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.