery List

Wine:

Thai Street Corn

  • However many heads of corn you need…
  • Coconut Cream, one can
  • Cayenne 1 tsp
  • Ginger 1 tsp
  • Honey 2 tsp

Salmon:

  • Salmon filet w/ skin, however much you may need…
  • Cedar plank
  • Olive oil

Crostini:

  • Sourdough loaf
  • Ripe pears
  • Goat cheese

Finca Montepedroso, Verdejo 2013

An award winner and one of the smoothest, most delicate white wines I’ve tasted. Yet it remains very complex, with notes of green apple and a soft minerality. Not sweet, but crisp, I’d call this an exceptional summer wine — pairing damn well with tonight’s dish. Hailing from a family run estate in the rugged foothills of Rueda, Spain it’s become one of our go-to wines when stocking the cooler.

Thai Street Corn

  1. Shear corn so that the husks are pulled back from the meat but not torn off.
  2. This is the trick part, but easy enough — with the husks pulled back, take two of the longer strips and tie the remaining husks together like so… see following images image
  3. Heat up all other ingredients in a pot — Coconut cream, honey, cayenne and ginger over medium for three minutes. Or until thickened and homogenized.
  4. Place corn on grill. Brush with coconut sauce ever few minutes when rotating.
  5. Cook until slightly charred or to your preference

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CROSTINI

  1. Cut crostini into thin slices and butter both sides
  2. spread a generous layer of goat cheese across the face.
  3. Top with a thin slice from a ripe pair
  4. Grill to liking

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SALMON

  1. Set grill at a stable medium heat.
  2. Place salmon skin side down upon the cedar plank.
  3. Rub fillets with olive oil (simplify the ingredients, embrace the smokiness.)
  4. Place on grill over indirect heat, cover.
  5. Grill until darkened, 20-30 mins.

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We stumbled away from Another Kind of Sunrise high on good food and despite this the lure of chocolate never wore off. I felt like a child longing for a view into Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. Knowing that what lies beyond contained the secret of cacao alchemica; that is, the transformation of cacao from plant to biodynamic and holy confections.

Rounding the alley we found ourselves in the presence of a true American pioneer- ZenBunni

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Overturned turtle shells emit a soft glow as they light a path through the rabbit hole.

Bohemian and whimsical in equal measure the storefront carries the timeless essence of passion and sustainability. After repurposing an old broom closet husband and wife -Zen and Bunni- created this space using clay and mud from their property outside Los Angeles. If that isn’t admirable enough, this was followed by a final dusting of cacao powder (the walls are chocolate!). Thus encouraging any and all to take a trip down the rabbit hole.

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Packets of hand selected chocolate mingle with pine cones and antlers on display for a quick fix.

Below the counter ten artfully prepared recipes await for you to explore the world of dopamine enhancers.

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This is the kind of chocolate in which it’s a shame to chew. That which you’re drawn to for the sensation of all those well balanced compounds like phenylethylamine and cannibinoids; a recipe for childlike giddiness.

We sample the “Lost Salt of Atlantis” following up with an order for the Rainbow Pack (which comes with 9 chocolates and a little crystal) and several bars (Maui Turmeric Ginger, Cali Almond and the Shiva Rose). It’s hard not to smile after breaking a bar in your mouth. Sit back and let the good times roll. But know your limit. Between Jaclyn and myself, we could have cleaned out this store in one sitting!

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With one final pass we bid farewell to Zen as our last day in Los Angeles comes to a close.

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In the alleyway between ZenBunni and Another Kind of Sunrise.


Our original plan had us on the road, leaving L.A. at 9am. It was just past noon as we left ZenBunni. And that is how to travel consciously.

Abandon your precepts and break the rules. Otherwise ZenBunni, Another Kind of Sunrise would have been nothing more than chalkboards I probably wouldn’t have seen and Abbot Kinney just another place-name on a map.

