Monday, January 27, 2020

“For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from 
various countries of Europe.”

Today, as the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, I have to ask: are we still listening to this ‘warning to humanity’? I’ve often wondered about this as an American disappointed in her country’s politics since 2016, an expat living in London who’s dealing with British politics/Brexit and as a world traveler who has seen and heard racist comments over the years.

On January 27th, 1945, the 1st Ukrainian Front of the Red Army liberated the remaining prisoners at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland. Historians estimate that between 1940-1945, the Nazis sent at least 1.3 million people to Auschwitz, and only a couple hundred ended up surviving.
While we were living in Poland, we felt that it was important to visit Auschwitz and to see the atrocities that happened there. With a rise of antisemitism happening around the world, it’s more than important than ever to remember what happened at Auschwitz and other concentration camps during World War II.

Looking back through my unpublished photos from our trip to Auschwitz in 2013, I felt like they were crucial to share especially since it is the 75th anniversary of the liberation. Seeing the remains of the camp, gas chambers, empty suitcases, leftover shoes – all left their mark on me, and it’s a day I’ll never forget.

The photos of Auschwitz speak for themselves.
Arbeit macht frei” is a German phrase meaning “work sets you free.” The slogan is known for appearing at the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.
Female prisoners at Auschwitz
Male prisoners at Auschwitz

Gate leading into the courtyard of the execution wall between blocks 10 and 11 at Auschwitz.

One of the womens' barracks houses. 3-4 people would sleep next to each other on the hay.
Crematorium at Auschwitz
The photo above shows the gate house, which is the main entrance into Birkenau, also known as the Auschwitz II concentration camp. In May 1944, freight trains that were 40 to 50 cars long rolled through this gate, day and night, bringing thousands of Hungarian Jews to be gassed at the four Birkenau gas chambers. The prisoners called it the "Gate of Death."

According to the Auschwitz Museum, 434,351 of these Hungarian Jews were not registered at the Birkenau camp; instead, they were gassed immediately upon arrival.


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

For some reason, I don’t feel like we had many memorable meals in 2019.

But after spending some time looking through my photos, I remembered several meals that did stand out at the time. Perhaps, it was a particular place or trip. Perhaps, a special dish really made an impression.

Anyways, here’s my annual round up of my Best Meals in 2019. And true to form, it’s a bit late, but at least it’s still January.

Asian Flavors in the Middle East in Dubai
At the end of January 2019, we visited good friends who were planning to leave Dubai soon. My Aussie girlfriend, who also made my list of Best Meals in 2017, and I planned a girlie day of lunch and sightseeing. She wanted to check out a fairly new place called 3FILS, a modern Asian restaurant located at the Fishing Harbour Jumeirah.
The restaurant was founded by Singaporean Chef Akmal Anuar and two Emiratis. The name 3FILS relates “to the ‘2 cents worth’ opinion about dining in Dubai,” according to the restaurant’s website.  

The highlights of our casual lunch while sitting outside in the warm sunshine were the spicy tuna sushi roll and crispy eel with a yellow pepper mayo.
After two main dishes, the stars of the meal were the desserts. My friend had the “Toothfairy” – a vibrant combination of crispy, saffron meringue and blackberry cream. I enjoyed the interactive making of my “Karak” – an ice cream cone filled with Karak Chai ice cream made from black tea leaves, cardamom and sugar – and smashed onto my plate. The ice cream tasted similar to an Indian chai tea. Yum!
Another bonus is that 3FILS is actually reasonably priced, for Dubai.

Pre-Valentine’s Day Menu Deal
Since I’ve worked so many years in the restaurant business, I have no desire to ever dine out on the 14th of February. Instead, we booked a menu deal – 6 courses and a glass of wine for £50 - a few days before the 14th at Ametsa withArzak at the COMO Hotel in London. I was curious to dine here because the restaurant is the first venture outside of San Sebastian for the legendary three-Michelin starred chef, Juan Mari Arzak, and his daughter, Elena. I’ve read about their chef tales several times over the years, and since their place in San Sebastian is out of reach, we tried the London version.

After an interesting course of several aperitivos, the “Egg on the Moon” course featured an egg yolk wrapped in chorizo and paprika paper with a jamon broth. Delicious! And the fish course was Hake “Cleopatra” with Egyptian hieroglyphics written in a vegetable puree. Very curious!
Ending on a sweet note, we had pretty star anise doughnuts with a creamy filling and a lovely array of chocolate bon bons.
While we had good food and attentive service at Ametsa, I doubt we would return if we had to pay full price for the same meal.

Easter Surprise in Italy
Sometimes the best meals are the ones you never planned.

In April, we visited our young cousin who was studying for a semester in Sorrento, Italy. On Easter Sunday, we took a road trip to trace their Italian roots to the small village of Cassano Irpino, two hours east of Sorrento. On the way back, we stopped at another small village, Cesinali, for a late lunch and found the only restaurant, Taberna De Gustibus, open. With our limited Italian, we said si to the set Easter menu and the staff squeezed us into a corner table. The place was filled with locals. Nonnas kissing their grandchildren and passing them around the table. Classic Italian grandfathers were wearing their Sunday best. It was a fabulous, rustic place!  

