Gorgeous Gdańsk: Walking the Royal Route

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Sunday market in the small Provençal town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue is a foodie’s dream.

The winding, narrow streets are crowded with possibly 100 stalls selling all kinds of locally-produced breads, olives, cheeses, pastries, fruits, vegetables, soaps, fabrics and more. Our grandparents weren’t as thrilled about visiting a market as I was, but as you know, visiting a market is a must for us when we travel! I love the sights, the smells and the people at markets!

L’Isle sur la Sorgue, located about 30 minutes east of Avignon, is situated on an island along the Sorgue River. Since the Sunday market seems to be world famous, parking in this small town is a problem. We arrived shortly before 10 a.m. and found an open parking lot along the riverfront near one of the old water wheels. (Later on, we saw cars parked as far as 2-3 kilometers outside the town.) The market does open at 9 a.m., so you could arrive even earlier to avoid some of the crowds and general mayhem.
One of the moss-covered water wheels in L'Isle sur la Sorgue.
Since our grandparents are picky eaters, we decided to cook dinner one night at our lovely bed and breakfast, Auberge du Vin, located 30-minutes away in the countryside by Mazan. So we were on the hunt for Provençal goodies that we could snack on for the next few days and eat for dinner.

We started with the cheese stalls where we sampled several different kinds of French cheeses. We ended up buying two semi-hard cheeses and two wheels of soft cheeses, including one runny one wrapped in dried leaves. Delicious! (Word of caution: only buy cheese from a stall where the prices are shown as there are some imposters out there that will overcharge you big time.)
What pairs well with cheese? Why, French saucisson (cured sausages), of course! Mmm…more pork!

And then we needed to buy some olives to later enjoy with our glasses of French rosé before dinner. Again, sampling is mandatory!

Sometimes, we found it a bit difficult to thoroughly enjoy the market and keep track of the grandparents at the same time. The market was VERY busy, and Grandpa tended to wander off to the next stall before we were done at the previous one. We did enjoy traveling with them through France, but I often was worried about them too. When it’s just my husband and me, I don’t need to worry about him. In fact, I'm usually the one wandering off  to take photos.

At the market, we found the prettiest baskets of scrumptious summer strawberries, and the best melons I’ve ever tasted in my life! These sweet melons were juicy and had the most heavenly fragrance! We later learned the melons are a French heirloom variety from nearby towns of Sarrians and Cavaillon, which are known for their melons.
Of course, Provence is known for its lavender too! The market featured lavender soaps, lotions, sachet bags and more. Grandma and I purchased several of the soaps and scented bags to take home.
By noon, the food market was dying down. We had a difficult time finding a stall that still had any bread left! The market at L’Isle sur la Sorgue also has a large antiques section, which stays open later, but we didn’t even venture there.

We left L’Isle sur la Sorgue with a rental car full of French goodies, more than what we could possibly even eat over the next couple of days.

Have you been to Provence? If so, which town had your favorite market?
Pretty Provençal pottery, but check the label on the bottom of each piece. Most of the ones I saw were made either in Italy or Spain!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

One of the highlights of our summer road trip in France was drinking wine with our grandparents. Grandpa is 91 and Grandma is 85!

Jason and I can only hope to be as fortunate as them traveling and enjoying wine around the world at their age!

One of grandpa’s “last” wishes was to visit Châteauneuf-du-Pape and drink as much of this world famous wine as he could surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye could see. We set out to make that wish come true!

