Category Archives: Food Matters

The Road Taken: My Portuguese Scrapbook

I’ve taken a fair number of trips in my life. Some I recall more fondly than others:  the Chicken Pox Plague in Lyon, France was a particular low with a six-month old and a two-and-a-half year old. Now that we have opportunities to travel just the two of us, we go for impromptu trips:  book on a Tuesday, leave the following Tuesday. Of course, it’s  a stupid strategy for most trips, but it worked wonderfully well when we travelled to Portugal recently.

The image above is a street view taken from the top of a double-decker tourist bus in Porto. Gotta love cool doorways. These come with eyebrows! Plus they are painted carmine and viridian: must use colorful words here, it’s travel writing afterall.

Another street in Porto:  shabby chic in an Old World way. Porto has a San Francisco feel to it with many climbing walks, which turns out to be good exercise for the simple, delicious fare to be had in town.

Ah, the curse of translations: the notorious homonym in the English language.

Clearly, in Portugal there’s a national predilection for tile, called azulejos. The Moorish influence is pervasive in geometric tiles like these, but the figurative ones are the Portuguese way of sharing art, culture, and history. Not only do tiles bedeck buildings inside and out, the “tiling” concept is also deployed underfoot. As you can see in the image below from the seaside resort of Cascais

No fear, just two photos more to close this installment (2 of 3 BTW). Across from Porto is the warehouse district of Vila Nova de Gaia and the locale of this fantastical example of collage/sculpture. I LOVE it! I could go on and on with superlatives, but I will practice restraint:  Art created with repurposed materials that pop up in unexpected places just slays me. I want roadrunner art just like this slapped up on an exterior wall at my home. I wonder if I could pull it off? I’d need welding skills though. Full disclosure: there’s another cool animal, a fox, on a Lisbon street. We drove by too fast in an Uber to take a photo.

See below a warm, just purchased Pasteis de Belem (as described in the prior post) soon to be consumed by me. The verdict? Sublime. Accept no substitutes.

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Filed under Food Matters, Inspirations, Places

Raw Goods + Quirky Point of View = An Inspirational Trip to Arizona

Folk Art from Scottsdale, AZ, Distrito Restaurant

Hello all, I’m just back from a foray southward to Arizona to hang with family. It’s always fun for me to visit a city like Phoenix with a distinct landscape and a strong sense of its identity. Mostly it’s wonderful to escape routine, although I’m now committed to a strict two-margaritas-only policy after exceeding my meager limits to ill effect one night. Two icy limey margaritas + chips/guacamole = conviviality; 3 = rubbery legs + major headache!

Despite the lingering malaise from my first night’s celebration, I didn’t let that keep me from enjoying the modern Southwestern design style that’s taking over Arizona’s newest restaurants, shops, and public places. The cliche of howling coyotes and desert color palettes have been replaced by an edgier approach that harnesses humble inputs like acid-washed metal and concrete, cutting edge lighting design, and whimsy for new inspiration on desert themes.

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Take the Saguaro, a boutique hotel in Scottsdale, and its in-house restaurant/bar called Distrito. The restaurant sells itself on the notoriety of its celebrity chef, Jose Garces, an Iron Chef and James Beard Award winner, but what got me excited was the design of the dining and social spaces, in addition to the tasty fare, of course. Distrito’s decor is emblematic of a Southwestern mod fusion that elevates humble elements to high style.

Elastic Design Couture at Distrito in Scottsdale, AZ

My family—husband, our sons and their girlfriends—thought I was a bit obsessive with my photo taking, but really, elastic yardage? Seriously? Take a look at these iterations of the elastic-as-room-divider application. Brilliant!

Then, take the humble aluminum lawn chair with its plastic woven bands of webbing—the one that pinched badly if your hand was in the wrong place at the wrong time—and imagine using that webbing as fabric. Mind you, a better and tighter weave in a prettier color and made into whole cloth for upholstery purposes. As I’m a huge fan of purple in all its manifestations, I particularly loved the orchid/blue plaid of the chairs next to the warm wood tones of the furniture.

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Next, and my favorite detail, a wall of thousands of tiny colored yarn balls lined up cheek by jowl. I’ll think much differently about those bulk bags of yarn balls when I next visit a craft store!

Yarn Art Elevated at Distrito in Scottsdale, AZ

The other artwork was imaginatively curated as well. I got a kick out of this artist, Michael David Little, and his quirky portraits (Brian Claybrook Photography’s post of some of Little’s work). The spaceman was a particular favorite for my family of SciFi fans.

Painting Exhibited in Distrito

Oh, I almost forgot, a larger view of the painted skull display at the entrance to the restaurant, truly Day of the Dead on steroids.

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Before I close this installment, here’s a peek at something pretty I spotted while shopping in Scottsdale . . . sublime Oscar de la Renta couture. Boy, that dress takes me back to my childhood ballet dreams. I loved the Bluebird Fairy from Sleeping Beauty and fantasized about dancing in a flower bedecked tutu just like that dress. If only my typically down-home life had space and funds for such a dreamy dress.