One last thing–ZenBunni is up for a Guinness World Record for smallest chocolate shop. How cool is that?!

until next time–yallah’bye

 *Photo credits to Jaclyn Joslin

All cities come equipped with a beating heart. A cultural core that stimulates the genius in urbanites giving them a unique identity to stand apart from the rest of the world. Some cities, like Los Angeles, race to the tune of several hearts and it was on our way out of L.A. that we came across one such nucleus while on the hunt for breakfast in a seemingly deserted town at 9am. IMG_0405

It was reggae music that came first, then voices and finally we found ourselves part of a small crowd, down a tight alley, in front of a makeshift cafe where a young woman stood with confidence between the grinding of coffee beans and noting of detailed orders.  We were the last in what became a line as the crowd dispersed leaving us alone with chef Lela Buttery.

Another Kind of Sunrise

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Biologist and self-described food sorcerer, Lela “yes, my last name really is Buttery,” Buttery projects her addicting personality and revolutionary approach to diet.  Talking us through her own philosophies and menu items such as Buttery Brew and Paleo Granola we were quickly becoming entranced.

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After placing our order (Buttery Brew, Farfurina’s Paleo Granola, a Meri Acai Bowl and a Dandelion-Lavender-Ginger Tea) we set out on a tour around the tight alley.

Not only the chocolatier but a handful of other merchants lie beyond the cafe/cereal house.

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Trail marker. So that Hat-maker, that’s Nick Fouquet-local Mad Hatter=He who made not only a personalized head piece for Madonna but also Pharrell.

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Urban jungle. The alley which holds many, many secrets.

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ZenBunni: It’s clear that there be something magical behind these closed doors. But sadly the doors were locked shut.

Food ready Lela called us back to the cafe at the entrance of this quirky alley.

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With the Buttery Coffee to wash it all down I dove into my Paleo granola a boy and emerged a caveman (no offense Neanderthals), in a complete food-centric rage. Ravaging every morsel of berry and gluten-free granola. All balanced by the tart grass-fed whole-milk yogurt. Jaclyn was equally pleased with her spicy gingery tea and acai bowl.

Lela gave us the rundown on Buttery Coffee and the wrongful villainization of butter in our society. Freshly roasted coffee beans (from Handlebar Coffee) are brewed and married to equal parts ghee and raw coconut oil. It’s royal, decadent, smoothly silken, and seductive. All without being overly sweet. I’ve never been fond of coffee, nor lattes, nor mocha-whatevers. This miraculous concoction spoke my language.

Jaclyn and I move about the cafe, savoring our bowls of cereal and sipping our brews like children with hot chocolate on Christmas morning.

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What treasures are to be found if you follow the trail of the UniWolfCheetah?

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Art and greenery envelop the alley giving it an organic, natural feel.

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*A note on the UniWolfCheeta- Diana Garcia is the mastermind behind these Unicorn-Wolf-Cheetah hybrids which are part of her series titled “I’m Not a Wolf”. Indeed, you are not a wolf. They can be seen down the street on Abbot Kinney, in Mexico City, NYC, and Austin, Texas. This mytical creature gets around, you could say.

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 Only a quarter of the way through the alley we’re ready to move on to the next shop as the rest of Abbot Kinney stirs to life. We meet the owner of ZenBunni, a regular at AKOSunrise as he ordered his breakfast and assured us that the shop would now be open.

On we march to chocolate paradise where the door has been peeled away leading us down a rabbit hole…

Let’s save that for next time


P.S. I can’t close without noting that the food sorcerer, Lela Buttery, authored a book titled We Can Do Butter. It’s an informative goldmine covering sustainable living and sourcing better quality food. Full for recipes, scientific evaluations, and logic the book serves it’s purpose well. If you’re one to question the world of commercially processed foods do take a look at her site.

