Friday, September 30, 2011

Life in the USA, Part One: Luis Goes Into Sensory Overload

Luis weighing his options in the dairy aisle (photo by Simone Cannon)

First of all, huge apologies to our followers for not posting in such a long time, but since we relocated to the Pacific Northwest, we've been incredibly busy getting settled in and adjusting to life in the U.S. I will be continuing my series on Real Mexican Food next week, but for now, an intermezzo. Just because we haven't been traveling internationally doesn't mean that Luis has stopped taking photos...oh, no, far from it. Come to think of it, if anything, he has accelerated his photo-snapping rate exponentially since he's been stateside. He's now in a brand new place with new people, new sights and a new and strange culture to explore. I've started looking at my own country through his eyes, and let me tell you, it's a pretty bizarre place. Funny how I never noticed before.

Emu eggs at Whole Foods, one of the many varieties available to confound the unsuspecting foreigner (photo courtesy of KarenP at 
 For example, when we first arrived, he was completely overwhelmed by the variety of items available in the stores, something I had never given much thought to. We took our first grocery shopping trip to Whole Foods and I sent him off to buy eggs while I looked for laundry detergent. He returned to the detergent aisle ten minutes later with no eggs and a shell-shocked look on his face. "Where are the eggs?" I understandably asked. To which he responded, "Madre de Dios! There were brown eggs, white eggs, pastel-colored eggs, organic eggs, non-organic eggs, cage-free eggs, caged eggs, eggs from chickens named Betty, eggs from chickens named Sue, omega 3 fatty acid-enhanced eggs, extra calcium eggs, duck eggs, emu eggs, ostrich eggs, crocodile eggs, salmon eggs and chocolate eggs (white, milk, semi-sweet and dark)! So I went to buy milk instead and there was fat-free, 1%, 2%, whole, organic, non-organic, extra calcium, extra protein, extra calcium and protein, goat, cow, sheep, soy, low-fat soy, rice, oat, buttermilk and chocolate milk (white, milk, semi-sweet and dark)." He was almost in tears. "All I want to buy is a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk...Sweet Jesus!" Keep in mind that, in Venezuela, you're having an excellent day if you find one unexpired liter of milk and a half a dozen eggs only a week past their expiration date.

So many pillows, so little time... (photo courtesy of

The next day, I made the unfortunate decision to visit Ikea with him to buy pillows. When we finally wound our way through the massive, labyrinthine store and arrived at the linen section, we found that an entire wall of bedding was occupied by pillows filled with foam, down, half foam/half down, gel, anti-allergic and non-anti-allergic stuffings. There were ergonomic pillows, pillows for side-sleepers, back sleepers, stomach sleepers, front/side sleepers, back/stomach sleepers and troubled sleepers. They came in varying levels of firmness: extra-extra soft, extra soft, soft, soft-medium, medium, medium-firm, firm, extra firm, extra-extra firm and rock. Sizes ranged from twin, double, queen, king and California king. I glanced back at Luis for his opinion on which pillow to buy, but, sadly, it was too late. He had already slipped into an irreversible catatonic state.      

Friday, June 24, 2011

Real Mexican Food in Mexico City, Mexico: Part One: Tacos

The 24-hour taqueria just outside our hostel, a few blocks from Zócalo (photo by Luis Bastardo)   

Luis and I just relocated to Seattle after spending five years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After realizing that the total travel time between cities including flights and layovers would be about 31 hours, we decided to break up the trip with a stop in Mexico City (known locally as Distrito Federal or D.F.). Good decision; it's one of the most interesting places that we've ever visited. We booked a hostel near Zócalo, the main square of Mexico City and home to the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Templo Mayor and the National Palace. The price of a room at the hostel included breakfast and dinner, but after sampling the meal on the first night, which consisted of a buffet of bland tuna casserole, store-bought white bread and iceberg lettuce salad (the hostel manager told us that many of their guests, especially the Europeans, can't tolerate the spiciness of real Mexican food), we decided to head out to the streets. Very, very good decision.   

  A freshly made 70 cent suadero taco from the corner taqueria (photo by Luis Bastardo)

Anyone who's read this blog before knows that I am a street food addict. I almost never visit restaurants when traveling unless there are swarms of locals already inside or there is a long line outside, because I usually either get sick or am disappointed by restaurant food. With street food, it is always fresh, almost always delicious, prepared with fresh ingredients right in front of you (I've never gotten sick eating street food) and it's cheap, so even if you're disappointed, you're out a dollar at the most. To get a real taste of authentic local cuisine, your best bet in any country is almost always outdoor cooking stands and Mexico is no exception. Incidentally, the food in Mexico City bears almost no resemblance to "Mexican" food as most non-Mexicans know it. I have yet to see (outside of the tourist resorts) sour cream, fried ice-cream or Supreme Nachos anywhere within Mexico's borders.

Sim waiting at a busy taqueria in D.F. with a wide variety of fillings and toppings (photo by Luis Bastardo)
The street foods most popular with both locals and tourists are quesadillas, chalupas, huaraches, sopes, gordas (a type of sandwich) and of course, tacos. Tacos are usually made with two small soft corn tortillas, one inside the other, then filled with suadero (beef brisket), brains, pork, tripe, chicken, carne asada (marinated, grilled beef), huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on ears of corn and originally known as corn can understand the name change from a marketing perspective) or nopal (prickly pear cactus leaves) and topped with cebollas (onions) or cebolittas (scallions), fresh green or red chili sauce, cilantro and/or a fresh cheese like queso blanco or Oaxaca. The delicious Tacos de Cabeza (Head Tacos) are made with any combination of chopped sesos (brains), lengua (tongue), cachete (cheeks), trompa (lips) or ojos (eyeballs). Don't be put off by the sound of eating a tortilla filled with chopped lips, eyeballs and brains. Just take a deep breath and take the plunge; I swear they are delicious and afterwards you will be wondering how you ever got by without eyeball-flavor treats before.   

