Travel & Food

It’s strange to visit your own country and feel like a tourist, but that has been my experience on our last family visit to Israel. It suddenly dawned on me that I have spent more of my adult life in California than in Israel, which might explain why California feels more and more like home, while Israel is becoming this exotic place that you visit once a year, armed with a camera and lots of patience – it’s an intense place and Israelis are generous and kind, but quite aggressive.

Being a tourist in your own country is not all bad though – you get to do the really fun stuff, the things that only tourists do and no self-respecting local would dream of doing, such as going to the Old City of Jerusalem, and to the colorful Mahane Yehuda Market, armed with a camera, taking photos while exclaiming “This is so amazing!” while the locals try to take advantage of you and charge inflated prices for their merchandise – until they realize you are fluent in Hebrew.

My husband says jokingly that next year, we will find ourselves riding camels in the Negev – the utmost touristy experience. Who knows, we just might.

Orthodox Jews In the Old City of Jerusalem

Orthodox Jews In the Old City

kaak vendor

Fresh kaak (an arabic bagel)

fresh spices

Fresh spices, including a mysterious 'Fish Spice'

old city of jerusalem

In the Old City of Jerusalem, religious and secular co-exist

Different religions co-exist here, too

One of the many colorful types we've encountered here

Levi Brothers falafel jerusalem

If you ever find yourself at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, go to the Levi Brothers falafel stand and get falafel in an 'Esh-Tanur' pita. It's the best falafel I ever had, and I had many.

falafel

One of the brothers prepares my falafel order

watermelon

The freshest, deepest-colored, most delicious watermelons I have ever tasted - this is not photoshopped

This beggar woman looks just like the women my late grandma used to help, back when I was a kid.

It's Friday afternoon in the market, and this man is celebrating the approaching Shabbat with music and songs

old jerusalem

The sun is setting over the Old City. It's time to go home and have a luxurious Shabbat dinner

A week in Buenos Aires makes you realize just how boring your life is, in a quiet San Francisco suburb.

Of course, I love my life – as I have stated so many times on this blog – but my life IS kinda boring when compared with the intense energy of a big, vibrant, bustling, never-quite-asleep South American city.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, but I’ll spare you the photos of landmarks and monuments. Much more interesting is the street art and the graffiti – the city is basically covered in graffiti, some of it beautiful, some of it, not so much.

buenos aires grafitti

buenos aires street art

It is also one of the dirtiest cities I have ever seen (with the notable exceptions of Beijing and Xi’an):

buenos aires trash

The food? Basically, we ate empanadas (fried turnovers filled with beef, lamb, rabbit or ham):

empanadas

Making empanadas

Making empanadas

Beef:

argentina steak

And Dulce de Leche (here as a filling inside a traditional alfajor cookie):

alfajores

Pretty much every day, although you can also get excellent grilled seafood here – especially octopus (this was at Agraz restaurant in Caesar Park Hotel, and it was the best octopus I have ever eaten):

grilled octopus

In Mercado de San Telmo (San Telmo Market), we’ve seen beef parts that we’ve never seen before, except maybe in Barcelona’s Mercat De La Boqueria:

Beef Brains

Beef Brains

mercado de san telmo

I can only hope that this:

Will find its way to the trash and not to the inside of a hot dog or a sausage.

While recovering from the above sights with an excellent cup of strong Argentinian coffee, one can catch some lovely street tango:

street tango

Street Tango in San Telmo

That night, at La Lorenza restaurant in Barrio (neighborhood) Recoleta, we enjoyed a platter of parilla (traditional Argentinian mixed grill) that included many of the parts we had seen at the market. We took a bite of each (hey, I’ll try anything once – even blood sausage), but the steak (vacio, or flank steak) was the only part we actually liked.

parilla

After dinner, you can’t go to sleep. People here start dinner around 9pm, and when it ends, around 11pm, the night is still young. So you roam the streets, which are full of people until well after midnight – this photo was taken in the city center around 11pm:

Or you go to a milonga, where ordinary people come to dance the tango, with admirable skill:

milonga

You can also go to a tango show, although these are for tourists only – no self-respecting local goes to those (we went anyway):

tango show

In Puerto Madero, the dockland area, we strolled along many street vendors selling parilla (mixed grill). You put grilled beef in a bun, then add salads:

You can also get freshly squeezed orange juice:

I’m not sure what they use the eggs for, but as those eggs are kept at “room temperature” which is around 95 degrees F:

We opted to avoid eating in one of those stands and instead had a fancy – but sadly mediocre lunch at the pretentious Faena Hotel:

faena hotel

One CAN find delicious upscale cuisine in Buenos Aires:

CHILA restaurant: a dish of "Truffle cream, egg 61º, shallots in cognac and little pieces of blood sausage"

Oviedo Restaurant: "Croquettes of spinach, ham and mushrooms"

Duhau restaurant, Park Hyatt Hotel: "Lama tenderloin in homemade bread crust and ‘muña muña’ herb
Quinoa cream with fresh goat cheese and four colours corn stew, Mirasol pepper sauce"

We celebrated New Year’s Eve at Fervor restaurant, where we ushered in the New Year with music, traditional food (empanadas, beef, grilled seafood, chocolate mousse, and flan with Dulce de Leche), lots of champagne, and – to our surprise – a lovely and quite skillful belly dancer:

belly dancer

While I adore Buenos Aires and its warm, affectionate people (very different than the polite, distant Northern California frost), the city has its issues – trash and graffiti everywhere, poverty, and crime – especially theft – apparently so bad that at La Cabrera restaurant in Barrio Palermo, the nice security person tied our backpack to our chair to prevent it from being stolen!

And the cab driver that took us to the train station (we took a day trip to Tigre, a small riverside town) warned us to keep an eye on our belongings. “No tengas miedo, pero tenga cuidado” he told us. Don’t be afraid, but be careful.

We managed to avoid theft, and if the flight from San Francisco wasn’t so darn long, I would definitely visit again. But my list of places to visit before I die is long and gets longer by the minute… so we bid a smiling adios to Buenos Aires:

And I’m already planning our next trip. You see, my life is kinda boring… travel helps.

Beautiful California

by MomGrind

I complain a lot about California in general, and the San Francisco Bay Area in particular. Taxes here are insane, home prices even worse, and roads are always congested. Politically correctness has reached a point where free speech is severely limited, not by law but by local culture, and communication is shallow and “safe.” My husband and I are sometimes so fed up with living here, we occasionally discuss relocating – and have actually visited a few locations outside California to see if they can be viable alternatives.

Then comes a long weekend, such as this recent Labor Day weekend, and we travel, rediscovering the beauty that surrounds us. Living in the Bay Area, we have easy access to wonderful places such as San Francisco, Napa, Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Sacramento, Yosemite, and the Tahoe area, with its beautiful lake in the summer and world class ski resorts in winter. Weather is perfect, people are nice… maybe we should stay here after all. 🙂

Old Sacramento: Gold Rush Days (historic recreation)
Old Sacramento: Gold Rush Days (historic recreation)

Gold Rush Days
Old Sacramento: Gold Rush Days

California State Capitol
California State Capitol (with my mom)

Downtown Truckee
Up in the sierra: downtown Truckee

creme brulee
Great food goes without saying! Christy Hill Restaurant in Tahoe City

Lake Tahoe
We usually visit the Tahoe area in the winter for skiing, but it’s gorgeous in the summer!

lake tahoe
Lake Tahoe

Three Days in Memphis

by MomGrind

southern food

“Why Memphis?” Asked my husband when I expressed a desire to travel there. “I don’t know,” I said. “I miss the South, and Memphis is as good a place as any to experience more of it.”

So we headed to Memphis for a long weekend, and as always when visiting the South, I found it to be an intense experience. The South has so much character and charm, it’s like visiting a different country. From the “How are y’all doing today” to the inevitable (and friendly) “So… where are y’all from?” to the Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum curator exclaiming, “we’ve had so many foreigners here this morning! Someone from France, and an Italian family, and some Yankees too!”

Grits in each and every meal (even if you haven’t ordered it and haven’t seen it on the menu, a mound of grits is bound to appear *somewhere* on your plate), succulent fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs, battered-and-fried everything, and sweet pies; hot, humid summers that somehow add to the experience or at least to the feeling that “hey, it’s very different here!”