Abbot Kinney Part II: ZenBunni

until next time–yallah’bye

*All photos taken by Jaclyn Joslin

Ourika, Morocco

 

547357_3665455120320_1240248596_nThough only 6 hours (460 km) separate Marrakech from the oasis town of M’Hamid I could have dedicated six days between the two place names. The villages that scatter Ourika Valley hold their own against the more popular Imperial Cities (Marrakech, Fes, Meknes and Rabat) and it’s out here in the wilderness of the High Atlas Mountains that I come across the Cafe Tajine.

An hour outside Marrakech the Cafe Tajine emerges from an icy riverbed along the narrow road that parallels the River Ourika. Makeshift bridges of repurposed woods and carpets reach across the river at many points along the route, leading to mud-brick villages, markets, and, in this case, one of the finest dining experiences i’ve had to date. 

Here, for a few dollars (it’s truly a steal), you can feast like royalty. A spread of three tajines, salads, breads, mint tea, and a few beggars in between will cost you around the same price as the new Jay-Z album.

Tajines are made to order and, like most “Old World” recipes can take a good deal of time to cook. This is when the industrious locals strike. Peddling handmade goods, women and children make offers on African keepsakes and jewelry boxes, even crystals, as men serenade us, strumming the guitar-like Moroccan sintir and playing unusual flutes and drums.

Over the melodious North Africa beats we dine late into the night, taking our sweet time, dancing and haggling away.

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Yallah bye

I’ve met some great people through this blog, twitter and other social media outlets. One person in particular stands out as someone whom I feel especially lucky to have met, the talented creator behind For The Intolerants, JoAnna.

JoAnna and I have a lot of similar interests, as do many travel bloggers; exploring exotic lands, sampling global cuisine, merging into bizarro cultures, but ultimately we share a unique idiosyncrasy, a sort of fervor for the Middle East.

A keystone in my mission being to deflate nasty stereotypes revolving around the Arab world, I found it fitting when JoAnna approached me to write a guest post and mentioned the same enthusiasm to shed light on a more authentic and positive Middle East.

Since some of you may not have had the chance to read the post when it premiered on For The Intolerants I am reposting it here for your reading pleasure.

These are my reminiscings on Aqaba, the jewel of the Red Sea, neatly fitted between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel…

Uncovering the Shores of Aqaba

Working on an archaeological dig in Jordan, I found myself fleeing to Aqaba every weekend. Not only to dive into the cool waters of the Red Sea, but to merge into a city that borders modernity while retaining the flair of time-tested traditions. I would leave only to feel the call of al-Aqabah time and time again with the desire to explore more the following weekend. Exotic markets and exquisite cafes line the beach.

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Aqaba Proper. Vantage from one of the highest rooftops in town. View of Al-Hussein Bin Ali Mosque and Red Sea.

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At the bus stop. Just like every other bus stop.

Just off the local bus I would work my way to the beach, grabbing a coffee from one of the various food carts along the main strip. It’s easy to get caught up in the relaxed culture as the locals have perfected hospitality. After running into the same group of Jordanians it wasn’t long before I was welcome in their ritual, grilling kebabs, smoking hookah, and playing on the beach late into the night, often until sunrise! Luxury resorts with private beaches are stamped across the shoreline just south of the city. This is where I would head for scuba diving, the Aqaba Marine Center, and a little pampering. Yet, I had a preference for the city beach in Aqaba proper. Where glass-bottom boats, camels, and a plethora of vendors to vie for your attention.

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Traditional Bedouin lodging options. Goat hair tent.

Within the city limits are two shopping districts to get lost in for hours. A bazaar with merchants selling anything from Arabian antiques to vintage cameras. And the garment district, where you can be fitted for any number of Arabian garments. I took the opportunity to buy a “thobe” or ankle-length tunic. In fact, my last trip through the city I roamed the town wearing my thobe and headscarf without turning a head! With a light heart and a little humor I shopped through the stretches of textiles, toying with locally mined silver, and haggling my way through teapots and Middle Eastern goods.

