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My Mojito

    This is My Mojito… Now that I’ve  got your attention, …

There is a small cookbook that was willed to me from a dear relative.  The dust cover is a bit tattered.  Over the years, I have opened it and searched for ideas that pre-online searches failed at horribly.  The oak bookshelf for these little treasures, as this book is, contains several aged cookbooks that are rare or out of print.  Many are softcover gems on ethnic cuisine that were gathered on exotic islands or at their airports’ gift shops in a last-minute purchase. Dog-eared pages, stained with gravies, give evidence of their importance to me.

Gram or Liter, Cup or Pinch

A lack of Celsius temperatures on the oven dial does not remotely cover the variety of measures, temperatures and rules in many of my cookbooks. Aside from baking, my rule is alway 325 degrees fahrenheit.  I can deal with liters, but grams baffle me, excepting hashish talk, of a prior age, of course.  In the old days, “sprinkle” was uses a lot. One book, a Betty Crocker three-ring binder, has a wonderful section on “Happy-Hour Cocktails”. In this section the talents of a chemist come to be, as exact measurements of Angostura Bitters  fulfills the perfect flavor and color of the Classic Manhattan. Holiday Punch for the wassail bowl lists a dozen ingredients.  These retro times demanded the chef to pay attention.  My simple mojito has simple rules: freshness in all ingredients and simple sugar syrup with Cachaça Brazilian White Cane Rum. Simple.

Rose Louise Sorce was native to her Italian heritage, and  a resident of Milwwakee in the early 1950’s.  Her recipes were handed down from grandmother to mother to her. A state fair booth in Wisconsin got her started on writing, according to an old Milwaukee Journal story by their staff.  La Cucina from Twayne Publishers in 1952 was the rollout of years of work.  I refer to this book from time to time.

Let’s call up some friends; like 1000! Perhaps you have a church basement around?  Can we find several 12 gallon steel simmering pots?

Can I have the left-overs? Enjoy.

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Good Eating: Tangy Soul and Rustic Ribs

sweetpbbq_2    You must start with good ingredients: Tenacity, Funk, and Smoke.  The Sweet P’s Barbeque & Soul House just might have the right combo.  As many may know, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, offers a glimpse into the mid-south culture of their University of Tennessee, pickup trucks, country tunes, white church steeples and kickback eating.  I have eaten fine BBQ worldwide. I have even served on an award-winning barbeque team in Memphis, TN.  My home cooking of this fare can be pretty tasty.  Enough about me, this is about religious experiences: or, Pork, Brisket Beef and all the fixin’s.  Put the formula under an umbrella of old school soul music and the high-end smoker ovens of Sweet P’s and all works well.

A rolling countryside of the Maryville suburb draws many to the drifting scent of burning hardwood, a low-key one story restaurant and kitchen with plenty of staffers. Trimmed St. Louis slabs of pork ribs from the smoker, rich with the crust of dry-rub seasoning and moistened from the well-balanced soul sauces will start a plate.  Adding the combinations of side dishes create a vision that fills a full cafeteria tray. The steamed collard greens, unique with onions, carrots, beans and spice are smothered in flavors.

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Lacquered picnic tables, sporting old school soul record album covers, set stage for James Brown songs pumping out of their speakers or weekly live artists on the weekends.  The price to chow down is reasonable, so warm seasonal temperature spill the diners out to the patio and tents near the smokers.  The chalkboard menu makes all easy, as the team give you your filled tray and you pay.  The  beer list is extensive. Energy is high and the turnover is brisk.  Takeout and catering round out the mix. Perhaps a long ago Food Network showing of a Man vs. Food episode opened some eyes, but this place had it together.  I suggest the half-rack, fixin’s, of mac-n-chesse, collards and a brew, like Sweetwater IPA. Wait, get some smoked chicken wings first! Drizzle the blend of soul and hot sauce on all.  The folks of Sweet P’s can be found at 3725 Maryville Pike, Knoxville, TN 37920 and http://www.sweetpbbq.com.  This place is smokin’.