    Pork on the spit, ready to be sliced off and served to hungry taco junkies (photo by Luis Bastardo)
Tacos al Pastor (Shepard's Tacos), easily the most popular, are made by carving seasoned, marinated meat, usually pork, off a spit similar to how gyros or shawarmas are made, then topped with a slice of fresh pineapple, cilantro, onions and sometimes fresh lime juice. The pineapple usually sits atop the meat on the spit, since the dripping juices contain an enzyme that helps to tenderize the meat and also adds flavor. In coastal areas of Mexico, tacos filled with fresh grilled or marinated seafood are common, and usually include shrimp, local fish or crab or a combination thereof and are served with chili sauce, lime juice and onions. One caveat: since coastal areas are usually the locales for resorts and hotels, the tacos are generally geared more toward tourists' tastes than local traditional recipes and often include additions such as citrus-flavored mayonnaise or sour cream and guacamole, but they're still delicious.
Vegan nightmare: a variety of meats used to fill tacos (photo by Luis Bastardo)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Gym Class, Ninnaji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

(photo of Kyoto schoolgirls by Simone Cannon

I can't think of a lovlier setting for a few laps arond the track than this temple in Kyoto, Japan. As I was exploring the grounds and buildings, I repeatedly ran into groups of giggling schoolgirls stretching, running, eating lunch, listening to music or practicing martial arts. Physical fitness and competition are extremely important parts of Japanese life and physical education is taught at every level of school. The Japanese consider it crucial to the physical, mental, and social development of children and all are expected to particpate, starting in some schools as early as kindergarten.

Ninnaji Temple in Kyoto, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded in the year 888, and was originally an Imperial residence. The compound houses various temples, gardens, a pagoda, a bell tower, dwarf cherry trees and tea houses. It is an important temple, as it is the head of the Omuro school of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism. The temple has repeatedly been destroyed by war and fire, but has been rebuilt every time. The temple is well worth a visit, but be sure to set aside a full day; the grounds are extensive and there's a lot to see.  


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Rattlesnake Lake, King County, Washington, USA

(photo of Rattlesnake Lake by Luis Bastardo)

After five years of living in Argentina, Luis and I moved from Buenos Aires to Seattle last month. I lived here 11 years ago when I first worked for Microsoft, but it is Luis's first long-term stay here, so he has been anxious to explore the surrounding area. In truth, so am I, since the last time I lived here from 2000-2002, I spent most of my time working indoors and saw very little of the landscape. Also, we're trying to spend as much time together as possible before I start working again; we have seldom been part since we met five years ago and our new life here will be a big adjustment for both of us. We love to hike and explore, so have been checking out local trails and parks, including the incredible Rattlesnake Ledge.

The 117-acre Rattlesnake Lake in King County, Washington, lies about 30 miles west of the city of Seattle and is part of the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area. The interesting thing about the lake is that it is the former site of the logging town of Moncton, whose scant remains lie under the surface of the water. The town was flooded out and destroyed in 1915 when water leaked from the nearby human-made Chester Morse Lake. The tree stumps that remain in the lake are used as nesting sites by birds. Despite the name, there are no rattlesnakes anywhere in or near the area. The name arose when a pioneer heard seed pods rustling nearby and thought he was about to be attacked by rattlesnakes.         

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Lincoln Memorial at Night, Washington, D.C., USA

(photo of the Lincoln Memorial by Luis Bastardo)

In October 2009, Luis, a Venezuelan citizen, visited the United States for the first time since he attended the opening of Disneyworld with his parents in 1971. We traveled around the country visiting different cities, but he was especially awed by Washington, D.C.: the history, the museums, the galleries, the orderliness, the cleanliness and the amazing national monuments. He could have easily spent another month there just exploring the incredible and extensive repository of national treasures. This shot of the Lincoln Memorial is one of his more impressive photos of the city; he managed to capture the drama and importance of the tribute to one of the nation's most impactful and important leaders, Abraham Lincoln.

The Lincoln Memorial, located in the National Mall, was completed in 1922 and remains one of the most visited sites in the United States, with over 3.6 million visitors annually. The memorial has been the site of two notable civil rights precedents: a performance of African-American contralto Marian Anderson to a live audience of 70,000 and a radio audience in the millions and The March on Washington, a civil rights rally featuring Martin Luther King's famous speech "I Have a Dream". President Lincoln, a prominent abolitionist, would have been proud.      


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Dogwalkers, Buenos Aires, Argentina

(photo by Luis Bastardo)

If you think that Parisians and New Yorkers are the world's ultimate dog-doters, you haven't visited Buenos Aires. The city's citizens (known as Porteños) adore their dogs and take them everywhere: cafes, parties, parks, to work, on vacation, restaurants (usually seen at an outdoor table sharing lunch with their owners or discreetly snuck inside in a large tote bag) and everywhere in between. There are bakeries that sell dog-specific pastries, doggie spas, medical specialists such as ophthalmologists, therapists and dentists just for dogs, clothing and accessory stores and, of course, the ubiquitous dog walkers known as los paseadores de perros.        