 

For a few dinars you can trot along the beach. For even more you can catch a camel trek into the interior of Jordan
Bedouin with Camel. Offering rides/excursions into the Wadi Rum/Wadi Araba deserts.

Across the city taxis call out- “Where you go?”, “Ah, my friend! Good price for you!”, all of which seem in good spirit, yet I became intolerant of their game early on. Due to their exorbitant fares, unreliable meters, and shady antics I utilized the local bus. Though admittedly, they’re less than comfortable and on several occasions I found myself waiting on a ride that would two hours late. As relaxed as I felt roaming Aqaba, travel by taxi or bus can be stressful. Whatever the case, due to Jordan’s size, getting around the country is a breeze. Once you figure out what mode of transport you can tolerate, a few hours in any direction will lead you to some of the world’s greatest wonders.

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The crystalline Red Sea serves as a natural barrier between Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. The Large ship in the distance represents the international border between Jordan and Israel.

In retrospect, I find Aqaba to be an integral destination for the true Arabian experience. It’s clear why most of the region flocks to the port city every weekend. Treasure hunting through the souks will entice some while the beach calls to others. Either adventure is worth experiencing in Aqaba, where hospitality is second nature to the local people steeped in Islamic faith. Where modern architecture is juxtaposed against ancient mud-brick dwellings, the 21st century is emerging and they welcome it with a grin.

Yallah, bye!

 

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Landing on “best of” lists every day across the globe Portland, despite it’s relatively small population, has created it’s very own, unconventional, holistic brand of society. A fusing of localism and sustainability placing PDX as the greenest city in the U.S.

For me, PDX has just recently stepped out of the colossal shadow of Seattle. It wasn’t until Jaclyn’s sister and brother-in-law moved to Portland that my interest in the Pacific Northwest was even stirred, what the hell was wrong with me you might ask? IDK… IDK… But I can say that it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the “City of Roses” through the countless blogs I read. And when we received the invite to visit I sharpied out the dates in my calendar with fervor.

Though we had several months to prepare I took the hands off approach, knowing that our hosts would also act as our guides. So we dove in seeking the greatest in local eats, swanky bars, and boutique shops.

Noteworthy Eats

Sizzle Pie

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Sure, pizza may have become the most common food on this planet but I can’t camouflage my excitement for these most ancient pies.

Further more, when a pizzeria has the guts to pair a fatty “Meat Lover’s” style pizza next to the vegan “New Maps Out of Hell”, loaded with cashew spread and hash browns, credit is due. The ancients of Gaeta (the first example of what we know as pizza came from this Italian city in the early Middle Ages) have nothing on Sizzle Pie.

A noteworthy collection of tunes rest in the juke box waiting to be paired with a local beer and one of these unorthodox pies. Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, full meat carnage, they’ve gone wild with their imaginations.

In the words of Sizzle Pie, “Death to False Pizza”

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Fireside 

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When you visit a city known for its foodie movement and eat at the same restaurant twice during the same stay you’re either A) a closet case unwilling to branch out, or B) you’ve stumbled upon Fireside. It’s primitive, romantic and hip but not trendy.

Their environment and menu is “outdoor inspired” and in the open air restaurant, seated by one of the various fire pits, chowing on dishes like “brick chicken” or “fireside elk chili” you begin to feel it too, the call of the wild.

The menu runs the gamut with fried chickpeas , carrot and beat chips with harissa, an expertly crafted cheese plate and (my personal favorite) a farro salad topped with pickled onions, goat gouda, and a damn fried duck egg. YES.

Distracted by a sweet list of libations, including local wines and experimental cocktails, I completely missed dessert!

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Farro Salad with Duck Egg, Goat Gouda, and Pickled Onions

Por Que No

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Ok, so I didn’t get the chance to hit up any of the food carts. Despite Portland having 300+ mobile kitchens it simply didn’t work out. Yet, I had the experience of waiting in a line that wound from the cash register (indoors) out the building and around the block, a 30 minute endeavor which paid off with the absolute best tacos I’ve had outside of Mexico.