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There you have it, a visual tour of Scottsdale, Arizona running from the rustic to high fashion.

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Sunlight on a Winter Day

Food:  Meyer lemon sliceGloom and chill got you down? Slice a lemon, drop it into a cup of steamy tea with a spoonful of local honey, and savor the flavors of sunshine.

Isn’t it funny that something that is all about transforming sunlight into deliciousness, citrus fruit that is, comes to us when cold gray weather darkens our days? Now I can’t complain that much about deep winter, I live in Northern California and sunlight is pretty much a year-round staple, but even here we snuggle into our jackets and shiver when temperatures drop and the clouds crowd in from the bay.

On the upside, cooler weather signals the debut of my favorite green, yellow, and orange tanginess. Growing up in Florida I pretty much thought I was acquainted with the full array of citrus fruit. Ha! Wrong! My world now includes the ombre-toned blood orange, the spicy Meyer lemon, and others.

Food: Citrus segmentsSmelling and sampling a Meyer lemon was a paradigm-shifting citrus experience for me. Yeah, excessive prose, I know, but that first flirtation with its juice provoked that intellectualization that accompanies tasting a full-bodied wine and falling into those “hints of chocolate and blackberries” rhapsodies. The juice of a Meyer lemon juice is robust, rounded, spicy, warm, and intoxicating. Whether the essence comes in a soap, lotion, or food, I’m on it.

One of my favorite holiday gifts to make and share is lemon curd. If I make it with Meyer lemons, though, I’ve got a treat that is even more special. My version is an adaptation of the lemon curd recipe developed by Rose Levy Beranbaum in The Pie and Pastry Bible, but I have found that very recipe conveniently embedded in a lemon bar recipe on Epicurious. If you’re a foodie and you don’t know her, do try her recipes because she’s fantastic with flavors and pretty much failsafe with her instructions. A great attribute of the pie book recipe is the abundant details she supplies for making curds with other citrus types.

Food:  Meyer lemon curd spillLike any recipe that you adapt for your own use, there are tweaks that add a personal stamp to the taste. Mine is to up the citrus content with the juice and grated rind. I may even double the rind content, but I’m more judicious with the juice because I want the chemical reaction that binds the curd to happen–too much juice and it’ll be runny.

After the holidays I went a little crazy making a Lemon Poppy Seed Cake—three times in three weeks—because I had masses of Meyer lemons to use. Chances are you had at least one slice if you live near or work with me! That recipe came from the latest Ina Garten/Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Make It Ahead, but I found another version from R.L.B. again on Epicurious. Garten’s cake recipe is fantastic, especially with a dollop of sunny yellow Meyer Lemon Curd.

Food:  Meyer lemon curd and cake

So, in the effort to be both entertaining and informative, here’s a little more on this lemony theme:

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  Through SHWS I got to know a very creative quilter/designer named Sandra Bruce who turned me on to East of Eden Cooking, a food blog written Deborah Ryan. Do take a look, Deb’s got a literary bent and the photography is so pretty. This lemon-infused cake recipe was a stellar offering–I can vouch for its success because a friend of mine made and loved it. Imagine how wonderful it would be scented with Meyer lemons?!?

 Making lemon curd inevitably provokes the question: what do you do with it? Yes, an English tea with scones, clotted cream, and lemon curd is a natural choice, but tarts and lemon bars figure into it as well. If you want a tasty, yet tiny lemon-curd indulgence, consider rolling out dough left over from pie making and cutting it into small pastry rounds. Blind bake them (mini muffin pans are great for shaping and holding the dough), cool, and then freeze them for later use. Defrost when needed and fill each with a dollop of curd. Garnish with meringue or embellish with fruit or candied flowers.

 I got a lowdown on curd essentials from family friend Tina Piccolomini, a sous chef in the Washington, D.C. area. When asked how to up the curd’s lemony notes she advocates additional lemon zest at the end of preparation, even if you’ve already added some during the cooking phase. A tiny drop of lemon oil is another option, but be sparing with the amount. If you look at R.L.B.’s recipe, Tina thinks an additional ounce of juice is probably okay, while upping the lemon zest to 1 or 1.5 tablespoons is a tactic for increasing flavor intensity. Glass or plastic for storage? Glass is better, but plastic for freezing. The shelf life for refrigerated lemon curd is measured in weeks, and 6-8 months for frozen.  Once it’s thawed out and refrigerated–7 days only.

 Yummy lemon curd ideas from Tina’s kitchen:  enjoy lemon-curd-filled donuts topped in raspberry icing; swirl the curd into a favorite cheesecake recipe; layer an angel cake, adorn each with a thin smear of raspberry jam topped with lemon curd, and ice the cake with lightly sweetened whipped cream; this idea is deliciously sinful–exchange the traditional tiramisu ingredients with  lemon curd, mascarpone, limoncello, white chocolate, and raspberries!

It makes me so sad to realize my last jar of lemon curd in the fridge is probably expired and I can’t make any of her suggestions today–that donut one is fantastic, not to mention the tiramisu! Let me know if you indulge–at least I’ll get a vicarious thrill from someone’s culinary and gustatory adventure!

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