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Dollar Strong, Island of Mykonos Awaits

Greece2010 109     The brisk breezes that move the windmills will soon usher the savvy visitors to the most famous of the Aegean Sea’s Greek island of Mykonos.  Whether you arrive by ferry-boat, hydrofoil vessel or jet, the options that will open up to you on this whitewashed mecca of bliss will keep you poised to return each year.  The European Bohemians that uncovered the Cycladic isle in the 1960’s, welcomed the yachting set, and in turn they turned up the energy several notches. Today, Mykonos is a melting pot of race, color, creed and capital.  Accommodations will vary broadly and many choose the countless bed & breakfast inns in the village, Hora, of Mykonos Town. Others may rent the lovely villas scattered among the cliffs and hillsides or find the seaside hotels on the shores of the many cove beaches. Most are affordable to each desire and disembarking ferry passengers will  be greeted by innkeepers with placards at the port.  Find your lodging and head to the cafes that ring the town harbor for the first frappaccino or Mythos beer.

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Get around this island.  Many use the mopeds, but I love the Smart Cars.  Buses from the top of the village cost a few euros and will get you each late morning to the beaches. A network of fishing boats converted to passenger ferries, or Caiiques, will take dozens to the outlying cove beaches for a similar fee. The captains are a colorful breed and will sing, laugh, or shout and swear. Not much is needed on the beachfront. Perhaps a bathing suit could be brought, but that is your call. All else is found at the tavernas on each beach. Beach club bars set the tone, as late morning hours require new age tunes to awake from the late late night activities, while three PM brings in the techno disco and the volume increases exponentially.  Peace may still be found making the right choice of beach.

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The day may end at the beach, yet with a nap and a shower, the night opens up to adventurous escapades back in Hora. The restaurants and cafes are open past midnight and at that time the clubs are just about to find their rhythm. Many are outdoors in the courtyards of the town or spill out onto balconies. There is a reasoning on Mykonos that this island has over 365 whitewashed churhes. The season begins the weekend of Easter and will continue through the second week in October each year.  Prime season is most active from June to August end, but my season is the first two weeks of September.  The “September Club”, as I call it, finds a certain mellowing out of the people, and the vibe grounds me to drink in the best of Mykonos.  I do find a moment to search out  a little church perched over the blue Aegean Sea, sit and pray for next year’s visit.

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IMG_5494The central area of Athens, Greece, near the Governmental Parliament Building, offers a wealth of joy to the visitor or the local.  This area has something for everyone.  From the people watching, to food, to touristy trinket stores, and to some fine specialty stores, all engage the traveler on foot.  The narrow and cobble-stoned streets warrant good walking shoes.  The vendors of the small establishments often lean outside the doorway and beckon the foot traffic. Smaller side paths lead to more treasures and more obscure wares.  A store that is a wall on which hang antique door-knockers could be a good example. The owner would be a specialist in that trade.  Commerce is brisk in many shops, as there are lots of people.  As it is said, “better buy it now, as it won’t be here next time”, is very true in the Flea Market.

Take a stroll through this area. Getting to the flea market is easy. If you are coming from Syntagma Square you will be walking down Metropolitan Street, past the Cathedral and the square of shiny marble. There is a small Byzantine church in the shadow of the cathedral that you should take a look at called Agios Eleftherios.  I love the peace and solemn quiet in this space. The church has an Icon inside which they say performs miracles. There are some cafes in the square and this is where Pondrossou Street begins. This section of Pondrossou is the high-end section of Monastiraki. There is a lot of touristy stuff here. I bought a wonderful Bouzouki guitar here from John’s Music Store.  But in my opinion, the really cool stuff is on lower Ermou and across on small streets. If you seek originality and real antiques leave Monastiraki behind and wander around Psiri.

If you continue through the square you will come to Ermou and if you cross into Psiri there are people selling there too. The further you go the weirder it gets and by the time you get down towards Pireos Street you have very poor people buying and selling from piles of rags and little gypsy children running barefoot.  Some shops are not even stalls, only things hanging a some wall. All is for sale.  So… Gypsy, bad, bad, bad!

vendorGypsies are skinny and invisible to the human eye. They know where every wallet is in the world. Then they are quicker than the fastest I have ever seen, ( personal ). Your Sock “might” be safe.  Here is an example of one stealth group gypsy action, [sadly from personal experience, from a time ago] : I don’t look like a tourist, just a Westerner, Plus, I stay away from the logos on the clothing and designer accents. These are a beacon of light to the gypsies. The thieves work the odds and the angles.  Groups in skinny teams quietly surround the mark, i.e., the Metro train commuter, a narrow cafe; close in, as in a crowded space; press against the (now) victim; and fleece every zipper, pocket, nook and crannies. When the train opens at the station, the Gypsies evaporate and all is gone. Do not get in that position ever. Hint: position a mouse trap in your back wallet pocket! Wait for the …snap and scream!