Hiring a dog walker is de rigueur in Buenos Aires; friends and neighbors would be most concerned if owners were reduced to walking their own dogs. The dog walkers are easy to spot: they are usually leading a group of at least six dogs and often as many as 20, with leashes in both hands and several more connected to ganchas (hooks) on their belts. The dogs are remarkably well-behaved and seem to get along with each other, despite being of very different sizes and breeds (we've seen toy poodles happily trotting alongside great danes). The paseadores are more akin to babysitters; they walk the dogs twice a day, give them medicine if needed, groom them, socilize them and play with them; in other words, they provide doggie daycare.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: CN Tower from Union Station, Toronto, Canada

(photo of Toronto's CN Tower by Luis Bastardo)

This photo was taken in October 2009 on Luis' first trip to Canada to meet my dad and stepmom who live in Burlington, Ontario, near the city of Toronto. We took a day trip into the city, only 45 minutes via the very efficient and clean GOTransit system and arrived in Union Station, where he snapped a shot of the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure and tower in the western hemisphere. Later that day we rode the elevator to the top to check out the amazing views of the city skyline and Lake Ontario at sunset.

The Canadian National (CN) Tower was completed in 1976, when, at a height of 1,815 feet, it became both the world's tallest freestanding structure and world's tallest tower, records which have since been broken by the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands at 2,717 feet. Two million visitors a year take the super-fast external glass elevators to the observation decks and rotating restaurant known as 360 to take in the incredible views. A new extreme experience known as EdgeWalk will open this summer, which will allow visitors with nerves of steel to take a stroll on the outside of the tower's main pod. Described as "the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft wide ledge encircling the top of the CN Tower’s main pod, 1168 ft or 116 stories above the ground", EdgeWalk will be the first extreme attraction of its kind in North America. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Wedding Guests, La Paz, Bolivia

Another winning photo of the day from Luis was published in Why Go at BootsnAll! Sometimes I get frustrated with his photography obsession (I swear the man takes 10,000 photos a day), but when we review his photos after our travel, I know it's worth it. He always manages to capture amazing sights, interesting people and flashes of culture and his photos always give one a good idea of the real nature of a place, not just the touristy side.

The woman in the center of this shot is wearing traditional Bolivian costume: a colorful handwoven shawl known as a manta, a softly pleated or tiered voluminous Spanish-influenced skirt called a pollera, and a bombin, a British-style bowler hat, first introduced to the region by British railway workers, worn at an angle that indicates a woman's marital status.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Vegetables on the Way to Market, Agra, India

This photo was taken in November 2005 en route from New Delhi to Agra to visit the Taj Majal. The streets of India are always full of life with something or someone interesting to see at every moment. It can be overwhelming for visitors to process the barrage of colors, movement, sounds and smells, but the scenes are always riveting. On this stretch of road, our fellow commuters were relatively tranquil, mostly farmers on their way to market transporting their wares by ox cart to sell some of the most beautiful and tempting vegetables I'd ever seen.

India's farmers are currently in the midst of an agricultural renaissance. Although traditional in their farming methods for millennia, beginning in the 1960s, the Indian government encouraged the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, much to the detriment of food producers and consumers. Rates of cancer, debt and suicide amongst farmers soared, but today the industry has dramatically shifted direction. India is returning to its roots and organic farming culture is growing in leaps and bounds, with more than 300,000 organic farms in 2009. Consumers have a growing awareness and expectation for naturally produced foods and farmers have answered the call. India is currently one of the global standard bearers for organic farming: although India's population is three times that of the U.S., there are 30 times more organic farmers.  


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Easter Sunday in Central Park, New York, USA

To me, Central Park is one of most beautiful places on earth. Constantly changing with the seasons, it's a park where there's always something new to discover, a hidden bramble trail, a pond of sunning turtles, a row of dazzlingly-colored azalea bushes. The park is one of the miracles of modern landscaping and has something for everyone: broad playing fields perfect for baseball and Frisbee, formal gardens, bridle trails, forested walks, ponds, bridges and winding strolling paths. Although spectacularly beautiful throughout the year, in spring it is at its most breathtaking with many spots to enjoy the floral fireworks.  

I took this photo on Easter Sunday in April 2003 on a day when the park was filled with magnolia trees in full flower, bursts of narcissus and sunny yellow daffodils, cherry trees filled with delicate pink blossoms, brilliant forsythia bushes and fragrant lilacs. The weather was sunny and mild and New Yorkers and tourists were out in full force enjoying the day, roller-blading, cycling, picnicking or just strolling along the paths hand in hand, soaking in as much beauty as they could on this perfect spring day in the park.   

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Passover Foods With an Argentine Twist

Homemade gefilte fish (photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons/Olaf.herfurth)

 People all over the world are celebrating Passover this week, often with interesting local takes on traditional foods. In Argentina, foods are influenced by European traditions, Latin cooking, indigenous and gaucho cultures and seasonal ingredients (Passover falls in the autumn rather than the spring in Argentina, since the country lies in the Southern Hemisphere). Although many people don't immediately think of Argentina as a thriving center of Jewish culture, there are in fact more than 250,000 Argentine Jews and Buenos Aires alone is home to 56 synagogues: 50 Orthodox, 5 Conservative and one Reform. Currently, Argentina has the 7th largest Jewish population in the world and the largest Jewish community in South America. If you are in the mood for something other than traditional Passover foods, there is even a Kosher McDonald's in the Abasto Shopping Center, the only one in the world outside Israel.