While in line a waitress takes your drink order, go for the Horchata Borracha (i.e. “rum-chata”). Grab one of these or another of their experimental margaritas and that line won’t feel so long after all.

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The establishment itself (talking the Mississippi Street location) has a cozy intimate feel. A modern shack with a festive West Mexico Pacifico vibe.

Appetizers include spicy cucumbers and ceviche. Should I even bother mentioning their ethical drive to use local line-caught fish or the fact that they used repurposed materials in the remodeling of their cookhouse? That’s Portland for you.

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Spicy Cucumbers. Guacamole

The centerpiece of their menu would have to be the exceptional taco list. It takes balls to throw wild caught squid on a taco and top it with peppers, salsa roja, and fresh crema mexicana but they do it and do it well. Hands down most delicious taco I’ve come across to date! A close second being their camarones (shrimp) taco, spiced up with a little cabbage, pineapple and salsa verde.

The presentation alone is enough to fill ones appetite.

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Camarones (shrimp) Taco/ Calamari Taco

And, to rub it in your face, what should be an award-winning salsa bar.

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Salt and Straw

A “Farm-to-cone” ice cream shop with, you know, the typical flavors such as arbequina olive oil and the usual mint and sea urchin meringues.

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This divine creamery is equipped with an arsenal delicacies which includes sea urchin, loaded baked potato, balsamic, blue cheese, honey… the list goes on.

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Cones, coffees, and teas come in all sorts and pairings with speciality items rotating along with the seasons.

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Mint with Sea Urchin, Honey Lavender, and Olive Oil.

Of all the options, olive oil held its own against their gathering of flavors. The sea urchin with mint, left us refreshed with the beloved sweet/salty combination. Honey lavender has become a solid standard of mine, which I’m happy to see more frequently.

If you’re in a hurry they also offer cartons to go, in which case, they’ll allow you to bypass the monstrous line you’ll probably be stuck in..

The Clearing

Of all the cafes we visited The Clearing stood out as the most inviting/scrumptious with a menu offering everything from breakfast burritos to fresh pastries and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Combine that with a killer list of holistic smoothies and you’re feeling good. The beauty is in their simplicity. They’re not curling their mustaches, taking scientific measurements to make a cup of joe. No, they’re crafting unbelievable pastries and damn good light fare.

Besaw’s

 With a running service of over 100 years they’ve survived prohibition, the Great Depression and Y2K. Hosting a menu that offers breakfast until 3:00pm, this gastropub will satisfy any appetite at any hour. Check out the craft cocktails, local-seasonal bites, and the best Bloody Mary i’ve downed.

The Pope House Bourbon Lounge

I could just let the name speak for itself, then again, it’s so much more. Named one of the top 55 Bourbon bars in America, The Pope House offers an always changing collection of bourbons, whiskeys, and other spirits.

Check out their “Bourbon Derby”. Participants take off in a quest to sample 50 of their prized bourbons, at which time they’re awarded with a trophy along with other prizes. The bar has a cozy old-world vibe that’s just right for a night-cap.

Portland offers a lifetime of dining options, which I’m currently filtering through now, ready to return to raid the food carts, the bourbon bars, and creameries.

I’d love to get some feedback on your experiences in Portland, or anywhere else in this vast world you’ve come across some noteworthy eats. Be it Cairo, Austin, or Rome, Georgia, I’m always looking for a little inspiration to hit the road!

Yallah, Bye!

 

 

So i’ve spent the last two years writing about my experiences on the road. Istanbul, Marrakech, Barcelona… the list goes on. Scribbling about iconic cities thousands of miles away it’s easy to become adjusted to fixing one’s eyes on the horizon, even when some of the worlds most striking sites are right out your front door.