Check out the morning meatmarkets, if available to your schedule in Psiri.  In the evening, the tavernas, ouzeries, and little restaurants are authentic & the nightlife is excellent ( Cab it back to the hotel in a metered vs. “Gypsy Cab”).

The Tourism Police are an integral part of the Hellenic Police (ELAS), consisting of men and women especially trained and competent to offer tourists information and help, whenever they have any problems. They are also competent to solve minor differences between tourists and enterprises. They all speak foreign languages. You can recognise them by the shoulder badge Tourism Police on their uniforms. Tourism Police operate an emergency telephone line on a 24 hour basis (just dial 171 any day, any time, from all over Greece).

“Hey Mon, Would you like to see my jewelry?”

A: “No, I’m all set.”

IMG_6663The cottage industry, Roaming Beach Vendors, aka, the band of people who stroll the resort sands past the chaise lounges of relaxing tourists perched under the midday sun, deserves the respect it never gets. Find a country, island, beach cove, or open expanse of seashore and you will experience the creativity of the entrepreneur. Free trade is a curious thing. Put it on the internet and (if legal) it is a normal part of our culture. Put it on the beach during the primetime of your well-deserved vacation, and something changes.

The West Indies Islands are remarkable in creativity from the local merchant, homeopathic herbalist attendant, masseuse, artist, watersports sales agent, food vendor/cook, and brownie salesman.  Oh, did I mention wood-carver?  Not only have I been engaged by one of these energetic trades, but I have searched them out in various lands. Fondly, the strong palms of the Thai masseuse, clad in white linen, head to toe, with that genuine smile, remains in my memory.  On a chaise under an umbrella steps from the lapping waters on the salty shore is the perfect place for the back and shoulder rub down in the fifty or so minutes.  What value, too.  And, there’s more.  Who might pass up the opportunity to listen to the comical stories of the beach comic, as he tries out a string of his latest jokes on the sunning tourists.  Shouldn’t that act be worth a few shekels ?  Many of my beach vendor friends have many jobs.  Take my comic friend, ” the Mighty Bassman”, as his real job is to pace the full several miles of beach promoting with a bullhorn the merits of attending the nightclub /beach bar for that evening.  ” It’s going to be Hot, Hot, Hot!  Come to the Party at Alfred’s Bar. Remember, Ladies are alway free! Hot, Hot, Hot.”

20121028_37 It is hard work, as the Jamaicans call it: Hustlers or Chiselers. I am certain the downturn of the North American/ European  economy has touched the livelihood of many of the vendors. From firsthand experience, I have seen the numbers of unused beads amass in the hands of the hair-braiding ladies. Fewer little corn-rowed children roam the classrooms after vacation week.  Belt-tightening certainly affects all the vendors. Music prevails on the beach, as the creativity of these local artist come through. Put three guys with dreadlocks, Hawaiian shirts, an aged tambourine, Guitar and old bass fiddle in front of you, playing a Bob Marley song.  As the bass fiddle is held together with ducktape, and the songs are in key, I open my wallet.  These artists become my regulars, or I, theirs.  I may be easy, but I like it.  Perhaps, I may be convinced to begin a foundation for the advancement of beach vendors, or to establish the Beach Vendor Senior Citizen Home.  In any case, I have grown with the beach vendors, heard their stories, watched them age, and have seen some leave us, like BanjoMan.

IMG_6656Negril Beach is seven miles long and the best beach in Jamaica. BanjoMan would begin his day on one end and finish the full distance and return at day’s end.  All was under the hot sun. He weighed a mere 140 pounds and wore khaki shirt and pants, a floppy straw hat and carried that ole -timey four string banjo, on bare feet.  I could guest that I first met him at his age seventy.  He lacked several teeth; top and bottom. He could play and he could sing.  BanjoMan wasn’t much of a talker, but I think it was his humility.  He could play:” The Harder they come, the harder they fall” and all the others.  The beach vendors mostly adored him, as I did. One season BanjoMan hung up his instrument for all time.

Who invented Aloe?  Yuck, these beach vendors roam the sands with aloe fronds in hand, looking for hapless idiots to smear a substance of rubber cement on those bodies.  The goop is sticky, yes, can’t wash off and will stain your favorite “T”-shirt. Then, they want you to give them money?  No thank you.  Then I think: ” I just don’t get it”, as the cardboard box on the beach vendors head is full of little reef fish. They are all beautiful in color; sargent majors, parrot fish, tiny grey angel fish. Tourist do not buy fish on the beach. Every week he fishes and offers his catch. He is still in business.