Choosing a Kosher bottle of Argentine wine (photo courtesy of

Food is influenced strongly by old world heritage since the families of many Argentine Jews emigrated from Eastern and Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire, but it is also influenced by the culture of the Gauchos Judios or Jewish Cowboys, who cook their food over grills on open fires (asados), and prefer simple meals with fresh ingredients. Argentines tend to make things by hand instead of buying pre-packaged foods, hence many prepare their own gefilte fish, matzah balls, kishke asado (grilled intestines stuffed with potatoes, matzah meal, eggs, chicken fat and spices) and chicken broth. Some popular Passover dishes are Pollo de la Pascua Judia (Passover Chicken), a delicious grilled chicken prepared with dried fruit, olives, garlic and autumn root vegetables; Pollo Asado con Chimichurri (Roast Chicken marinated in Chimichurri sauce: a red or green spicy garlic, cilantro, parsley and pepper sauce) or Albondigas de Papas (potato balls stuffed with ground beef and onions). Argentines are also well-known for their superb wines and bodegas such as Arco Nuevo, Byblos and Terroso produce some wonderful Kosher Malbecs, Cabernets and Syrahs.

Photo of chicken with dried fruit and olives (Courtesy of

Pollo de la Pascua Judia (Passover Chicken)

•1 tbsp. olive oil

•2 chickens, cut into pieces

•1 1/2 med. onions, diced

•1/2 cup green olives, pitted

•1/2 cup dried apricots (or other dried fruit such as pears, peaches or a mix), coarsely chopped

•1/2 cup pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

• 1/2 cup butternut squash, cubed

• 2 cinnamon sticks

•2 bay leaves

•1 tsp. salt

•1 tsp. ground cumin

•1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns

•1 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth

•1/4 cup Kosher red wine vinegar

•1/4 cup Kosher red wine

•2 TBS. honey

•2 heads of garlic

In large casserole dish, heat oil over medium-high heat; brown chicken, in batches. Transfer to plate.
Drain off fat from pan; reduce heat to medium. Add onions, olives, apricots, prunes, butternut squash, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, salt, cumin and peppercorns; cook for one minute. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pan.

In bowl, whisk together chicken broth, wine vinegar, red wine and honey; pour over chicken. Slice off the tops of the heads of garlic, separate into cloves and place between chicken pieces. Cover and bring to boil; reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is no longer pink inside, about 35-45 minutes. Discard bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Serve chicken on a warm platter surrounded by baked garlic cloves; guests can squeeze the garlic paste from the skins as desired. Serves 8.

(Recipe in English adapted from Canadian Living Magazine: April 2003)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Mather Point, Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Our trip in November 2009 was my second visit to the Grand Canyon and Luis's first. As you might have gathered by now, Luis is a bit of a photo addict and can literally snap hundreds of pictures a day in the most mundane of places, but in the magnificent Grand Canyon, he kicked into overdrive. I don't think that there's a rock or tree in the entire canyon that he missed. By photographing what seem like tiny spectators on the top of the rock towers of Mather Point, he really captured the beauty, scale and the colorful vistas of the area.

The Grand Canyon, part of the U.S. National Parks Service system, runs 277 miles long, 18 miles wide at its widest point and is over a mile deep, making it one of the largest canyons in the world. Geologists estimate its age at at least 17 million years. The Grand Canyon National Park hosts approximately 5 million visitors a year, not just to view the canyon, but to camp, hike, white-water raft, take helicopter sightseeing tours, run marathons, ride to the bottom of the canyon in mule and horse trains, or visit the Hualapai Tribe's new glass-bottomed Grand Canyon Skywalk, which sits 4,000 feet directly above the Colorado River. Although the canyon is spectacular and there are many exciting activities, it is not to be taken lightly; over 600 accidental deaths have occurred since tourists starting visiting in the 1870s. Causes include falls, drowning, lightning strikes, heatstroke, heart attacks, plane crashes, homicides, suicides and environmental causes.     

Friday, April 15, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Recoleta Cemetery Sculpture, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Although we've visited Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires many times (it's a standard stop on our city tour for our visitors), there is always something new to discover. Luis took this wonderfully spooky photo of one of the Morticia Addams-like sculptures at a family tomb near the entrance. A maintenance man was clearing the cobwebs off the statues, so Luis had to snap quickly to catch the effect before it was literally swept away.

Recoleta Cemetery is one of the most famous in South America, and is the final resting place of many of the city's wealthy, powerful and influential citizens. Residents include several presidents of Argentina, poets, artists, writers, composers, Nobel Prize winners, and the most well-known resident of all, Maria Eva Duarte de Perón, also known as Eva Peron or Evita, who is buried in the Duarte family tomb. The cemetery, dating from 1732, houses 4,800 private mausoleums and is laid out like a small city, with landscaping, distinct blocks and avenues. Most of the multi-level tombs are well-maintained by staff and family members and showcase elaborate sculpture, architecture and stained glass. The stacked coffins, urns, lace linens and flower-filled vases are often visible through glass doors or windows. Visitors can take a guided tour or purchase a map of the final homes of the city's luminaries.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Hearty Winter Soups and Stews of Argentina

A bowl of steaming locro (courtesy of Stevage/WikiMedia Commons)

It may seem odd to be writing about winter stews in April, but even though those in the Northern Hemisphere are shedding coats and shopping for spring vegetables, the people of the Southern Hemisphere are winding down their summer vacations and bracing for the cool autumn and winter weather ahead. In Argentina, one of the great joys of this time of year is the reappearance of traditional hearty soups and stews on restaurant menus and on home cooks' tables. Variety abounds, with choices such as Carbonada Criolla, a delicious, slightly sweet stew made with Argentine beef, tomatoes and peaches or apricots and baked in a pumpkin shell; Lentejas, a smoky stew from Spain made from lentils, potatoes and smoked, spicy sausages; the Argentine version of Mondongo, a tripe stew originally from Africa and prepared with beans and red sausage; or Locro, a type of thick corn chowder made with white or red beans, pork, beef and pumpkin.          