While working on my current project I came across a picture that took me a few moments to place. A photograph displaying a colorful spread of fresh fruits and veggies at some farmers market, a beautiful image… but where was this? Here I am with this blank expression trying to figure out where this shot was taken. I have to play it backwards. The wine tastings, the B & B… a long bus ride from… Ah! New York City.

How could I have neglected the most populace city in the United States? Let’s blame it on my memory, the one which leaves me here with a fragmented collection of photographs and receipts stuck between the pages of an outdated NYC guide. So I present to you a vague collection of memories on a very Big Apple.

New York City

Day 1- Manhattan, China Town, Korea Town, Greenwich Village

We land at JFK, catch a cab to Manhattan, and the jaw dropping begins. This is my first trip to New York after all.

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Pedestrian Street

We’re staying at The Roger, a boutique hotel teetering Korea Town at Madison and 31st. Settling in we quickly head out working our way south to China Town. Under Mandarin awnings we hide from the rain. There are roasted ducks hanging between paper lamps. Exotic colors, rare teas and imported goods pour into the streets. Settled in the 1800’s the neighbourhood continues to be the epicenter for Chinese heritage in the US and I feel a beautiful sense of pride from the people here.

We grab a snack at a wee Chinese cafe (Steamed buns, aloe vera juice, moshi, and pastries with sweet bean paste). I would highly urge, at the very least, having lunch in China Town. Pho, dumplings, and lobster are common among a countless collection of legitimate eateries.

After the long walk from the hotel to China Town a cab ride is in order for the jaunt to our dinner destination in Greenwich Village,  Joseph Leonard. This was one of my favorite places we hit up and I highly recommend eating here. It’s a rugged yet cozy brasserie, namely American in design and menu. When we arrive the place is packed with a bit of a wait but shortly we are seated at the bar and thoroughly enjoy our dimly lit dinner with cocktails while the rain still falls on and off outside.

Completely drained we hail a cab back to our hotel and celebrate our first day in this grand city with a few more cocktails on the rooftop bar. Pass out. End scene.

Day 2- Central Park, The Museum of Natural History,  Lower East Side

With the day to myself I head out for Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. It’s a much longer walk than I thought it would be so I wind up grabbing a classic NYC bagel slathered in peanut butter and an espresso to keep me going. I breeze through the Garment District, Times Square and into the terrarium that is Central Park. I’m left speechless at first. The greenery in this massive space really leaves one with the sense of being removed from the concrete jungle.

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View over central park from the Museum.

I do a quick run by Central Park Zoo before cutting across to the Museum of Natural History. My archaic cell phone begins the inevitable bleeping of a dying battery. And here I am, the guy without a camera, entering a museum full of wonders crying out to be photographed. I have to decide between snapping shots of dinosaurs and the remains of early hominids or reserve whats left to keep in touch with Jaclyn. Damn. The Museum is under restoration (at the grand entrance) stripping all the photogenic qualities away. I squeeze through the entrance to be corralled into a line that takes 40 minutes to get through. Dart to the stairs and climb to the second floor (Human origins, Anthropology, and foreign flora/fauna), then to the fourth floor (Dinosaurs) working my way down from there.

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Early Koran

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Looks like an early iteration of what became the instrumental washboard. Just your average set of ceremonial “washbones”!

I make little progress before being summoned by Jaclyn to meet her in the Lower East Side (LES). So, lesson learned, the museum is a beast. Dont underestimate the time it takes to see each floor, even sparingly.

I’m running through the streets, searching for a subway entrance and trying to soak in everything I just saw. Remnants of our planets, and extraterrestrial, going ons. I’m daydreaming the entire sub ride. Dinosaurs, space travel… Arabia. So inspiring. Arriving in the LES it takes a moment for me to locate Jaclyn. Before dinner we run to a few of the shops recommended by our guide. B-4 It Was Cool, a quirky collection of vintage objects with a focus on lighting. It has a very steam-punk/curiosity cabinet feel. And Assembly NYC, a boutique focused on hard to find/one-of-a-kind fashion labels and accessories.