See, the All Inclusive Resort Business on many West Indies Islands has put a dagger in the hearts of these vendors.  Guests do not bring money to the chaise lounges at water’s edge.  One price and then the package is sealed. I say, that you need to bring those dollars. Buy that coconut palm hat that you will alway wear.  Go parasailing several times.  Bring home those Flip Flops.  Have them sing out for you: “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot”.  And, support your Beach Vendor. You will be glad you did.  Thank you.
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Oia Town Can Stimulate Every Appetite

ACaiqueFloatsAtArmeni-AmmoudiA Must Do, Go down to Amoundi Bay below Oia and have lunch at one of the fish tavernas down there: Ammoudi Fish Tavern . I found this to be so relaxing sitting right next to the sea and watching the fishing boats bringing in the catch of the day (Early Morning) which is then freshly cooked either on a bbq grill or in the kitchen, try Marides, (fried shiners: eat the whole thing, like french fries.)

Now the Amoundi Beach I talk about is to the Left at the bottom of the Mule path steps. Go past the tavernas, up and over a ledge on a gravel path. Continue to the Rock bluffs and pick one ledge to spread towels on the edge of the Caldera.

The Inky Blue sea goes down some hundreds of feet right here. Dive in and swim to the left side of the little island ( 40 yards) and find the steps to climb up to the White Greek Chapel on this little island. Wait for a CruiseLiner to pass and when the wake surge arrives jump into the sea. Nudist may find a spot here also. There is a long utility road down to the Amoundi port and some parking on the side of the road to save the knees on the 300 steps! Mule drivers can get you up the steps to the Oia cliffs above. Find the Oia Cathedral in the middle of the village. Sit down and drink it in.

Oia also has some great eating for dinner (Thalami Taverna) . I also have discovered local Oia tavernas off the beaten path: There are two on the Finikia area down to the right to the plains below Oia: Anemomilos Restaurant, 30 22860 71410, at the bottom of the road down to the sea. Outdoor eating and the smell to the sea is to die for. Another one is just before the entrance to Oia on the Main road, on the Right, called My Santorini. The Owner, Mihalis, sings and plays Bouzouki.  See below. Look for my photo, as a guitar playing musician with Mihalis, among the hundred photos hanging from the grape arbors.

Kamari Beach area has lots of tavernas and Pizza places along the “boardwalk”.  All are at different price points, you must shop first.  Sit on the boardwalk of a restaurant and people watch in the late afternoon.  At midday, the black sand beach is best used by the farthest end of the stretch.  Get the two chaises and umbrella at water’s edge and park for a bit to swim and sun.  Perissa Beach on the other side of the mountain is very enjoyable and may be reach by ferry boat from Kamari for a few hours. The Caiique  ( ky-eeek-cay) Boats travel back and forth.

 

As for other restaurants/tavernas I have to say that as I stayed in Imerovigli, I just tended to eat there on a night or two. There is a taverna of great food and a value, family run, with my blessing:  Taverna Imerovigli, along the cliff before Firostefani, is a good Greek taverna with decent food if you ever wander into Imerovigli on foot on a night. As for Thera Town, there are dozens of places to eat.  There are some pricey restaurants in Thira on the cliff edge, some not that great. Some good ones are not on the cliff but on the street by the museum up the stairs from the street level “Stani” and Roof Garden and Dionysus is in the same area.  As many cultures, Greeks will dine in the evening fairly late. A sit down dinner in a popular spot might begin at 11:00 PM.  After din-din may end at 4:00 AM.  Santorini is just a bit more laid back and some areas close by 11:00 PM.

Clubs will keep going while guests partake.  Greek coffee helps!

Imerovigli Traditional Tavern, Imerovigli

Owned and run by Maria Tsagari and her husband Dionisis, this is one of my  favorite places to eat on Santorini. Perched on the cliff above the caldera, the restaurant has a matchless view and good to people watch as they walk the cliff.  The service is warm and personal. Try to sit on the outside space: bring a sweater. Try a Greek or Seafood Salad; Spaghetti with Mussels and Pine Nuts; Try the fried squid app.  I eat the Chicken Filet Stuffed with Spinach and Cheese or Stuffed Lamb in Vine Leaves; House Barrel White Wine; stay a while and you may get a special cordial on the house!

