Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Steps up the Hills in San Francisco

After work, we take the BART train into San Francisco for dinner and I start with a short walk through the city.  We get off the train at the Embarcadero Station, the first stop in the city after traveling under the Bay.  A few blocks away from the station, the streets start to go uphill and I follow.  Then, as it gets really steep, the street ends at steps uphill and they call to me to climb

Street up the hill, Transamerica Building in the distance

 Too steep for street, time to climb the steps

 View of Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco with Berkeley/Oakland

At the top, local residents are coming up the steps with their groceries and tourists are climbing with cameras in hand.  From here, its more flat and the streets resume and continue up, and up I go.

 One by one, streets heading up

After about 20 minutes of taking whatever appears to be the steepest route up, the street ends at more steps up, which I climb, emerging at Coit Tower, 210 feet (64 meters) up with panoramic views of San Francisco and, also, hordes of tourists.  Coit Tower was built in 1933 on Telegraph Hill (with an observation tower at the top) in the shape of a firehose nozzle as a monument to volunteer firefighters.  Telegraph Hill itself was first known for a semaphore telegraph built in 1850 to signal the arrival of ships into the Bay.

Another street ends, more steps up to reach Coit Tower

Panoramic views from Coit Tower

But, since I on a mission to walk, from Coit Tower I head down the other side of the hill, all steps, to the Embarcadero and the Bay.

Many sets of steps down

Along the way, there are more great (descending) views of the Bay.  In the distance, the Bay Bridge crosses Yuerba Buena Island, with a road down to Treasure Island in the middle of the Bay.  

Halfway down, one house (lucky to live here with the view) features a fabulous garden that I discover as I walk by.

Descending view of the islands and the Bay

 Private garden on the way down

And, finally, at the bottom, a few blocks from the Bay, the base of the stairs gives a warning for those on the way up.  It would probably be more effective warning if it also asked if the climber to be had any idea how many steps were needed to go up 210 feet!

Hundreds of steps later, after up, then down, the warning

I'm a few blocks from the Bay and head in that direction.  To be continued.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Limoncello (Limoncino)

As our lemons ripen, we think of limoncello, the Italian lemon liquor.  This will be our third year to make limoncello and each batch is a little better.  However, we'll never catch up with the experience of our friends in Italy, who have been making it in their family for generations.

First, we start with the lemons.

 Lemons at home

Lemons in Monterosso al Mare, Italy

Picked and ready to use (at home)

We have tried several recipes, from Giada De Laurentis (Everyday Italian),  Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar (Extra Virgin), and, our favorite, from a Cinque Terre calendar we received from our friends, Matteo and Carla, at Hotel Villa Steno in Monterosso al Mare.

Our favorite recipe

We've tried the recipe with Everclear grain alcohol and with vodka and have settled on vodka as the right ingredient, a little less harsh.  We peel the rinds of 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of our lemons and soak them in 1 liter (.26 gallons) of low-cost vodka from our local Safeway for a week, storing the mixture in mason jars in a cool, dark location.

 Mason jars with the vodka/lemon peel mixture
Cinque Terre calendar (showing Vernazza) and recipe

We next prepare a syrup by heating and dissolving 800g (1.8 pounds) of sugar in 1 liter (.26 gallons) of water.  After it cools, we then mix the syrup with the vodka and rinds and let the mixture stand for another 12 hours.

 Dissolve sugar in water

 Sugar/water mixture ready to mix with lemon/vodka

 All together, sitting another 1/2 day

We strain out the lemon peels, bottle, and enjoy



Straight up or on ice with prosecco and Pellegrino (limoncello spritz)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Special Lobster Roll Market Meal at Pappo

One or our favorite restaurants in Alameda, Pappo, offers a Market Dinner most Thursdays, featuring whatever Chef John Thiel finds in season locally.  Recently, the Market Dinner featured lobster rolls and we had to go!  We had a fabulous birthday party at Pappo earlier in the year and it just keeps getting better (if possible).

Lobster roll dinner

As a summertime treat (think picnic) the first course is deviled eggs with fried capers and fresh chives.  Incredible!  Laura and Jennifer are not crazy about eggs and they get, as an alternative, duck pâté on toast.  We should share, but they're not touching my eggs.  All mine!

Deviled egg (started as eggs)

Duck pâté on toast alternative

Then, the lobster rolls: poached Maine lobster on a bun with red bliss potatoes, corn-cilantro slaw, 'Old Bay' fresh cut fries, and  lobster aoili.  Wow!

 Lobster roll

And, for desert, fresh mango ladyfingers with whipped mascarpone cream and raspberry coulis.

 Mango ladyfingers

Pappo recently received a full liquor license and we helped celebrate with Hanger One martinis to start (Hanger 1 vodka is made in Alameda, originally in (get this) Hanger 1, a WWII era hanger at the old Alameda Naval Air Station, but now in a much larger facility) and a bottle of the Thiel Family Zinfandel with the meal.