Memphis Attractions

Of course, there’s also the rich history, the music, and social issues that persist, including poverty – with a poverty rate of 14%, the South is probably the most impoverished region in the country. Stax Museum of American Soul Music – fascinating and well worth a visit – is located in an inner city neighborhood where poverty and neglect are everywhere. We also saw poverty when we drove south along the Mississippi River Delta and visited the dusty, rundown downtown of Helena, Arkansas, where 40% of the population is below the poverty line.

This was in sharp contrast to some wealthy Memphis neighborhoods that we also drove through:

Although, the rural areas along the Mississippi Delta certainly do not lack beauty:

The Memphis Civil Rights Museum is an absolute must. It’s located at the Lorraine Motel, the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement.

The City of Memphis itself is colorful, with its gorgeous street art, the downtown trolley, carriage rides, and of course the famous Beale Street, lined with blues clubs, restaurants and bars.

When we realized there was a long security line to get into Beale Street and that you had to submit to a public pat-down in order to get in:

beale street security

We decided to avoid what has basically become a tourist trap, and just took some photos -including this photo of the requisite doom-and-gloom prophet that you find in any sleazy venue, including Bourbon street in New Orleans and The Strip in Vegas.

Southern Food

No visit to the South is complete without sampling southern comfort food! So we did – everything you see in the picture and more. Barbecue ribs at The Majestic Grille, biscuits and gravy, followed by pecan pie at the trendy Flight Restaurant, fried catfish and spicy coleslaw followed by coconut cream pie at Interim Restaurant, and creamy grits to accompany our breakfast at the lovely River Inn Hotel.

We had an excellent barbecue pork sandwich at Abe’s Barbecue in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the menu is properly stained (with barbecue sauce, of course) and where the nice couple in the photo (Yankee transplants to the South) volunteered to take our picture and explained that the restaurant is located at the famous Crossroads, the intersection of Highways 61 and 49, the two main highways through the Delta, and that blues legend has it that Robert Johnson met the Devil at the Crossroads, and that’s how he got his guitar talent.

abes clarksdale

But our favorite restaurant this weekend was the Blue and White Restaurant in Tunica, Mississippi, where we ordered a plate of, well, fried everything, including fried catfish, cornmeal hush puppies, fried okra and even fried pickles! Everything was fried to perfection, meaning it was fried at the right temperature so was crispy and tasty rather than oily and soggy.

We did however avoid the very tempting signature dessert of “Two caramelized donuts, filled with whipped cream, topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup.” I think I gained five pounds just typing this description.

blue and white restaurant tunica mississippi

Graceland

Of course, no visit to Memphis is complete without visiting Graceland. So we went. I had to smile at the oh-so-seventies decor of the house, was mesmerized by Elvis’ good looks when he was young, and impressed when we learned about his many charitable contributions and generous, down-to-earth personality. I had no idea.

graceland

The flight back was thankfully uneventful, with only these gorgeous views of clouds:

clouds

And Salt Lake:

To make it a bit more interesting.

On Monday morning, in honor of Elvis, I made grilled peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. It was my own version, made with multigrain bread, crunchy peanut butter, Nutella, definitely less butter than the King would have used, and no bananas which we were out of. Still, it was gooey and chewy and tasty and warm – a classic comfort food.

grilled peanut butter sandwich

addicted to coffeeEvery morning I wake up thoroughly excited about breakfast. But the truth is, it’s not so much excitement over what I’m going to eat, as it is about the fact that I am going to get my daily dose of caffeine. I know I’m addicted, because when I sleep in on the weekend, I wake up with a bad headache, that can be promptly fixed with said dose of caffeine.

I drink one cup of very strong coffee each morning, and one cup of decaf tea at night after dinner. So I’m not doing too bad actually. According to the Mayo Clinic, for most healthy adults, moderate doses of caffeine — 200 to 300 milligrams or about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day, are fine. In fact, recent research has shown that coffee can actually be good for you, as long as you consume it in moderation and avoid the typical high-calorie concoctions that you can get at Starbucks and such.