Carbonada Criolla baked in a South American pumpkin known as a zapallo (photo courtesy of

Although many of these stews have their roots in other countries, Argentines have created their own regional recipes. Every area (and, in fact, every home and restaurant) in Argentina has its own version of each stew, influenced by the availability of local ingredients and the culinary traditions of indigenous populations as well as the cooking styles of European immigrants. The country has a distinct pattern of immigration, with the Spanish, German, Welsh, Italian, English and French all establishing footholds in various provinces. Within certain parameters, the recipes are flexible; the most important thing is to use the freshest, highest quality ingredients that are available. For example, with Carbonada Criolla (criolla means traditional or typical of an area), ingredients may include beef and/or pork and/or sausages, tomatoes, several types of squash and/or pumpkin, peaches and/or apricots and/or raisins, carrots, potatoes and/or yams, etc. You get the picture: use the recipe as a framework, be creative and use high quality meat and local seasonal vegetables. Slow cooking is essential as the flavors need time to develop.

     A casserole of lentejas, perfect for a winter day (photo courtesy of

Locro (probably from the Quechua word "ruqru" or "luqru"), the Argentina version of corn chowder, is a particular favorite of both locals and visitors. Locro was prepared for centuries by the Andean indigenous tribes of South America, especially in Ecuador, and slowly migrated to the mountainous regions of Argentina, then to the lowlands. It is probably the most authentic pre-Spanish dish of all the criolla foods since its basic ingredients are native to South America (corn, beans, squash) and its various recipes have had little European influence. It is considered by many to be the national dish of Argentina and is often served on national holidays. Besides the main vegetables, locro may contain fresh or dried meat, sausages, tripe, tomatoes, or onion and is often served with a spicy sauce called quiquirimichi on the side.

Mondongo or Tripe Stew (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Although mondongo has African roots and developed mostly in the Caribbean areas of Latin America such as Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, as well as southern parts of Brazil, Argentines have adopted the soup and made it into a thicker stew, adding local ingredients and often using other offal as well as tripe, potatoes, sausages, corn, beans and white wine. All of the stews are hearty and delicious and are usually served with a robust, fruity Argentine red wine such as Malbec and a crusty loaf of bread to sop up every last drop of luscious, warming broth.        

Argentine Locro

1 kg dried white corn kernels (use fresh yellow corn if you can’t find white)

1 kg white beans

1 kg of meat with bones

½ kg of cubed stewing meat

½ kg cubed pork (if you have bones, ad them as well, and remove them later)

¼ kg bacon, cut into small cubes

5 fresh sausages. Usually 2 or 3 spicy (such as spicy Italien) and 2 or 3 regular pork sausages

2 large carrots, cubed

1 small squash, peeled and cubed

2 cloves garlic

3 medium potatoes

3 medium sweet potatoes or yams

½ small cabbage


½ cup olive oil

¼ onion, chopped fine

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp ground hot chilies

1 tbsp paprika

Chives, chopped

The night before, put corn (if you are using dried corn) and beans in water to soak in a huge pot. The following day, take out half of the beans and corn. Add all the meats and sausages into the pot with the other half of beans and corn. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the liquids have thickened, and the meat is super tender. Figure somewhere between 6 – 10 hours. Six is ok, but 8 or 10 is even better.

Once you have about two hours left, add the rest of the beans and corn. You will notice that the other beans that were already in the pot will have started to fall apart. This is fine, and is supposed to happen. You can also add the rest of the ingredients now. Cover and let simmer for the last two hours, stirring occasionally.

During this time, you can make the sauce for the locro. Sautee onion in olive oil. Add garlic. Sautee until onions are clear. Add hot chillies and paprika, sautee for another minute. Remove from heat and add chopped chives on top. Serve in a bowl, for each person to add to their locro.

This is a very hearty meal, and should be enough for 10-12 people. If you don’t have a big enough pot, you can make a half recipe.

Recipe courtesy of ExposeBuenosAires 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Children's Parade, Barquisimeto, Venezuela

I'm so excited; Luis's photo of a children's parade was chosen by BootsnAll online travel magazine as it's Photo of the Day again! I'm biased of course, but Luis does have a wonderful way of capturing the mood of people and the real feeling of a community when we travel. I love how the faces of the children seem to convey their resignation to wearing comical hats and following each other around the streets, all the time being egged on by parents, onlookers and teachers to look more lively.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Sugar Loaf Mountain in the Clouds, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In April 2010, Luis and I visited Brazil for the third time, this time starting with Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's incredible city by the sea. On the first day we arrived, there was a torrential downpour which didn't let up until two days before we left. Undaunted, more or less, we decided to forge ahead and visit the sites for which Rio is famous, including Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain). As we rode the cable car to the first mountain, then the second, the clouds miraculously cleared and we were able to enjoy the view for a few minutes, but soon the clouds rolled back in and Luis snapped this lovely, ghostly shot of the view from the top, including the cable car and Ipanema Beach

To reach the 1,300 foot summit of Sugar Loaf, passengers must first ride the bondinho or cable car to Morro de Açúcar, the smaller mountain that stands next to Sugar Loaf, then take a second cable car for the rest of the trip (each ride is about three minutes). The views are spectacular from all points, including the cable cars. For the more adventurous, there is also the option to rock-climb your way to the top up the mountain faces, with more than 270 routes available, between 1-10 pitches long. I think I'll stick to the nice, safe cable car.       