We thought we were sharing an antipasti platter with charcuterie and cheeses, but no, we EACH received our own antipasti plate! Then, in true Italian style, the food just kept coming. We didn’t really know what we were eating, but it was simply good, local food. Breads stuffed with herbs and local greens or ham, fried arancini, stewed spring greens, roasted stuffed red peppers, ravioli and finally a custard torta for dessert.
When we finally couldn’t eat anymore, we paid our bill – 40 euros for each of us.

Sky High Views in London
When my brother-in-law came to visit us in London, we wanted to dine somewhere special where we hadn’t been yet. Luckily, we scored an early dinner reservation at Duck & Waffle, London’s highest 24/7 restaurant located on the 40th floor of 110 Bishopsgate. The building at 230 meters tall is the fifth tallest building in the city.
We ordered four starters to share: n’duja bread (containing a delicious, spicy, spreadable Italian pork salume), smoked eel, octopus, and a very decadent foie gras brulee served with a brioche roll. Wow!
Of course, we all ordered the restaurant’s signature waffle served with a duck confit leg and a fried egg for our mains.
The views are definitely worth the hefty price tag for a special occasion. 

Birthday Treat in London
For my birthday in May, we dined at Lyle’s, a Michelin-star restaurant and number 33 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list for 2019. This was my third time dining at Lyle’s, a place I like because it serves outstanding food using local ingredients.

We had booked a set menu served by Chef Dave Verheul of Embla, an award-winning wine bar in Melbourne, Australia. About once a quarter, Lyle’s welcomes guest chefs to its restaurant so they can showcase what’s happening around the world. Since we had lived in Melbourne for over a year, I was curious to try Verheul’s food.

To start with, we had fermented potato flatbread served with a shitake dip – lots of unami flavors here. I asked about the bread and was told that the potatoes are roasted, mashed and then left to ferment similar to making a starter for sourdough bread. At least, that’s the simplistic explanation.
As you can from my photos, the set menu’s dishes look rather simplistic, but the flavors are concentrated and simply focus on the ingredients. I was a happy birthday girl.
Of course, you add two set menus at £73 each, a bottle of wine and 2 glasses of pink bubbles, and the next thing, the bill is over £200. Well, it was my birthday, afterall.

Pasta and More in Puglia, Italy
I’ve been wanting to do a foodie trip to the Puglia region of Italy for a couple years now, and 2019 was the year we finally made it happen. Also, I had bought a new cookbook, “Food of the Italian South,” by American food writer Katie Parla, in preparation for our summer trip. Puglia – the spur and heel of the Italian boot – hasn’t been considered as foodie rich as say Tuscany or Napoli, but the region is becoming more popular. In fact, Puglia is a rich agricultural area with immense plains and rolling hills covered in olive trees, vineyards and wheat, plus it has 500 miles (800km) of coastline, which means heaps of fresh seafood.

During our week in Puglia, we based ourselves in Alberobello and then Polignano a Mare and ate an abundance of Italian charcuterie, cheeses, ripe tomatoes, homemade pastas, pizza and seafood.
I won’t pinpoint just one restaurant except to recommend that you should dine at least one masseria when you go to Puglia. Traditionally, a masseria was a large farm inhabited by the landowners and included lodging for the laborers working the land plus storage buildings for crops and wine. Today, many masseria have been converted into agriturismo lodgings, and many still function as small farms as well. On our e-bike ride in the Puglian countryside, we stopped at Masseria Madonna dell’Arco and had an impressive lunch and everything was homemade at the masseria. We couldn’t even eat everything because we had been cycling in the hot Puglian sun.
This spread was just the first course at the masseria where we had lunch.

Looking ahead in 2020, so far, we have trips planned to Barcelona, Milan and a big trip to Asia for our 10th wedding anniversary. I can’t wait to try some new restaurants and new dishes!

Happy eating in 2020 – a new decade of good eats!


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year's Eve from 69° North in Tromso, Norway­čçž­čç╗! We're spending our holiday break here 350 km (217 mi) north of the Arctic Circle, where there's only polar nights - no daylight - right now. 
I threw myself into 2019 working more than I have in two years. Dealing with my father's death still catches me off guard at times, and I'm not sure how to deal with the emotions sometimes. It could be a song, a distant memory. So I work.

But working so much, between the two of us, means we can build up some much-needed holiday time - like this trip to Northern Norway. It's been an adventure trip, and we are enjoying it.
I think we saw the daytime version of the Northern lights today on our fjord cruise. At least, that is my story and I'm sticking to it. 

Happy New Year's wherever you may be! I hope that 2020 is filled with those moments of happiness that catch you off guard. 


Monday, December 30, 2019

After living in London for three years, we finally shared our Christmas Eve traditions with Turkish friends we’ve befriended here.