Of course, being a foodie means that I don’t just drink any coffee. My coffee needs to be good. I usually use French press to make my coffee, and I make it fairly strong – I use 2 heaping tablespoons of ground coffee for each 8-oz mug. For years I insisted on drinking Illy coffee, but recently I became annoyed with the price, and have discovered a blend of Starbucks that I really like – Africa Kitamu (I buy it on Amazon). To all the coffee snobs out there I say, Starbucks coffee can be very good – the main issue is that when you order cappuccino or latte at the store, you get just one shot of coffee in a 12-ounce drink- that’s way too diluted. But at home I have more control over how strong I make my coffee.

gevalia heritage blend When Gevalia Coffee got in touch with me and offered to send me their 1853 Heritage blend for review, I was of course excited. It’s always great to be able to try a gourmet coffee blend that I’ve never tried before! The 1853 Heritage Blend is a 100% Arabica blend. It’s a medium roast coffee with notes of caramel. It is roasted and blended in Sweden and is available for purchase online.

The Review

I made the coffee using my regular method – French press. I measured, as usual, 2 heaping coffee measuring spoons (marked as 7 grams each) of ground coffee per each 8-ounce cup. I took the coffee with 1 teaspoon sugar and about 1/4 cup hot milk, as I always do.

My verdict: The Heritage Blend provides a clean, ultra smooth coffee drinking experience. I couldn’t detect any dominant flavors (including the caramel that’s supposed to be there) or any acidity. It’s a very light blend, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to call it “bland,” it is definitely better suited for individuals who prefer light coffee blends. If you like bold, full-bodied coffees with a pronounced finish, I would suggest making this blend stronger by adding 1 extra tablespoon per cup.

The Giveaway

Gevalia is generously offering to ship the following package to two US-based, 18+ readers:
1 box 1853 Heritage Blend coffee
1 very pretty coffee tin (says it’s decorative, so you can’t store the coffee in there!)
1 pack Gevalia coffee filters
Each package is valued at about $15

If you’re interested, please email vered at momgrind.com. I’ll use random.org to pick 2 random winners later today.

Update: The two winners have been chosen and notified via email. Thanks everyone for entering!

Weekend in Austin

by MomGrind

I can’t believe how hot it was in Austin! I suspect one’s body gets used to the temperatures where one lives, because the locals didn’t seem nearly as bothered as we were by the triple digit temperatures (102-104 degrees F, 38-40 C, throughout our stay). In fact, more than once we heard them asking restaurant hostesses for a table outside. OUTSIDE? We shook our heads in disbelief. But then my husband reminded me that when we had first arrived at the San Francisco Bay Area, we thought it was way too cold. Summers were especially disappointing – with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, you don’t really FEEL summer, I used to complain.

Well, I got used to it, and now can’t really tolerate hot weather.

But I loved Austin.

If you can visit Austin in the spring, that would be awesome. But if you can’t choose the date of your visit, Austin summer is doable. If I survived it, anyone can. 🙂

Keep Austin Weird

Austin is the capital of Texas, home to the University of Texas at Austin and to a growing high tech industry. Austin is also the “Live Music Capital of the World” and a haven for individualism. The marketing campaign “Keep Austin Weird,” created to support local businesses, has received a meaning that goes far beyond the original intent – it has become a message of support for people and groups that are not mainstream.

Austin also seems to be in love with all things skeletal/occult:

Austin Restaurants

We tried typical local diners and restaurants, such as Magnolia Cafe, where we had huge pancakes for breakfast:
austin magnolia

And Oasis Restaurant, with its gorgeous views of Lake Travis:
oasis austin

There were water sprays everywhere, ruining perfectly good blowouts but giving people some hope of cooling off:

Beer helps too:

Unlike many locals, we opted to dine indoors, missing the beautiful views but keeping our core body temperature at non-life-threatening levels.

We wondered if we could find gourmet food in Austin, and indeed we did- at Uchi, where you have to wait for a table at least an hour if you don’t have a reservation (many thanks to our wonderful concierge for getting us a table!) We went with the three-hour, ten-course tasting menu. It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had:
Austin Uchi

Of course, if you’re in a hurry, food trucks are always an option:
austin cupcake food truck

Austin Shopping

The “Keep Austin Weird” campaign has been successful, to judge by the many local businesses we found along South Congress Avenue.

