You would think that after 12 months in Mexico, we’d have had enough of the local food ( actually one of us does, and systematically orders burgers whenever we go out) I remember back in November, overdoing the Mexican theme, and feeling “over” Mexicana Cocina. But after 2 weeks in France, indulging in rich cheesy, garlicky and buttery dishes, the kids and I rediscovered the appeal of tacos, nachos and ceviche.
So, when our January guests asked to sample as much Mexican food as possible, I gladly obliged taking them on a culinary tour around Riviera Maya. Like a previous Australian visitor last year, there was no time for long excursions to Merida or far away ruins, so we stuck to local favourites ( Latitudes 20, La Zebra and La Bomba Jarocha who by now must consider us part of their furniture ) as well as feasts on board! Below are some of the highlights from yet another Food Lover’s visit in Mexico.
Ok, this is not a food picture. But we took friends out on the boat one day, and wild dolphins came to play on our bow. We’re used to it, but our guests thought that was pretty cool !!!
Buffet lunch on the boat…sea air makes everyone hungry!
Breakfast by Anne
Chicken quiche, when quick and easy dinner is on the menu!
Relaxing drinks at Tulum… Perfect snack, guacamole served with pork rind chips!
Ceviche how I like it, not too much lemon juice, just the fish!
Cazuela de Marisco, or Fish soup, Playa way…still working on the recipe
A kitchen to scare any Australian health inspector, but producing the best food around!
Like this fried fish in garlic and chili sauce. Yummmm!
Sample plates for our guests: beef tacos, beef nachos, guacamole, chicken with refried beans.
Maybe you can have too much nachos after all…
Last month we spent 2 weeks in Canada for a skiing holiday in Whistler. The snow was pretty average, especially for Canadian standard, forcing us to climb as far up the mountain as possible to find good skiing. While we enjoyed every minute of it, that also meant we froze our butts off for quite some time!
Much of my time spent sitting on chairlifts or gondolas was dedicated to keeping warm and dreaming of a piping hot dinner waiting for us back at the condo. With a party of 6, we took it in turn to cook meals and after a few days of eating tomato-based casseroles, it was my turn to provide with a request from hubby for a hot curry. I was happy to oblige, though took the lazy way and bought a big jar of madras curry paste, 1.5 kilos of stewing beef, threw a couple of sliced red capsicums and carrots, and let the whole thing simmer for 90 minutes. There’s hardly a need for a recipe, it’s that easy!
In the meantime, I had to cater for these among us who do not like pepper or chili and are generally wary of curries for fear of them being too spicy. I personnaly was craving for vegetables, and found my inspiration at the local IGA supermarket (which is quite high-end and is the closest you will find to a fresh market in Whistler!): staring at me from the “oriental” section was a huge bunch of lemongrass stems. Not the anemic straw-looking stuff I’ve had to put up with in Mexico, but the big-fat-blemish free-as thick as my finger stalks. Each bunch consisted of at least 5 or 6 stalks, superfluous to my cooking needs, but I took them anyway. Combined with onions, garlic and ginger, and bathed in coconut milk, it made the perfect broth for whatever vegetables were handy. Indeed this recipe works for any vegetable in season. Pumpkin, broccoli, cabbage (as I did), beans, snow peas and zucchini may be used singly or in combination. A subtle and delicious side dish with curries, it is equally satisfying when thinned down a little and served as a vegetable soup on its own. In fact, I loved it so much, I sneaked back to the condo for lunch the next day, so that I could enjoy the soup by the fireplace without having to share! Read More
Like most people, the end of the year has been a whirlwind of activities for us. We wrapped up school with the children, caught up with friends here in Mexico for a Christmas drink or two, tied up a few business loose ends and cleaned up the boat prior to us leaving for the holidays. It was a hectic time in the galley, I can tell you: my mission was to accommodate whatever produce I felt would not survive 2 weeks in the fridge, which basically included anything fresh. Salt fish was turned into Bul Jol (a Caribbean salt fish salad),
beef shanks made a great “cheats” osso buco (I admit taking a shortcut and used V8 juice for the gravy!) with polenta,
every vegetables became fair game for any kind of soups and we lunched on more grilled cheese sandwiches than I care to remember. The baking of Christmas cookies and Buche de Noel were actually a welcome distraction, reminding us that it was a special time of the year to be enjoyed by all.
Then, there was our 2 weeks holiday in Paris. I have mentioned the lead up to the Christmas feasts in the previous post. But as I flip thru the hundreds of pictures taken, I feel compelled to share some of other moments of this “Food and Wine festival” of ours:
- A family reunion around a buffet of salads (tabouleh, rice), Mexican chicken drumsticks and guacamole, and petits fours…
- The very first taste of rabbit for the children: shot by our neighbour (a keen hunter), and smothered in mustard cream sauce by my mum.