I organized a private, half-day wine tasting and tour through our kind bed and breakfast owner, Linda Field of Auberge du Vin. Linda, a longtime certified educator through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, started out by explaining some of the basics of French wines and the French wine regions or appellations. 
Our first stop was at the family-run estate of Domaine de Beaurenard, which has been making wine in the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape for seven generations. The estate covers 32 hectares in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 25 hectares in the Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau AOC area. Linda gave us a personal tour of the winery itself, and then we tasted several of the Beaurenard wines, including an uncommon white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Grandma loved this white wine so much we had to buy a bottle at the end our tasting.
I also couldn’t help but covet the older bottles of Pope’s Château Châteauneuf-du-Pape covered in a thick layer of dust behind a glass-enclosed wine cellar. I first learned about this famous wine when I was working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in NYC, and it’s been served in all the restaurants I worked at since then. Unfortunately in the U.S., a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape isn’t very affordable. I wish we had driven our own car to France so we could have bought many cases of this wine!
Next, we headed to the ruins of the Pope’s Château, a grand summer residence originally built in 1333 during the period of the Avignon Papacy, atop a hill. The pope certainly had a lovely view over the Rhône Valley. We did a quick peak around and then slowly made our way down some rocky stairs, which was a little difficult for our grandparents.
Then, we participated in another wine tasting at Cave du Verger des Papes, a wine cellar located underneath the old château. Again, we tasted another dry, white and a couple of fruity red Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. We learned none of the white wines are ever exported out of France, so if you try one and like it, buy a bottle like we did!
I really love the Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wines!
After spending our morning sampling wines, it was time for lunch at Hostellerie du Château Fines Roches, a fancy Michelin-Guide-recommended restaurant and castle-looking hotel located just outside of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The restaurant features a panoramic terrace overlooking the surrounding lush vineyards. I’d say you found paradise, albeit slightly expensive, if you dined here! From this point, we were on our own.
Dining at a "castle" surrounded by French vineyards - what's not to like?
Our grandparents enjoyed the lovely view and more wine, but not the food as much as we did. As the trip progressed, we discovered they simply did not like French food, AT ALL, which shocked me. However, hubby and I both love French food, and I hope we still do when we are their age!
At least, hubby's grandparents liked the French wine!
The chef’s amuse-bouche featured “lollipop-like” foie gras coated in praline pieces. Pure decadence!
Our grandparents both ordered a lobster dish (although they just wanted soup), hubby had a terrine of guinea fowl with a red beet sorbet and I had the best dish – two poached eggs smothered in summer French truffles!
For dessert, I couldn’t resist trying a elegantly-plated torte featuring French strawberries and pistachio crémeux, served with a strawberry sorbet. To me, this dessert represented summer on a plate! Grandpa (finally) enjoyed his vanilla panna cotta too!
I love dessert!
All of this fancy food comes at a price, about 50 euros per person, including a 2012 bottle of local Domaine de Nalys white wine. We don’t mind splurging now and then especially for a decadent meal like this one!

If you’re traveling with elderly grandparents like we did, I highly recommend doing a private wine tasting tour, which allowed us to travel at our own pace. In the end, Grandpa was happy because he finally had his wish come true of drinking Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines in France; and that’s all that matters!

Sigh! More vineyards near Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

As a friend recently pointed out, the Poles can be a bit sexist when it comes to their produce.

For example, Swiss chard is called mangold in Polish. I have to chuckle a little bit.
Such fresh and lovely produce at the Zielony Jazdów market in Warsaw.  
A few weekends ago, I purchased 50 pln (about $15) worth of fresh veggies from the small Zielony Jazdów market at the top of the Agrykola Park in Warsaw. We got several meals out this wonderful produce, and it lasted 10 whole days for us! You can stop by this local market for fresh, unique produce on the weekends through September.
The mangold doesn’t seem to be very common in Poland, but I’m happy to see it make an appearance. Botanically, mangold is related to spinach and has some of the same nutritional properties such as vitamins C, E and K as well as being rich in manganese, calcium and iron. If you can find some at your local market like I did, I’d recommend grabbing some this fall. Or in a pinch, you could always substitute kale or spinach for the Swiss chard in the recipe below.
Hubby was surprised at the spiciness and garlicness of this tasty side dish. I just needed some assistance to perfect the poached egg on top! Who knew that eating healthy could taste so good!

Garlicky Swiss Chard, Quinoa and Poached Egg
Adapted from this recipe by Fuss Free Cooking
Serves 2-3 as a side dish

One     bunch              Swiss chard (about 500 grams), washed, trimmed. Stalks and leafy part separated.
1          Tablespoon      olive oil
6          cloves              fresh garlic, roughly chopped
Pinch   of                     Turkish pul biber or hot pepper flakes
1/4       cup                  uncooked quinoa cooked in 1/2 cup of boiling water
1          Tablespoon      pine nuts, toasted
2          large                eggs, softly poached
To taste                       salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a small pot, cook the quinoa in boiling water with a pinch of salt. Let the quinoa simmer until the water is mostly absorbed by the quinoa. Turn off the heat and set aside.

2.  In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and pul biber. Let sizzle for a few seconds, but being careful not to burn the pepper flakes. Then, add in the stalks and cook about 7-8 minutes, until tender. I placed a lid on top to help the stalks cook faster.
3. Then, add in the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.

4. Next, add in the leafy pieces of Swiss chard and sauté until tender over medium-low heat. About 5-8 more minutes, until the greens are wilted. You may need to add a splash of water to help the greens cook. Set aside.