We walked along the avenue for as long as we could stand the heat (which wasn’t very long), trying on costumes at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds:
austin lucy in disguise with diamonds

And admiring the large selection of cowboy boots at Allen’s Boots:
austin allens boots

Of course we ended up buying a pair of pink cowgirl boots for our daughter!
pink cowgirl boots

We shopped ’till we dropped – here I am forcing a smile for the camera, but pretty close to declaring it’s time to find an air conditioned space:

Austin Men

See this jeans ad from Allen’s Boots?

You would think it’s just Jason Aldean, the country singer, looking like this, but most of the locals – at least the young men – look exactly like him. Very cute! The young women are blond and very tall. My own foreignness was definitely reinforced in Texas, where I look nothing like the locals. At least here in the Bay Area I blend in visually. 🙂

Austin’s 6th street

6th Street between Congress and IH 35 is Austin’s entertainment center and the heart of Austin’s live entertainment scene. It is also lined with many historical houses and commercial buildings dating from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These buildings now house mostly bars, live entertainment venues, tattoo parlors, art galleries, and casual cafes. We strolled along the street on our last night in Austin. While it’s not exactly my cup of tea, it’s definitely an interesting place that draws an eclectic crowd. It reminded me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, sans the “It’s OK to drink on the street” signs. Here’s a little collage of what we saw, plus the gorgeous view of Lady Bird Lake from our hotel room:

austin 6th street

I enjoyed my weekend in Austin. But my next visit will be in the spring.:-)

Offline

by MomGrind

“But I can get you on your cell phone, right?” He asked. “Nope,” I said. “I won’t be accessible at all for five days.” “But what if I need you urgently?” He inquired. “Well, Amy will be at the office. I’m sure she’ll manage.”

Whether Hawaii, Napa or Lake Tahoe, these days, when I go on vacation, I make sure it’s a real vacation – none of that modern stuff of “I’m on vacation, but I have my iPhone with me, which is connected to my work email, and since I check my email compulsively every hour, and can’t help but answer emails once I’ve read them, I actually work while on vacation.”

Not that I don’t check my email compulsively. I do. (Still working on that one.) But not while on vacation.

The Internet is great. Every time I google something, I am in awe at the sheer amount of information that is now accessible to me. Back when I was a kid, getting a fraction of this information would have required a special trip to the library. Each time I use Google Translator to write a coherent letter to my elderly Dutch grandma (my Dutch is very basic), I am grateful to technology for helping me have better, more meaningful conversations with her.

Every time my kids use Skype to talk with their grandparents or video chat to stay in touch with friends when they can’t have a play date, each time I reconnect with someone from my past on Facebook, I am reminded of how awesome the Internet is.

But the Internet, Web 2.0, social media and the mobile Web have a dark side. They are fast and they are everywhere – and this is their strength, and how they drastically improve our lives. But this is also their weakness, and danger, and how they significantly lower our quality of life.

Many of us don’t ever disconnect anymore. We are always accessible, always there when someone needs to reach us. When emergency strikes, this is great, but in the vast majority of cases, by allowing ourselves to be so accessible, we are making ourselves vulnerable. We put up with constant interruption, constant stimuli. I don’t think this is goods for us. I think our brains are evolving far more slowly than technology. I think our brains need downtime.

The worst aspect of always being accessible is that we become accessible not just to family and friends, but also to random acquaintances, to marketers, to employers, and to clients.

I don’t know about you, but I do social media for a living, and it’s so very fast and demanding and constantly evolving, that if I didn’t take the occasional break from this intense connectivity, whether by simply going outside WITHOUT A PHONE, or by taking a few days’ break once in a while, I think my brain would explode!

So we spent five days in Hawaii’s Big Island last week (the collage above captures many of the experiences), blissfully disconnected. No Internet, no interruptions, just the four of us, amazing nature, great food, snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, and a very relaxing resort and spa.

Now that I’m rested, it’s good to be back.