Friday, October 30, 2015

Persimmon Salads

Fall is here and persimmons are now in season.  They started showing up in stores and fruit stands a few weeks ago.  It's time to break out the persimmon salad recipes!

Fuyu persimmons in the market

For these salads, we use fuyu persimmons, which are small, round, orange, and firm, similar to a tomato in shape.  The important first step is to peel the persimmons.  There are several schools of thought on how to peel a persimmon, so we Google the subject and pick one that is most appealing.  We wash each persimmon and cut it into quarters along the lines on the fruit. With a paring knife, we peel off the stem and the fibrous part leading from the stem, similar to coring an apple.  We then peel off the outer skin, continuing the apple analogy, and slice it into wedges.

Our favorite recipe this year is a new one, Persimmon Salad with Pomegranate and Walnuts.  I had never candied walnuts before and this recipe is a great way to start.  I get to use my mortar and pestle, which is always fun, to crush coarse salt, mix it with sugar, and then coat walnuts that have been soaked briefly in hot water.  In our oven, it takes 8 minutes at 350 degrees for them to get crisp and caramelized.

Three persimmons, cut into wedges, are then paired with radicchio, pomegranate seeds (which also just happen to be in season), and a vinaigrette of sliced shallots, salt, and sherry vinegar, steeped for a bit, then mixed with walnut oil.  Topped with the sugared walnuts, this salad offers incredible bursts of flavor, contrasting and complementary.

Our other favorite persimmon salad, Fuyu Persimmon Salad, also from the New York Times recipe collection (which is a great resource, we make a lot of recipes that we find in the paper and online), also mixes the persimmons with radicchio, but with a slightly different twist, adding celery and shaved Parmesan cheese.

The vinaigrette for this recipe is similar, diced shallots with salt, lemon juice, and sherry vinegar.  After sitting for a few minutes, we add olive oil and some salt and pepper.  Three persimmons are then cut into wedges and mixed with radicchio, slices of celery,  and the vinaigrette.  We shave thin strips of Parmesan over the mixture and serve.  Another great combination!

Persimmon salad complements a wide variety of dishes and we take great advantage of that.  We have persimmon salad twice in a week, once with bourbon-marinated skirt steak and the next day with chile-rubbed grilled salmon.

We'll miss them when they're gone!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Day Trip to Bruges

We've always wanted to go to Bruges, and not just because of the 2008 dark cult film In Bruges with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two Irish hitmen doing their bloody work in Bruges.

The city itself is quaint and beautiful.   We catch the train from Brussels for the hour-long ride to Bruges.

Catching the late-morning train from Brussels

We arrive in Bruges and start to wander down the small streets into town.

 Bruges city streets

It's a chilly day and everyone is bundled up, but doesn't keep people from a ride on the canals that weave through the city, either the on a boat tour or the kayak tour.

 Boating on the canals

In the center of town, the Market Square is quiet in the chilly weather with many people in the restaurants, observing from the warmth under the heat lamps, with the benefit of a glass of wine.

 Bruges Market Square

On another side of the square is the striking Provincial Court building, originally the government meeting hall, now featuring exhibitions and ceremonies.

Provincial Court Building in Market Square

 But, more importantly, we have to see the Belfry of Bruges on another side of the square.  The 83 meter (272 feet) high medieval bell tower, with the former market hall behind it, is featured predominantly in the movie In Bruges.  It's closed today so we can't walk up the 366 steps to the top, but we take a few pictures from afar and up close.

Belfrey of Bruges from up close and afar

Disappointed that we can't climb to the top (we'll have to come back another day), we continue to wander through Bruges, crossing back and forth over the canals, enjoying the quiet ambiance of the city.

Bridge across canal
Eventually, though, it's time for a quick frite snack and the train back to Brussels.

Mr. Frites in Bruges

 Catch the train back at the Bruges station

We enjoyed our quick trip and filed Bruges in the "must return" category, maybe when it's warmer and we can rent bike and/or kayaks.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Weekend in Brussels – Home of Chocolate, Beer, Moules & Frites, Day 2

After our arrival and initial walk around Brussels, sampling the beer and chocolate, we get to the important task of choosing a spot for dinner.

We head over a few blocks from La Grand Place to Rue des Bouchers, a pedestrian street jammed with restaurants, where we walk the street, perusing the menus and forcing ourselves to choose from the many great options.  Any, of course, as soon as we choose, we start with another beer and get right down to business with moules frites.

 Pick any one for dinner

After dinner, on the way back to the hotel, we pass a frites stand and, for desert, have frites with mayonnaise.  It takes a little getting used to, but we like it!

Mr. Frites outside the frites stand
We walk all over Brussels during our short stay.  The second day, we wander through the European Parliament buildings near our hotel - very impressive.  Then, only a few blocks away, across from the Royal Palace, the Parc de Bruxelles offers paths, gardens, and sculptures.  We enjoy the change from the city streets, but eventually head back to La Grand Place and take the tour of Le Musee du Caocao et du Chocolat, down the Rue de la Tete d’Or from the square. 

There we start with a demonstration of chocolate making, samples, and a tour with the history of cocoa, chocolate, and, particularly, Belgium chocolate, on the upper floors.  

Chocolate-making machine

We then head over to the indoor shopping arcade, Les Galeries Saint Hubert, with indoor restaurants and shops, perfect for the sometimes-gloomy Belgium weather.

 Les Galeries Saint Hubert

After this, it’s time for another beer and consideration of the important choice of where we'll get our moules frite tonight.

The next day is for a quick day trip up to Bruges (more on that later).  We barely scratch the surface of Brussels and tell ourselves that we have to come back soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Weekend in Brussels – Home of Chocolate, Beer, Moules & Frites, Day 1

What is not to like!