5. Lastly, set up a pan for poaching the eggs. We always follow Alton Brown’s recipe for poached eggs, but set a timer for only 4 minutes because we like runny eggs.

6. To serve, place a spoonful of the Swiss chard mixture in a bowl, topped with the quinoa, followed by the poached egg and toasted pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper as needed.
Step 4: Adding the Swiss chard leafy greens and cooking it all together.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Located on the edge of Warsaw’s Mokotów neighborhood, one will find an unique park that used to be a rabbit hunting grounds for one of Poland’s kings.

Today, you’ll find the grounds at Królikarnia Palace covered with sculptures and four neon signs, as part of a special exhibit called “Come Alight!” by the Bęc Zmiana Foundation and local artists, architects and researchers. The exhibit is open to the public through October 5th. According to the palace’s website, the “neon sign is for us, above all, a symbol of urban dynamics, energy, color and life shared by all city dwellers.”

I recently re-explored Królikarnia with a friend and even watched a special showing of a film called “Neon,” which covered the old neon signs around Warsaw. It was a fascinating documentary and made me want to go out and photograph the city’s remaining neon signs before they all disappear from the landscape!

As you enter the park, you can’t help but notice the wonky-hanging “Warszawa” sign. Local artists Natalia Romik and Sebastian Kucharek used the neon sign letters of the railway station Warszawa Gdańska. The original version preserved only the initial letters WAR, now installed on the fence, while the “rest of the damaged elements have been scattered by the artists in an expressive gesture around the sign.” I simply liked the sign because it refers to the current capital city where we live!
That’s the problem with art; I often like it, but I don’t understand it.
Downhill from the palace, you’ll encounter the neon sign Nowe Życie (New Life). This 1970s sign comes from an “agricultural cooperative” in a village near Bydgoszcz, about 300 km northwest of Warsaw. What does “New Life” mean to you?
The third neon sign spells Lenistwo (Laziness) in green letters. Polish artist Szymon Kobylarz preserved eight pieces of old neon signs to create this installation, which is supposed to reflect the “right to leisure for all residents.”
The fourth neon sign is located behind the palace’s walls, and one that we did not find that day. However, you’ll also find numerous works by the famed Polish sculptor and Auschwitz survivor Xawery Dunikowski on the grounds. You cannot miss “The Soul Escaping the Body,” a sculpture that is replicated on Dunikowski’s tombstone. To me, the sculpture looks more like a couple about to kiss. 
And sculptures by other artists located throughout the park.
Królikarnia simply is a wonderful place to explore off the typical tourist path in Warsaw. You’ll even find a cute café inside the museum where you enjoy a coffee or beer. If you have the time, I’d highly recommend strolling around the grounds and admiring the sculptures and whatever other art you may encounter.
The sculpture museum is located within the restored Królikarnia Palace.
Królikarnia Palace and Park
ul. Puławska 113a
Phone: (+48) 22 843 15 86
Website: http://www.krolikarnia.mnw.art.pl
Hours: 11.00 a.m.-6.00 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; On Thursdays, open til 8.00 p.m.
Admission fees: 8 zł normal/4 zł reduced; Free Admission on Thursdays.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Since I have Istanbul on my mind this week, I thought I would write another foodie post involving my last two trips to this magical city.

Though our travels always revolve around food, Turkish food is something that I miss and was more than happy to indulge in with our willing (and missed) friends. So here’s a rundown of some of the tasty places we tried for the first time or revisited for the umpteenth time in Istanbul.

Midye Dolması
In March, we introduced our skeptical American friend to eating midye dolması (stuffed mussels) off the streets in Beyoğlu. “Is it safe?” he asked us. To us, it’s just one of those things you MUST do in Istanbul, especially after you’ve had a few drinks. The street sellers will keep giving you more mussels until you tell them to stop. Then, you pay based on how many shells you emptied.
Turkish Etli Ekmek
Now, you don’t have to travel all the way to Konya to try this meter-long flatbread pizza. My friend’s Turkish husband, Kartal, treated me to a delicious etli ekmek at Ikonium in the Levent neighborhood. Of course, when I’m back in Istanbul, I must have an Efes beer too! Grab a friend or two because you’ll need them to help share this flatbread pizza!
Location: Aytar Caddesi Dilek Apartmanı No:28, Levent. 5-minute walk from Levent metro stop.