Since hubby and I both had to work half days on Christmas Eve, we planned to share the cooking and shopping responsibilities with our friends. I had half the groceries delivered via Farmdrop and the remainder our friend picked up for us. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we had talked about what to cook for our meal. The most important thing is to have seven different fishes per my hubby’s Italian-American traditions.

Do you remember one of our first Christmases abroad in Istanbul?

Well, once we arrived at our friends’ flat, we unpacked the groceries and opened up some wine. Of course, you need to have a glass while cooking up Christmas dinner, especially after all the holiday hours I worked this month.

Our first course contained two fishes – marinated anchovies and Scottish smoked salmon.
Our second course was fried calamari made by the other husband. Delicious! Even our friends’ two-year-old really seemed to enjoy it.
Our third course was a version of Turkish karides g├╝ve├ž – a prawn casserole served in a spicy, buttery sauce.
An hour later around 8 p.m., we’re on the fourth course (the fifth fish) which was my version of pan-seared scallops served with a curried butter over butternut mash and fresh fennel. I found a recipe of Chef Charlie Trotter’s in one of my old cookbooks and gave it a go. Delicious combo was the verdict!
Another hour later, slowly pacing ourselves, we rolled onto the fifth course which was English clams cooked in a white wine sauce over linguine. My mother-in-law often serves a dish like this, so hubby carries on the tradition for her.
Funny enough, our last fish course finished cooking an hour later around 10 p.m. – oven-roasted sea bream stuffed with fresh herbs. A dish all four of us have eaten many times in Istanbul.
Now, normally, I’m not a huge seafood fan, but with our Christmas meal paced out over several hours, I actually didn’t mind. I enjoyed every dish – to an extent – and we all had time to actually enjoy ourselves and chat.

After another break with washup included and a good game of Cards Against Humanity, we ended our Christmas Eve dinner with my homemade chocolate yule log filled with a raspberry mousse. Even our friends’ son enjoyed the dark chocolate cake!
Well, another Christmas is over, and I think that means we need to do some dieting in the new year. At least, it was fun!

What Christmas traditions do you have?


Friday, December 20, 2019

Some places are worth visiting more than once and the historical destination of Aachen, Germany’s most westerly city, is one of those.

Since moving abroad in 2010, we’ve visited Germany nearly every year since then, mainly because we have good friends in D├╝sseldorf. Plus, we like visiting Germany for its overabundant supply of pork products (especially the years we lived in Istanbul), delightful Christmas markets, numerous museums and beautiful scenery.

Earlier this month, we returned to Germany for a weekend trip to catch up with friends and visit some seasonal Christmas markets. A 90-minute train journey from D├╝sseldorf took us to Aachen, which we previously had visited in 2014. (See: 13 German Christmas Markets in 5 Days). 

We also travelled with a special one-day DB train ticket that allowed us to travel as much as we wanted with up to five people in the region for about 45 euros. Why can't UK train prices be like this?

Aachen developed from a Roman settlement and spa town and later became the preferred medieval Imperial residence of Emperor Charlemagne. From 936 to 1531, Aachen, and specifically the Aachen Cathedral, was the place where 31 Holy Roman Emperors were crowned Kings of the Germans. Historically, Aachen was one of Europe's most important cities due to its position near the Dutch and Belgian borders.
From the middle of November to December 23 of this year, the cobbled streets near the Cathedral and the baroque Aachen Town Hall are transformed into a Christmas paradise with wooden huts selling everything from woolen hats and Christmas decorations to local chocolates and gingerbread-like cookies called Aachener Printen and more tasty delights. The Aachen Christmas Market, as we re-discovered, is quite popular with tourists, even on a weekday morning, and attracts approximately 1.5 million visitors every year during those four weeks.

During our short visit, the weather was absolutely terrible – downpour rain and blustery winds – so we basically stopped at the first covered, heated gl├╝hwein stand and stayed there for two glasses of warming, spiced wine and some nibbles.

Aachener Printen
If you love sweet treats like I do, don’t miss the local bakeries that sell the crispy gingerbread cookies locally known as Aachener Printen. We avoided the big chain bakeries in town and found some delicious chocolate-covered printen at Klein Printenbackerei. The young sales guy here let us try all the different varieties – soft and crispy, then covered in dark, milk or white chocolate. The dark chocolate-covered crispy ones were my favorite!

Aachen Cathedral
Since the Christmas markets surround the UNESCO-designated Aachen Cathedral, we popped in to take some photos. Emperor Charlemagne ordered the construction of this Roman Cathedral in the 8th century and was buried there just a couple years later in 814. What’s interesting here is that the octagon in the center of the Cathedral was built in the same style of other contemporary Byzantine buildings such as the Little Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. The cathedral’s interior architecture reminded me of so many different buildings we had seen in Turkey as well as Moorish architecture we’ve recently seen in Spain.
If you don’t have time to visit Aachen for the Christmas markets this year, I would highly recommend planning a stop here next year.



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