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Temple Prayers and Offerings, Bangkok, Thailand

In Feb. 2004, I visited Thailand for the first time and was blown away by the beauty, the history, the scents (a mix of jasmine, incense and spice), the delicious food, the kind and friendly people, the incredible sights and the underlying sense of serenity, even in a frenetic city like Bangkok. The temples are a perfect example of this interesting mix. Filled with curious tourists, bustling tour guides and frantically snapping cameras, the temples are also a haven for the devoted Buddhists of the city, who seem not to be disturbed in their prayers by the buzz of activity that surrounds them.

Wat Pho (pronounced what-po; "wat" is Thai for "temple"), is the largest temple in Bangkok and the most visited as it houses the largest reclining Buddha in the world (46 meters or 150 feet in length and covered completely in gold leaf) as well as a popular Thai massage school, where students practice their skills on tired, grateful travelers at a reduced rate; massage classes are also offered to foreigners. The temple is vast and filled with breathtaking religious art and sculptures and can be overwhelming, but English-speaking guides are available and well worth the small fee. There are also palm readers, astrologers and Buddhist monks, who for a small donation, will provide a blessing for safe travel and a happy life.    

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Colorful Flags, Ubud, Bali

In January 2004, I stopped over in Bali, en route from Thailand to Australia. Bali is the only Hindu island of Indonesia (92.3% of the island's residents follow Hinuduism, as opposed to the rest of Indonesia, which is primarily Muslim). Bali is famous for its arts, its beaches, its lush rice paddies and its music and culture. Not being much of a beach bunny, I decided to stay in the center of the island in Ubud, the artist's colony of Bali. Ubud is very different than the packed party beaches of Kuta and Legian. The atmosphere is more tranquil, the scenery greener and the people much more laid back. Several times a day, the Balinese place small woven baskets filled with leaves and flowers such as jasmine and frangipani on the sidewalk or steps of their homes and businesses. The baskets are meant as offerings to Hindu gods and ancestors and are constantly refreshed; as a result, the air is always filled with a beautiful floral scent. 

The name Ubud comes from the Balinese word for medicine "ubad" since the town was originally a source of medicinal herbs and plants. Most of the ancient health and healing arts are still practiced today and are a mixture of religion and traditional medicine. When Europeans started to arrive, the town developed a thriving artist community which continues today. Ubud is also home to the famous Ubud Monkey Forest with its Hindu temple, where 340 Crab-eating Macaques live freely. Take care when visiting the reserve though; the monkeys are incorrigible thieves (their favorite items are tourists' sunglasses and hats) and trouble-makers who like to frighten visitors by baring their teeth, yelling at the top of their lungs and jumping on people from trees.        


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: At the Window, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

This photo taken by Luis was chosen by BootsnAll as its photo of the day today. I'm so proud of him! It was taken in November 2006 in the colorful neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, Argentina. La Boca (meaning "the mouth", in reference to its position at the mouth of the river, Rio de la Plata) is famous for its history, its tango dancers and its football team, the Boca Juniors, which produced the football superstar, Diego Maradona.

Weekends are lively in La Boca, with a "feria artesanal" (an outdoor market where local artisans sell their crafts), tango demonstrations, restaurants and shops. Between 1880 and 1930, 6 million immigrants from Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia, Russia, France and Spain arrived in the area to work the docks and create a new life for themselves and La Boca retains much of that European character. Although the main street, el caminito, and the central blocks have become extremely touristy, the rest of the neighborhood is a thriving part of Buenos Aires life with a culture and pride all its own.  


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: White Beluga Whales, Vancouver Aquarium, Canada

In October 2001, I visited a friend in Vancouver for a week and one night she told me about the white Beluga Whales living at the Vancouver Aquarium. Having never seen a white whale, I was anxious to visit, so we headed over the next day. The aquarium is situated in the stunning 1,000 acre Stanley Park (10% larger than New York City's Central Park), that sits between Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean. The park hosts over 8 million visitors a year, and besides the aquarium, is home to a seawall used for running, cycling and walking, a Theatre Under the Stars, and pitch and putt golf course, a swimming pool, beaches and sports fields.

The aquarium itself houses pavilions such as Pacific Canada, Arctic Canada, The Wild Coast and The Amazon Rainforest and is the home of six Beluga Whales. The Beluga Whale can grow to lengths of 18 feet (5.5 meters) and can weigh between 2,400 and 3,500 pounds (1,100-1,600 kilos). The whale's distinctive features inlcude all-white coloring that is rarely seen among other marine animals, the ability to change the shape of its head by blowing air through its sinuses and the uncommon (to marine animals) ability to turn its head laterally and exhibit numerous facial expressions, making it a favorite with visitors.   


Monday, March 14, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Wooden Prayer Plaques at a Shinto Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Our thoughts and wishes are with the Japanese people this week, in the hope that they find the courage to survive the tragedies that have befallen them and that they persevere to rebuild their beautiful country and their lives. This photo was taken at a Shinto shrine in the historic city of Kyoto in December 2003 and shows the Ema or wooden prayer plaques on which the Japanese write their prayers and wishes to have a healthy family, to succeed in education and their career, give birth to a healthy baby or to find love. If they are lucky, the Kami,which Shinto followers regard as the spirits or natural forces of their faith, will grant their wishes and answer their prayers. We sincerely hope that the Kami will be deeply generous and benevolent in this crucial time of need for Japan.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: How to Stay Safe When Traveling

Firefighters arrive in Sendai on Sunday, two days after the devastating earthquake (photo courtesy of AP Photo/Kyodo News)

On March 11th, an earthquake of 8.8 magnitude hit the north of Japan closest to the city of Sendai. The damage, injuires and loss of life are extensive, with death toll numbers expected to reach 10,000 and property damage in the billions of dollars. The initial earthquake was followed by numeorous aftershocks, tsunamis and serious damage to the country's infrastructure, including an important nuclear plant.