- The very taste of wild boar for all of us: shot by the same neighbour, roasted with herbs and served on a bed of tagliatelle. An acquired taste, but the clafouti and apple galette for dessert were delicious. And our hosts’ hunting tales were hilarious!
- Caneles, Chichis, Cupcakes or Kouignettes…all deliciously rich pastries we ate as street snacks while strolling along the Champs Elysees and Boulevard St Germain (the French would rather savour them eating neatly at the table, but I can’t convince Terry to sit down to eat more than three times a day, and that’s even one too many!)
- Asian buffet in a suburban restaurant, at the initial request of Anne craving for sushi. Everyone ended up loving the mix of Japanese sushi, Vietnamese spring rolls, Chinese fried rice and so on…best value in town at 15 euros!
- Expensive pasta in the city, after a busy day of touring around the Quartier Latin. The price to pay for a casual Italian in the 6th arrondissement? 40 euros per person. Ouch!
- Let’s not forget the wine: most memorable reds came out of my dad’s cellar (saved for special occasions, he said), some dating back as far as 1998! As did the champagne, which somehow never seemed to run out (though I am sure it has by now). And as for the beer, Terry kept a steady supply on the window sill. The good thing about winter in Paris is that there is no need for a beer fridge!!!
Back on the boat, I could not help but feel nostalgic for all this food, thinking there just hadn’t been enough time to eat everything. Looking forward to a New Year’s Eve party organised by a friend, I jumped for joy when she asked me to bring over some desserts. Now was my chance to indulge my French pastry craving, so here I give you, my last (and most popular) desserts of 2013: Tarte aux Pommes and Gateau Tout Chocolat.
Tarte Aux Pommes :
Serves 6-8 people
For the pastry:
170g plain flour
80g maizena (cornstarch)
1 tsp sugar
2 pinch of salt
180g butter (cold, cut in small dice)
1 egg yolk
5 tbsp. /100ml cold water
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
For the filling:
Juice of 1 lemon (lime OK)
200g sour cream
2 tbsps. calvados or rum
Prepare the pastry: Place the flour, maizena, sugar, salt, butter in the bowl of a food processor. Blitz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, water and vinegar and pulse until the dough just comes together. Sprinkle with a little flour, wrap in plastic film and cool in the fridge for 1h.
In the meantime, peel the apples, cut in quarter and in thin slices. Place in a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over them so they don’t turn brown. In another bowl, mix the egg with the sugar, sour cream and the alcohol of your choice. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 22cm tart dish. Roll the dough out and line the tart dish. Trim the edges and prick the base with a fork. Spread 2 tbsps. of the egg/cream mixture in the bottom of the pastry case. Place the apple slices in a neat overlapping circle, Pour over the rest of the egg/cream mixture, sprinkle a little extra sugar and cook for about 30mn. Serve warm dusted with icing sugar.
We have just returned from 2 weeks in Paris, spending Christmas with family. It had been 3 years since our last Christmas together, which my younger self used to think was frequent enough, but now that I am in my late forties with aging parents, every visit becomes more precious. Our cruising lifestyle means that “popping over” is not that easy, instead we need to plan well in advance not only flights, but also care of the boat in our absence. Add the notion that we never know when the next reunion will be, and things end up more emotional than they used to be.
So when we did arrive, every possible excursions or tourist activities I had invariably planned, went out the window as I found myself catching up with relatives and friends not seen since 2006 or earlier, as well as 3 years’ worth of “news updates” with my parents. You’d think that with Skype and Facebook, we would have kept up with the gossip, but frankly, nothing beats face to face conversation sitting at the breakfast (lunch and dinner) table. My husband coped very well. Over the years, he’s learnt to leave us talking French and goes for long walks in the neighbouring park knowing that on his return, we will still be chatting while cooking the next meal. Or he may be lucky and I am ready to go out. My children also enjoy this slower pace, taking delight in tasting French food cooked with love by their grandmother (they acknowledge that I also cook with love on the boat, but only once a day!)