Imerovigli, Tel: 22860 24190

 

ANOGI RESTAURANT, Progressive tavern

Imerovigli, 84700 Santorini Tel: 22860 21285

The two owners and fantastic chef have come together to convert a past sleepy area in Imerovigli village into a hopping dynamic place.

Eat in the garden tavern space under the stars.  Have a Raki toast by carafe.  Dig in to Lamb in Parchment or the other casseroles. Dip breads into fine olive paste and oil.  The wine will satisfy here. Make the call and get the reservation early in the week.  Walk-ins will eat at 10:30PM! The chef is real good, oh, I said that! Note: this is not a cliff view. It is a busy little village with much foot traffic. The staff will make you feel special.

Taverna Roza, Vourvoulos,  22860 24378, far below Imerovigli

The ten tables may give a hint. This family run village taverna is potentially overlooked by the passing tour busses. The kitchen is open to the guests.

The menu could be traditional or very seasonal.  All is made to order. Eat on the covered porch. Flowering trees surround the spot. Grilled sardines or skate wings can be followed by plates of lamb chops.  An Ouzo “mini” wets the appetite for more. Go for more. Tour the mini kitchen and you’ll find it. Very affordable here.

Santorinimou: Traditional Taverna & Live Music, Oia Tel: 22860 71730

Aka: My Santorini: In season go to the simple but idyllic roadside taverna-in-a-garden, on the right as you drive into Oia. The food and barrel wine here are plentiful and reasonably priced but, after 10, it’s Mihalis Hionas, singing and playing his own compositions on guitar and bouzouki, which charm utterly. Ask for the songs “Santorinimou,” and “Eleni and Frank,” pick up a CD, and give Mihalis a hug from Ron & Sharon. If you’re lucky enough to hear some of his stories, you’ll feel you’ve caught a glimpse of the real Santorini.

What not to consider on Santorini: Many go to the live volcano tour in the Caldera by the boat at the bottom of the Thera cliffs.  Note, this is a full half day trip and can be grueling as well and quite smelly (sulfur) and packed with hundreds on the several tours at the same time. Oia does have an evening sunset cruise by sail and that might be most enjoyable. Your call.

What else: Avoid the high noon roaming of the town of Thera when the several Cruise Liners are in port. It is a madhouse.  Also avoid the switchback steps to the Thera Port when the tourists are on the Mules rising from the ships on those steps. Lastly, the Winery Dinner theaters might entertain many groups, but it is kind of contrived, certainly the food served is not to standard.  Stick with the keepers.

The Boston Globe Newspaper’s Travel Show heats up a Chilly Weekend

giveaway-banner-azoresGive away twenty-four vacations and promise untold discounts to vacation hungry and they will come, and they did come.  The winter season provides the inspiration to the masses and the purveyors of varieties of travel near and far produce.  The anchor vendors to the 2014 Boston Globe Travel Show on February 7th, 8th, and 9th on the harbor front bring the warmth of the Caribbean, Europe offbeat retreats, Asia and the Pacific, while New England regions champion the cultures of food, the sea and mountains and day trips away to inns.

The hunger for taste and drink sets the stage.

07_NSTourism_010924Nova Scotia, Canada may be imposing in the dead of  winter but the heart and humor of the province comes through in the culinary specialties of the near neighbor. The taste of the sea and the wealth of the vines combine to give the attendees flavors that excite. Chef Jason Lynch of Le Caveau Restaurant and sommelier Amy Savoury of Tidal Bay Wines take you on a culinary journey featuring Nova Scotia scallops and wine.  Nova Scotia is now recognized as a culinary tourism destination and the trade has stepped up to provide. Local cheddar cheese, seafood and white wine round out the preparations with samples for the many throngs eager to partake.photo4

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Pan seared Atlantic sea scallops served over a wild beet puree, beure blanc sauce and a hint of creme. The  wine was white and crisp.

Your coupon may just be the ticket.

Area 2 bustles with dozens of Travel Booths dedicated to the warmth of the Caribbean Sea.  Salsa  music lilts  in the aisles and the Dominican Republic triple booth has swarms with activity.  Winning drawing gifts of bottles of Brugal Rum and on-site hand-rolled cigars, as well as island vacations under palm trees is good reason for the buzz.  Attendees sign up at the many terminals and the business is brisk.

The Boston Globe Travel Show offered a  successful season to present the best of values and creative ideas for winter weary vacationers.

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