Although locals are always the hardest hit by natural disasters or political uprisings, it can be even more confusing and terrifying for tourists, who find themselves unexpectedly trapped in an emergency situation far from home without contacts, knowledge of the language or customs, or knowing how to protect themselves in a disaster. These tips are not meant to frighten anyone away from global travel (after all, disasters and protests happen at home as well), but will hopefully provide some help with preparation and maintaining a calm state of mind, which can go a long way toward alleviating the stress of a seemingly unmanageable situation.

Smoke pours from an industrial complex in Kamaishi (photo courtesy of AP Photo/Kyodo News)

1) Arm Yourself with Information Before You Leave Home: when traveling to a foreign country, especially one with geographical or climatic instability such as Japan or Iceland, do as much research as possible before booking your trip. Check, for example, that you will not be arriving at your tropical paradise destination in the middle of cyclone season, or that you are aware of what the locals do when an earthquake or tsunami hits. Research has never been faster or easier with sources such as Google, the U.S. State Department Travel Warnings site, Britain's Foreign & Commonwealth Office Travel Advice by Country or a reliable news outlet such as The New York Times, CNN World, NPR or the BBC World. It is also a good idea to contact your airline or travel agency beforehand. Note: keep in mind that news organizations in general tend to exaggerate threats for ratings sake and that airlines and tour organizers tend to downplay threats as they have a vested interest in keeping your business.

Residents of Sendai stand in line for water at a local schoolyard ((photo courtesy of AP Photo/Kyodo News)

2) Carry Emergency Supplies: always have the following in your backpack or carry-on: a first aid kit, snacks, a bottle of water, sufficient cash in a hard currency such as U.S. dollars or Euros (it's doubtful that you will be able to get to a working ATM in an emergency), copies of your passport and visas, phone numbers and email addresses (travel providers, U.S. consulates, medical services, family and friends, local contacts), a cell phone or hand-held device and chargers, prescription medicines, toiletries.

3) Safety First: when disaster strikes, quickly and calmly get yourself out of harm's way as soon as possible. In a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tsunami, get to high ground or a hurricane shelter. In political turmoil, go to a hotel or private home as far away from the protests as possible. Listen to local authorities; they are the experts on the situation. For balance and more extensive information, connect to an external source such as international news coverage, the U.S. State Department or your hotel, airline or travel provider for further instructions on how to stay safe. If you are injured, even in a small way, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

A woman walks by cars damaged by the tsunami, Ofunato (photo by AP Photo/Kyodo News) 

4) Keep a Level Head: if, despite your best efforts, you find yourself in an emergency situation, stay calm. The worst thing to do in either a natural disaster or political uprising is to panic. Many unnecessary problems are caused by the over-reaction of frightened tourists since they tend to rush and overwhelm local resources, especially transportation and communication hubs and spread (albeit understandable) fear and anger to other tourists and locals. Even though communication infrastructures are the normally the first thing to be adversely afffected in disasters, satellite cellular phones and land lines in some areas are often still in operation. As soon as you are able, connect to travel providers, the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate or the consulate of your home country, and family and friends to let them know that you are safe and to help yourself establish a sense of normalcy and communication with the outside world. Use social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to stay abreast of developments.

5) Join Forces with Locals and Other Tourists: I am constantly amazed when traveling at the kindness of strangers. Often, especially in emergency situations, other (non-official) citizens and fellow travelers are the first and best source of support, information and assistance. Locals are especially helpful, as they know their own country well and have often dealt with the same type of situation many times before. Other travelers can offer a surprising amount of comfort and emotional or practical support. During a crisis, many tourists band together to share hotel rooms, transportation and to charter private planes and split costs. As always, trust your instincts. Although the vast majority of people are well-intentioned and trustworthy, there will always be a small percentage of those who do not have your best interests at heart; stay alert.

Korean travelers scrambling to leave Japan after the earthquake (photo courtesy of Yonhap/

6) Don't Move Unless You Have To: although the natural instinct is the get out any way you can as soon as you can, this can often put you into an even more dangerous position. You will do a lot more good organizing your departure from a quiet, safe hotel room far away from the epicenter of a disaster than trying to fight your way through the smoke, flames and panicked crowds of city streets trying to get to the airport or train station. Aside from the danger of navigating the streets, transportation hubs are often the first places targeted by protesters, especially in political coups. In the case of natural disasters, the airports are needed to quicckly bring in emergency supplies and medical personnel. It is a much more sensible option to keep communication lines open and wait out the first few days of turmoil and high emotions in a safe place. Leave as soon as the situation has stabilized and a flight or train departure can be safely arranged.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove), New Zealand

After arriving in Auckland, New Zealand in March 2004, I was almost at the end of a four month trek through Asia and the Pacific and needed to decide between visiting the North or South Islands. After much debate, I chose the North Island since I would be able to cover more ground and was very interested in visiting the amazing geological and marine sites there. Whitianga, the main settlement of Mercury Bay situated on the Coromandel Peninsula, seemed like the perfect jumping off point. Although small, with a population of less than 4,000, the town offers a wide range of activities: water sports, skydiving, animal parks, golf, whale watching, diving, snorkeling and kayaking tours.