Our stomachs soon lead us to the Ten Bells. Chalk boards line each wall with scribblings of the days eats, an unbelievable wine list, oysters, and charcuterie to tempt the iron fisted vegetarian. We crush through a variety of oysters, downing wine and beer along the way. The friendly staff send us through gastronomic ecstasy. The vibe is intimate with a dark hipster slant, but what establishment in NY isn’t? Indie tunes hang low alongside the lighting allowing for a comfortable environment.

We’re stuffed, and the bottle has run dry. Moving on we flag down a cab and we’re swerving through the Theatre District to the Hudson. Take every image you can conjure of sophistication in architecture, apply a chic core and a stylish twist of lime and multiply that a thousand times over. This place defines swanky! After touring the first floor bar areas we head to the rooftop. Spectacular views and lounging with overpriced drinks is a paradisiacal way to end the evening.

Day 3-Brooklyn, East Village

We make it a point to head out early as it’s our last day in the city and we’ve a lot of ground to cover. We dart out on the subway to the East Village for a quick visit to the storefront of one of Jaclyn’s design idols,  John Derian.  A master of decoupage and other handmade goods his storefront combines an assemblage of vintage objects, unique lighting and stationary including bygone pamphlets and art in his quirky collection of ephemera. All displayed between his own line of furniture and decorative goods.

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It’s back to the subway and onward to Brooklyn! The station actually drops us off right outside The Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Resting on 39 acres that were reserved in 1897, the Gardens combine an envious collection of flora with a respectable sense of architecture that dances with the greenery. Just another one of those NY sights which could easily consume an entire day. We trace a route through our map of the park to help us stay on track.

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Scientific observations!

The main path leads you around the rhombus shaped garden without missing a beat. Beyond the vibrant colors and alien foliage of the first few sections we reach the Cherry Esplanade. It’s dreamy and the odors in the air intoxicating. We wander through the rest of the reserve in a state of euphoria.

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Cherry Esplanade

After a refreshing kombucha from the Terrace Cafe we enter the Bonsai Museum where 30 trees are on display at any given time from a collection of 350. Outside we wander the Lilly Pond where I find a collection of lotuses, a plant which i’ve nurtured a healthy obsession with.

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The Sacred Lotus

Onward we hit the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. It’s breathtaking. Playing off aesthetic asymmetry and an equal balance of natural versus man-made environments and littered with relics of Japanese history.

Emerging from the Gardens we race against the clock to scratch off our list the last stops of the day. Down the block we hit Eponymy, a small boutique recommended by a friend who previously lived in Brooklyn. Intrigued by their blend of old and new, quirkiness and classicism, we are happy we made the stop. After canoodling with the shop dog, Bianca, Jaclyn purchases a bracelet and we carry on.

Around the block its on to Cog & Pearl.  This is where I would do ALL of my gift shopping were I a Brooklynite. Cog & Pearl’s memorable items for me were cool jewelry (Jaclyn also bought a pair of earrings here) and fun/funky  handmade items like terrariums with tiny people and animals inside. Plus they had a great selection of books, cards and the uncategorizable “I gotta-have-it things.” It’s hip and maybe a bit trendy but we are totally feeling this Brooklyn thing so its a memorable stop.

With a raging appetite we’re down 5th Avenue to a highly recommended Latin bistro for dinner, Bogota. This is where two vegetarians lay it all on the line and order the Bandeja Paisa or Colombian Platter. Fit for a king or a starving dinosaur it’s a spread of grilled skirt steak, pork chicharron, white arepa, rice & beans, fried egg, maduros, avocado, cabbage salad. Hot damn! With drool inducing aromas in the air we dig in.

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With a side order of… whatever this crunchy corn tortilla with guacamole and goat cheese is called! It’s nothing short of scrumptious.