We spend a weekend in Brussels, staying at the Renaissance across from the European Parliament buildings.  The high-speed Thalys Train up from Paris is only an hour and twenty minutes, straight to the Brussels Midi station, where we catch a local train to Gare du Luxembourg, next to the hotel (our train ticket from Paris provides the connection at no additional charge).  What a convenient way to arrive.

From the Renaissance, we walk all over the Brussels.  La Grand Place, the magnificent main square is about a 25 minute walk from the hotel, past the Royal Palace, Place Royal (Royal Square), and the museums, conveniently located on Rue du Musée.  And, we pass through a great small park by the museums, the Jardin du Monts des Arts, with a view of the Brussels Town Hall in the distance.

Jardin du Monts des Arts

At La Grand Place, we first settle at a café table outside in the square for a Belgium beer and to admire the buildings that make the La Grand Place a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

 Two beers in the square

But, very importantly, in some of those buildings are chocolate shops and they give free samples to enjoy while you watch chocolate being made in the back.  We wander from shop to shop, sample, and end up buying some also.

 Chocolate Shop windows

Of course, no discussion of Brussels is complete without a picture of the famous Manneken-Pis sculpture, in place since 1618 or 1619, a few hundred meters from La Grand Place.


But, this being Brussels, we also have it in Chocolate!

Manneken-Pis in Chocolate

This is turning out to be a great adventure and a perfect weekend jaunt!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Stacking Piles of Rocks

As we hike through the Dolomites and through Cinque Terre, both in Italy, we stumble across piles of rocks that cause us to wonder what is going on.

At very the top of Rittner Horn, next to the flags and signposts are stacks and stacks of rocks.

Stacks of rocks at the summit of Rittner Horn

Next to the flags and signpost in the fog

And, as we hike through the forest and across the fields on the way to and from Rittner Horn, we keep running across more stacks, each of them unique and many of them clearly showing a lot of work.

Stacked along the path to Rittner Horn

Stacked on the branches

Then, after we move on to Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, we hike the trail up into the mountains and find even more along the way.

Small stack on a rock

More serious stack on a rock

A quick Google brings up the history of rock cairns used as trail markers.  However, these trails are marked by red and white striped trail markers.  The stacks seem to be just because.  Anyway, they are there and we'll enjoy their creativity as we pass.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monterosso al Mare, Liguria, Cinque Terre

Monterosso al Mare has become one of our favorite places.  The people, the ambiance, the culture, the food, the activities available -- all contribute to a great visit each time.  When we visit London, Paris, Rome, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, or any other large city, we walk for miles and visit the sites and sometimes it takes days to slow down.  In Monterosso, as soon as we get off the train, we start to relax and unwind.

Monterosso is divided by a hill into old town and new town, connected by a tunnel.  For the past few years, a landslide has closed the tunnel to cars and only pedestrians could get through, making the trip between old town and new town a few minutes by foot or 20 minutes by car.  But the tunnel is now again open to all traffic and cars and pedestrians compete for the space inside.

The Monterosso train station is in the new town and we pass through the tunnel on our way to Hotel Villa Steno in the heart of the old town.  In the middle of the tunnel is a window with an artistic display of anchovies, which are caught locally and served in all the restaurants in many styles: grilled, fried, stuffed; with garlic, lemon, or tomato; on bruschetta, pizza, or by themselves.  They are wonderful and we have anchovies with every dinner (and sometimes for lunch on bruschetta or pizza).

Anchovy display in tunnel

As we come out of the tunnel into old town, we see the beach and a sundial that uses the shadow of a tree to show the time.

Monterosso beach in old town

Sundial using the shadow of the tree in old town

This beach in old town is free.  Or, if you prefer, you can rent an umbrella and chair for a more comfortable day at the beach.

Beach in new town, old town around the hill in the distance

And, at night, the rock offshore (in the background above) is lit, providing a great view as we come out of the tunnel and stroll down sidewalk into new town.

Beach at night

But, enough beach (did I mention that we swam almost every afternoon after our hike), let's head up to Hotel Villa Steno and admire the view across the old town.

View across old town from Hotel Villa Steno

Descending into the old town from the hotel, we look down the main street at restaurants, shops, tourists, and locals.  Everything is right there - convenient and accessible.

Looking down the street in Monterosso old town

In the devastating mudslides in October 2011, the mud came down this street and covered the houses to the second floor.  In prior years, we could still see lines on the houses where the top of the mud stopped, but they have since been painted over.

After the mudslides in October 2011

The city has recovered and rebuilt and is once again full of people, life, and fun.

Although is has been 1-1/2 years since we were last here, we are remembered by the staff in several restaurants.  These people see so many tourists, but remember us - what a great honor!  The shops have local crafts (pottery, jewelry, and textiles), local wine and food, and, of course, T-shirts.  We get some of each and make sure that we stop for more Monterosso pots to add to our collection.  Great artistic talent is evident everywhere - from the jewelry and pottery to the chefs in the kitchens.

 Two new pots to add to our collection

Thursday is market day in Monterosso and, as we head out on our hike, we admire the selection in the stalls set up under the train tracks in old town.

 Market day in Monterosso

On our return, as we end this stay in Monterosso, we sit our our balcony, sip a glass of local limoncello, and admire the relaxing view across the top of Monterosso.  Laura has made several batches of limoncello at home and, while it's getting closer, this limoncello is the real deal and a perfect way to close the day and our visit.

 Night view of Monterosso old town from Hotel Villa Steno

One thing is for sure.  We'll be back next year!