I did have plans to go on a food safari in Paris, even set a Pinterest board with places to go and see. But a quick look at the crowds outside Laduree shops, menu prices at trendy restaurants like Au petit Sud Ouest or L’Avant Comptoir, made us retreat and think of a plan B. We are, after all, a couple of semi-retired yachties, and while we enjoy good food and easy life, we also have to be discerning. Rather than focus on the hype associated with celebrity chefs and “not to be missed “ restaurants, we decided to spend our money on the best produces we could find. France in general, is known for its wonderful fresh produce and local open markets making them available all over the country. Located 20 minutes south of Paris, my parent’s home is blessed with such a neighbourhood market, in Juvisy sur Orge where literally every kind of fresh food can be found as well as inexpensive household items (like past season designer wear, shoes, fabric remnants , kitchenware…enough to fit out a small apartment!) This market has been around for as long as I can remember, I used to accompany my mother as a child and play with the live animals at the poultry stand (not realising that the cute rabbits and chicken were destined for consumption!), sample cheese and pates , search for cheap clothing…
Nowadays, there are no longer live animals, but the bargain clothing guys are still here, as well as the cheese monger, Mr Barbet, the “charcutier” Mr Guette, Freddo the “volailler” and jean-Pierre the vegetable guy.
I am prolonging the family ritual whenever possible bringing my own children, who actually enjoy the unique atmosphere of camaraderie and sense of community (most stall holders have dealt with my parents twice a week for nearly 40 years, and have heard of us “the cruising Australians”), second only to the free sampling! Both Marc and Anne can’t get over how the simple question “What is that?” leads to a chunk of cheese/pate/sausage/bread offered on the tip of a knife with a “Goute!” ( “Have a taste!”). Palate education is what it’s all about, and at the kids request, we’ve filled our baskets with “Pate au piment d’Espelette” (chicken pate with red chili), “escargots” (snails), “magret de canard” (duck breasts), Emmental cheese and Corsican clementines. Terry would not be outdone, selecting his own “produits du terroir” (regional produce), like Morbier cheese, duck legs, foie gras, and prawns. Coming back to the house, with our produce laden baskets, my mother would then take over with the cooking, instructing us to set up the table and be at the ready. In these circumstances, why go out?
Christmas meals followed pretty much the same pattern, except that we ordered stuff in advance to ensure availability. Terry and I volunteered to pick everything up at the market early on Christmas Eve. It was a grey, dark and windy day, not quite the snowy weather we had been waiting for but still wintery enough to confine us inside the house, light up a fire and prepare Christmas Eve feast. Like most French people, we had seafood for starters, namely raw oysters from the Ile de Re, freshly chucked by my Dad. That was a treat for us, as both Terry and I stopped eating oysters after tasting some fairly ordinary specimens in the US last year, and knowing someone who died from bacterial infection after eating a batch there. I am pleased to report that these Charentaise little numbers not only tasted great (fresh and briny) but didn’t cause any after effects. Main course followed with a leg of lamb roasted and cut to perfection by Terry, and we rounded the meal with a feather light Chocolate Buche de Noel.
Christmas morning was supposed to be an elaborate brunch of breads, quiches, muffins, juices, etc… but with 7 people waking up at different times, some not caring about food much, we took the simple road and dug out the “raclette machine” for everyone to melt their own Mont D’Or cheese, grill their own bacon slices, and serve it over fresh baguettes. Terry thought it far too indulgent still recovering from the previous night’s meal, and elected to go for a 3 hour walk instead, along with my cousin Sonia (who, I am sure would have skipped the exercise, had she been told about brunch!)
My argument was that with a big Christmas dinner planned, a substantial brunch made more sense than a small breakfast followed by lunch (with the time involved in cooking and washing up). Indeed dinner was not only a big “do”, catering for 10 people, but also happened quite late as we waited for everyone to be present (the lot of blended families, where some of us had to spend part of the festivities with one side of relatives then got caught in traffic on their way to our dinner). Terry and the kids started to worry that Christmas day would be over before we finished dinner and opened gifts, but we managed to avoid that by introducing the Australian tradition of gathering for aperitifs in the kitchen while preparing dinner (as opposed to the French way of waiting for everything and everyone to be ready before having your first drink) and declaring a Present Opening “pause” between the entrée of smoked salmon and prawn salad and the turkey main course! And just as yet another Buche de Noel was brought out for dessert, my Dad announced it was midnight and Christmas was over. We made it just in time!
A few weeks ago, a cruising friend shared the inspirational story of Eduardo Garcia, a friend of his ( cruising people tend to easily make friends, and love sharing stories!) Trained as a chef in the USA, Eduardo went to work on big yachts, travelled all over the world, enjoyed the good life…so far, sounds familiar, right? Then, he had a terrible accident on land, which literally changed his life. He did survive, but my words will never be good enough to tell you about his journey back to health. Instead I encourage you to watch this wonderful video, which is a story of fortitude, determination and positivity, all wrapped into one person. It lifts my spirits and gives me goose bumps everytime I watch it!
Eduardo’s belief that “food is a gateway to other cultures” totally resonates with me and November was a perfect example of mixing in with different cultures: from Mexico’s Day of the Dead, American Thanksgiving and a visit from an Australian friend…there was plenty to celebrate.