And, to accompany

This was a great, creative meal and we truly enjoyed it.  We'll keep coming back for more Thursday Market Dinners and, in between, for the regular menu.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Makling Our Own Paella

In our travels to Europe, particularly Spain, Italy, and France, we see the large pans of Paella simmering and being gobbled up in the markets and smaller versions in the restaurants.  It's time for us to do one of our own and we search through the recipes until we find Paella with Chorizo, Chicken, and Shrimp (Paella Mixta) in Saveur.

The combination of saffron, paprika and chroizo offer a great variety of tastes and the chicken, shrimp, mussels, artichokes, peas, red peppers, and short-grained bomba rice mix well together for a fantastic meal.

First, the bomba rice.  Wikipedia tells us bomba is a short-grain rice from the eastern part of Spain, commonly used in paella.   Bomba rice absorbs about three times its volume in broth, rather than the normal two.  If not available, Arbario rice is a substitute, but, if used, we would need to reduce the amount of broth added.  However, we find bomba rice (from Valencia - yeah!) at our local market and go with the real thing.

 Bomba rice

We let 30 or so threads of saffron sit in hot water while we heat a half cup of olive oil in our new paella pan and add the seasoned chicken (1 pound of boneless thighs, each cut into three or four pieces - Jesse at Encinal Market was kind enough to cut out the bones for us), a dozen shrimp, and a half pound of Spanish chrorizo (3/4 of the chorizo, the rest saved for use in scrambled eggs a few days later - from the Pasta Shop on 4th street in Berkeley).

Assembling the ingredients - initially using the oil, chicken, shrimp, and chorizo in front

After browning, we remove the shrimp and add the tomatoes (3 minced) and onion (1 minced), along with the spices:  paprika, minced garlic cloves, and a few bay leaves, stirring until the onions are soft.  We then add the saffron and hot water, along with 7 cups of broth and bring to a boil.  At the boil, its time for 2-1/2 cups of the bomba rice, along with a box of frozen artichokes (thawed), 1/2 pound of peas (frozen this time - the fresh peas weren't looking that exciting at the market), and a jar of roasted red pepper cut into strips.

Add the onion, then tomatoes on top

 All together now with rice, broth, and vegetables

Cooking 10-15 minutes, the rice absorbs the liquid, then we return the shrimp to the pan, tuck the mussels among the other delights and cook until the mussels have opened and all the liquid is absorbed, another 10 minutes or so.  We let it rest a bit, tented, then serve.

Finishing up with shrimp and mussels


 Served at home!

And, for comparison, here is the paella we were served last year in Monterosso al Mare, Liguria, Italy.

Served in Italy

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Palma de Mallorca

Mallorca is the largest island in the Balaeric Islands, which include Ibiza, Minorca, and Formentera and Palma is the capital of the Balaeric autonomous region.  A popular tourist destination, we find many other (larger) cruise vessels visiting the port.

Mallorca was first inhabited by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, followed by the Carthaginians, then the Romans in the 1st century BC, the Muslims in the 1st century AD, and the Christians in the 2nd century.  The history of the Mallorca is much more complex and colorful than I can explain here and worthy of serious separate study.

The largest island in Spain, Mallorca has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. With mountain peaks as high as 1,445 meters (4740 feet), there is actually occasional snow on the island.

We exit the ship at a serious marina and walk along the waterfront to to the royal palace, Palace de l'Almudaina, next to the cathedral.

 Big marina

 Beautiful walk along the harbor to the palace

 Palace walls and fountain

Changing of the Guard at the palace

The royal palace has been on this site since the days of the Muslim governors of Mallorca and elements of Islamic architecture, such as the Moorish arches, remain to be viewed.  We walk around the palace, through the beautiful gardens and fountains alongside, to find the changing of the guard between the palace the the cathedral.

After the ceremony, we wander down the narrow streets behind the palace and cathedral for some atmosphere and shopping.

 Streets, shops, and lunch

We shop for pearls and find many to choose from.  Mallorca pearls are man-made under strict control, formed of glass balls coated with layers of pigment and protective coating.  They are beautiful, plentiful here, and reasonably priced.

Coming around the other side of the cathedral from the royal palace, we see the spectacular frontal entrance facing the harbor.  It is said that there was a large storm as James I sailed toward Mallorca and he vowed that, if he survived, he would build a great church .  He did survive and built the cathedral on the site of the city's former main mosque, a major feature of the harbor.

 La Seu Cathedral, facing the harbor

We walk back along the harbor to our ship, about 6km (3.7 miles), enjoying the beautiful weather and sites on our last full day in Spain.  Tomorrow we land early in Barcelona and head immediately to the airport to catch a flight to Frankfurt, where we can connect to a flight heading home.

Walking back, lest we forget where we are!

It's been a great trip, but reality strikes and it's time to go back to work and plan the next adventure! The Windstar brochure calls this trip "a unique blend of East and West,... a world of sun-drenched magic" and they are right!  We loved every second of it and will be back for more!

 Leaving for Barcelona