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And most importantly the cocktails. (Mojito) It’s only appropriate!
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After dinner Jaclyn pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. On it, the directions to a lesser known bar called the 124 Old Rabbit Club. It takes us back to Greenwich Village. The bar is essentially a dungeon with an eclectic array of beers. The space is small and lit only by the odd tea candles which are scattered across the bar and the half dozen tables. Between the libations and punk rock I fall in love with the Big Apple. Sad to say, this was our last night in the city. We drink and drink… and drink our way back to the Roger, where it all began.

As this adventure came to an end our time in NY was far from over. Next Stop- Long Island!

 

Foolproof calculation suggests that I’m in fact 24 years old. 8765.81 days to be exact! Birthday celebrations always bring to mind the activities of birthdays past and the miles in between, many of which were spent among family back in Texas or as most recently over brunch with loved ones.

A year ago however you would have found me wandering the Egyptian Market of Istanbul, cruising down the Bosphorus Strait, or on a less exotic note doubled over from some stomach virus!

So here’s a tribute to my 23rd birthday- Spent in the great cities of Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul.

Leaving the Pension, we catch the tram, making our way down to the Bosphorus.
Leaving the Pension, we catch the tram, making our way down to the Bosphorus.

Leaving our Pension to catch a tram down to the Galata Bridge. Catching colorful sights of national heritage along the way

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Galata Bridge, lined with restaurants, children selling hand-rolled cigarettes, and a slew of fishermen.

Down at the Galata Bridge, men call out “Bosphorus, Bosphorus, Bosphorus” luring us to a cramped kiosk where we bought tickets for the “Şehir Hatları” or traditional ferryboat that would take us from the Golden Horn (where the Bosphorus connects to the Sea of Marmara) to Anadolu Kavağı (a small fishing village on the shore of the Black Sea). A voyage that would run approximately 6 hours which includes a 3 hour layover at Anadolu K., a town known for their fish market and archaeological ruins.

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Looking back at Istanbuls’ “Old City” aboard the “Şehir Hatları”. Minarets reach towards the heavens across the entire skyline of Istanbul proper.

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The “New City” on the Asian side. To our right is the Galata Bridge. Straight ahead the Galata Tower (aka Christea Turris, Latin for “The Tower of Christ) a medieval tower built in 1348.

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Residences along the Strait

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Catching another glimpse of “New Town” before it’s out of sight.

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Watch Tower 1 (European Side)

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Watch Tower 2 (Asian Side). 

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Yoros Castle (aka the “Genoese Castle”) is a product of the Greeks and Phoenicians. Anadolu Kavağı rests as the base of this castle which has overlooked the Black Sea for thousands of years. A three hour layover leaves just enough time to explore both the town and ancient castle.

The land is littered with remains of Istanbuls’ past. Watch towers and ruins of great walls, lighthouses and castles can be seen all along the Bosphorus.

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Anadolu Kavağı, a small fishing village with markets known for their fish, cafes and ice cream.

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Fresh clams with chips and a view to the sea…

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It’s clear where the Black Sea begins as the water gets choppier and the clouds more ominous.

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Fresh ice cream produced from the local livestock. Life is good here, slow paced and all around a foodies delight.

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Back aboard the Şehir Hatları,  revving up the ferry to make our return trip.

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Refreshed we find ourselves at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves… well his travel guide “Rick Steve’s Istanbul”. Where to start but with two craft beers from Istanbul.

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The sneaky chef sends out a B-day drink, no questions asked 🙂

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Domatesli Tavuk Sote“– Turkish salad w/ chicken saute

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“Yogurtlu Makarna“- Lamb stuffed ravioli w/ yoghurt and mint.

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Leaving the restaurant we were swept into a hookah lounge where we befriended a local who goes by “Sheesha Mon”, a little Jamaican-slang with a Turkish vibe, I like it.

This goes on until our eyes began to droop and our bladders couldn’t tolerate another drop of mint tea, moving on we crawled back to our hotel and into bed.

Until next time…

Yallah-bye