I opted for a full-day kayaking tour to Te Whanganui-A-Hei (aka Cathedral Cove), a marine reserve covering nine square kilometers (3.5 square miles) and home to crayfish, snapper, coral reefs, mollusks, blue cod, black angel fish, kelp forests, sponge gardens and anemones. In season, breaching whales and dolphins can also often be seen. Although the cove can only be reached by foot or by boat, it is so popular that it nonetheless receives over 150,000 visitors a year.

After kayaking out to the cove and stopping for a Kiwi-style cappucino break on the beach, our group paddled on to Hot Water Beach, which gets its name from thermal springs located beneath the sand. Our guide showed us where to dig a hole in the sand, which immediately filled with hot water, creating a kind of natural jacuzzi, the perfect way to relax after a long day of kayaking!       

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Dawn at Machu Picchu, Peru

In September 2006, two months after Luis and I first met, we decided to do a very brave thing for a new couple and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu together, an arduous trip under the best of circumstances. It was a true test of any relationship and luckily we passed it (more or less) with flying colors, having fallen out only once when we arrived at the town of Agua Calientes.

There are several trails to Machu Picchu and, since we had not booked in advance, we were assigned to the longer 5-day trek because the traditional trail was full. Hiking up the Andes Mountains for a week with acute altitude sickness can be challenging to say the least; I would go so far as to say that it was one of hardest things that I've ever done. I was in tears every evening, collapsing on the ground, bone-tired beyond any imagining, not knowing how I was possibly going to tackle the next day's hike.

But I got up relunctantly every morning and trudged on and somehow, miraculously, and with the encouragement of Luis and my fellow hikers, I did it, I arrived at Machu Picchu on the 5th day just in time to see the spectacular dawn break over the ancient city. I dropped onto the soft grass on my back, eyes closed, lying amongst the grazing llamas, unable to move, and as the pale yellow rays of the morning sun slowly washed over my face, I realized that I had experienced  one of those perception-shaking moments in life when you understand deeply that you can rise to any challenge if you persevere and if you have a strong support group to cheer you on. I have often thought of that trip when I feel that I've reached my limit, I've exhausted all possibilities and can't possibly go on. The truth is, now I know that I can. 

Machu Picchu (meaning Old Peaks in Quechua) was originally built as a mountain estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti  in the 15th century. It was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century, but the Spanish never discovered it because it is situated in a hidden place between high peaks and sits at an altitude of almost 8,000 feet. Machu Picchu is a survival story in itself, having escaped the notice of the detructive Conquistadores and remaining almost completely intact for 600 years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Lifeguard, Nassau, Bahamas

This photo of a lifeguard and friend was snapped in June 2006 on the beach at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, the largest hotel in the Bahamas. Although I was staying at a much smaller, much cheaper family inn in the center of Nassau, I decided to spend the day exploring the enormous hotel, beaches and expansive grounds of the resort. Atlantis was officially opened in 1998 and it's amenities are a list of superlatives: the most expensive suite in the world at $25,000 a night; the world's largest marine habitat at 34 acres and 11 million gallons, home to 50,000 forms of marine life;  one of the largest hotel waterparks in the world, a 141 acre, 20 million gallon water-themed complex that includes 20 swimming areas, a mile-long water ride and a Mayan Temple waterslide.   

Nassau, the capital city of the 700 islands of the Bahamas, is home to 70% of the residents. The city has a rich history, originally settled by the indigenous people of Cuba in the fourth century, who were followed by the Caribs, the Lucayans and the Arawaks in the 10th century, Columbus and the Spanish in the 15th century, the Puritans in the 17th century, pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries, Loyalist Americans and their African slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, and cruise ship tourists in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: Colored Sails, Lake Titicaca, Peru

This photo of the traditional sailboats on Lake Titicaca was taken from a hillside on the island of Amantani, Peru. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, bordering two countries, Bolivia and Peru, and also the highest navigable lake in the world at an altitude of 12,500 ft. The area is a cultural and historical treasure trove and more is being discovered every year. A 1,500 year old, 600 foot long submerged temple was found in the lake by archeologists in 2000 and includes a wall, terraced gardens and a submerged road  that runs from the temple to the lakeshore city of Copacabana.  

Because of the altitude, the light is incredible: almost unbearably clean, white and bright, especially when the sun is out. In December 2007, we traveled through Bolivia and Peru, stopping at the Uyuni Salt Flats, Puno and sailed the lake, visiting the fascinating islands of Lake Titicaca. Among the islands are Uros (a group of 42 inhabited islands made entirely of floating reeds), Isla del Sol (a roadless island and the site of 180 Inca ruins dating to the 15th century) and Amantaní (the most populated island and home to two mountains, ancient ruins and terraced wheat and vegetable farms).  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Travel Photo of the Day: The Tame Deer of Nara, Japan

In December 2003, I traveled across Japan and stopped in the city of Nara, the capital of Japan from 710 to 784 (in 2010, Nara celebrated the 1,300th anniversary of its ascension as Japan's imperial capital). Nara is one of the prettiest and most interesting cities in Japan, home to many historic monuments and parks, two of which are UNESCO Heritage Sites: the Kasuga Shrine and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest. It is also home to numerous significant temples, including: Todai-ji, the world's largest wooden building; Kōfuku-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple built in the Chinese pagoda style; and Yakushi-ji, which houses one of the finest collection of Buddhist art objects in the world.

The city is also filled with 1,200 tame Sika deer, who roam the streets and parks (and often the shops and temples) at will and are protected by national law. Visitors and locals buy shika-senbei (deer cookies) from local vendors to feed to the deer, who have no fear of humans and can be hand-fed. The deer were originally considered sacred, and killing a deer was punishable by death until 1637. Today they are still protected but officially designated as National Treasures.