Turkish Grilled Meat
Our Turkish friend, Huseyin, loves good food as much as we do, so we had to try one of his favorite meat-centric places in Etiler. Before taking a seat at Nusr-Et Steakhouse, be sure to look in the meat showcase near the grill. Try the lokum (Turkish delight), spaghetti (thinly sliced beef) and sliced-to-order lamb ribs. The meat used comes from the Marmara Sea region. Accompany your meat with unlimited crispy fries and a salad. This fancy, crowded steakhouse is a place to be seen so don’t be shocked by your 100tl per person bill. (Note: we didn’t have any alcohol that night because local elections that day forbid it.) However, I think the experience is worth trying at least once!
Some of the best grilled rack of lamb I've ever had in Turkey!
And for dessert, don’t skimp on the pistachio baklava that is flown in fresh every day from Gaziantep and served tableside with a generous scoop of Maras dondurma. My mouth is just watering thinking about this heavenly baklava!
Location: Nispetiye Caddesi No:87, Etiler

Bosphorus Views on the Asian side
Once again, Kartal and his wife, Nicole, treated me to a special dinner at Del Mare. Half the fun was taking a free ferry boat from the Kuruçeşme Iskelesi (Pier) to the Asian side of Istanbul. This seafood restaurant is housed in a former 19th-century factory and features a splendid, canopied outdoor terrace with beautiful Bosphorus views. 
The menu features the typical Turkish mezes and fresh seafood. And for dessert, don’t forget to order irmik helvası, which is semolina cooked with butter and sugar and served with vanilla ice cream in the middle. Delicious!
Location: Kuleli Caddesi No:53 / 4, Çengelköy

Literally next door to Del Mare, you’ll find an unique concept at Tapasuma Restaurant where Turkish and Mediterranean food is served as bite-sized tapas in a modern setting. It’s definitely worth checking out if want to dine by candlelight away from the hectic crowds of the city. The restaurant is housed in a luxurious boutique hotel (a restored former raki distillery) in case you want to stay the night and wake up to these beautiful Bosphorus views as well.
Tasty mini versions of Turkish and Mediterranean food at Tapasuma.
Last year, we even got to peak into the kitchen and meet the friendly Executive Chef Gökay Çakıroğlu and his cooks at Tapasuma.
Location: Kuleli Caddesi No:43, Çengelköy

Beer Break under the Galata Bridge
After you’ve been sightseeing for several hours, you’ll definitely want to enjoy a break under the Galata Bridge. Sure, this area is touristy. However, I still love sitting under the bridge right by the water, sipping my Efes beer and people watching. Just make sure the café you sit at actually sells alcohol as several of them now have signs that say “alcoholsuz” (no alcohol).
Turkish Breakfast at our Hotel
The Turks are well known for their Turkish breakfasts! Luckily, we had breakfast included at the Anemon Galata Hotel where we stayed for 3 nights for about $100 per night. The hotel offers a fantastic location right by the Galata Tower and a lovely view over the Golden Horn where you can enjoy your breakfast or a glass of wine later at night.
Group Dinner with Friends
Sometimes, it’s simply easier to organize a group dinner with friends when we’re back in Istanbul. We met our friends at Yüzevler Kebap, a restaurant originally based in Adana, that features traditional Turkish kebabs and meze dishes. We enjoyed a good dinner and even better conversation catching up with our friends. But at 100tl per person, we don’t think we’ll be coming back here as the food didn’t live up to its reputation.
Location: Nispetiye Cad. No:10, Etiler

During my last three trips to Istanbul, I’ve made it a point to dine at Çiya. This last time, we tried a unique bulgur meatball soup and perde pilavi, a special rice dish from southeastern Turkey. The “curtain rice” as it is so called features a seasoned rice with raisins, pine nuts, almonds and chicken wrapped inside a crispy baked phyllo shell. It’s an uncommon dish, but one that I highly recommend if you find it on the menu.
Another Asian-side place we like to return to again and again is the yogurt shops in the small neighborhood of Kanlıca. Again, half the fun is taking one of the water taxis from Emirgan, especially after visiting the Turkish lale festival in the spring, to Kanlıca. Pull up a chair outside, order some of the best Turkish yogurt with a side of powdered sugar and a glass of tea. Enjoy!
Turkish Staples
You’ll find several locations of Günaydın Restaurant throughout the city. The restaurants feature well-made Turkish kebabs and meatballs, but last time, I thought the prices were a bit more hefty then what they used to be. Still it’s a good place to enjoy some typical Turkish dishes and a sinful künefe for dessert.
Location: Suadiye Mahallesi, Kazım Özalp Cad.

After reading about all these Turkish dishes and restaurants, I hope you’re ready to visit one of my favorite cities!

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