I travel, cook, eat, observe, interact, live and write. As a chef/food, wine and travel writer, I look for connections among people, their activities, the environment and what they eat that can tell the story of a region/culture, whether that be in the remote Andes Mountains or the streets of Philadelphia. Publications include my travel web site on Argentina (www.travel-with-pen-and-palate-argentina.com) and articles covering a diverse range of countries and cultures at www.travelpenandpalate.com, Hellenic News of America, Original World Travel, Examiner.com (International Travel, International Dining Examiner, Culinary Travel, Food & Recipes and Philadelphia Fine Dining) and Suite101.
Industry experience includes over 35 years as a chef, chef educator, hotel and restaurant manager, catering and teaching: history, writing, theater, culinary arts and business.
I lived for many years in Puerto Rico and Canada (Nova Scotia). I travel extensively in southern South & Central America, Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and southern Africa.
Member: International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) – Board of Directors & Chair Membership Committee
Member: American Culinary Federation (ACF)
Only a few restaurants in Quito still serve cuy (roasted guinea pig) anymore, and it has become an exotic food. Although still common in remote village cuisines, even in urban Ecuador the sides would include potatoes, corn and grains in a variety of forms.
Giant shrimp do not belong in the central Andes of Ecuador, but they do on the long Pacific coast. Modern transportation provides the means today to easily market foods within geographic regions.
Quinoa, potatoes and corn are but three of a copious number of food stuffs indigenous to the Central Andes. Spanish conquest in the 16th century spread both these and many other agricultural products worldwide and introduced pigs and beef to South America. Today highways allow Ecuador’s Amazon River and Pacific Ocean fish and seafood to be served fresh in Quito at 9,000 feet elevation.
In a recent trip to Quito I explored seven restaurants that firmly base their menus on traditional cuisine yet take a liberal hand their reinterpretation for the 21st century plate.
I’ve not posted on Travel with Pen and Palate since May. After many years in Philadelphia a permanent move to a warm climate was the order from my very intelligent wife. After all why not?
As a travel writer my only requirement is an internet connection. I’m not a stranger to living in a warm climate. I spent nine years at the start of my career in Puerto Rico. I love traveling to warm climates, and on the USA mainland Florida is our tropics.
No doubt selling a house, packing up three decades of art and antiques and moving to St. Petersburg, FL, does disrupt a writing and traveling schedule. I’ve had to turn down several great press trip invitations including El Salvador and Italy because my wife somehow thinks I should be involved in house hunting…yes, we moved without first knowing where we were going to live. Of course we had no way of knowing our house would sell in 6 days…but that’s all part of adventure.
Adventure for me as a culinary and culture travel writer is focusing on what makes a destination exciting for those who already call it home. A tourist can always find the best beach, the newest luxury hotel or today’s trendy restaurant by simply spending time on social media.
But will they discover the best cupcake? Will they think that discovery will be found in an art museum that features the glass work of Dale Chihuly? Or that an effusive city booster will be a Scot immigrant of 20 years who’s your server in a terrific cafe? I’ve discovered that and much more in my first three weeks in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Want to know about the cupcake…and Picasso’s lover…and a city that’s become a cultural mecca…with good beaches?
Since the start of history gold has been connected to the divine and the boundaries of people, state and heaven have intertwined in myriad and mysterious patterns. In post conquest 16th century Quito (Ecuador), An A-list of priests, monks and nuns from four of the Church’s most influential religious orders provided the patronage for a celebrated era of artistic expression.
Sumptuous interior decorations, intricate carvings and golden altars express prominent Moorish geometrical figures, Italian Renaissance style and European baroque architecture. In the 1970s UNESCO dubbed it “Quito Baroque” in their 1978 designation of Quito as a World Heritage Site.
Just click the link to see many more photos and read the article…
At least 4,000 varieties of potatoes grow in the Andean Highlands that encompass territory stretching from northern Argentina through Ecuador. An important food staple for all pre-Columbian Andean cultures, the Incas created chunu – dehydrated potatoes that could be stored for up to a decade.
Read how a vegetable becomes a national icon and follow a simple recipe for an Ecuador national dish:
I travel for a living and am often in and out of hotels. USA hotels in particular offer…let’s be kind…sub par free “continental breakfasts.” Often I’ll grab a yogurt, hard boiled egg & fruit.
Yesterday, looking in a storage container where I keep paper plates/plastic cups etc for picnics, I came across a tightly sealed bag. At some point in the past several years I obviously grabbed a muffin, toast, jam & a pastry “on the go” and totally forgot… and I mean several years ago because I had not opened this bin for that long.
Lo and behold…on a black plastic plate were perfect stone hard “petrified” American hotel fast food with not a blemish upon them. It’s American genius…and the preservatives will keep me young forever…
You can read all my articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:
Cajun dishes rank among the most misunderstood regional cuisines in the United States. That’s not surprising since it is part of the melange of cultural influences that make up southern Louisiana – French, Spanish, Native American, African, Caribbean and Central America. Often confused with its spicier neighbor, Creole, true Cajun dishes share similarities but are less complex. Today’s Louisiana Cajuns are descendants of the survivors of the Grand Derangement – the British ethnic cleansing of Acadia, French Canada’s Maritime provinces, in the 1760s which resulted in the death of half the Acadian population. Given refuge by Spanish controlled Louisiana, they settled in undesirable disease ridden bayous and marshes. Liz Williams, Director of the New Orleans Southern Food and Beverage Museum stated, “It is very peasant food; a one pot food…it’s more the practices, the mindset rather than the ingredients” that determined Cajun recipes.
Acclaimed New Orleans Chef Frank Brightsen commented, “The roots of Acadian culture are living off the land and that means hunting. The heart of Cajun culture around Lafayette is not coastal. Even in grocery stores you’ll find butchers. The pig is central to Cajun culture…”
Simple Acadian dishes such as salt cod cakes became impossible in the absence of potatoes and salt preserved fish. Rice became the starch and the abundance of fresh fish, game, alligator and seafood the additions. Rice, shrimp, and peppers replaced potatoes, cod and cabbage, but a basic Cajun meal is still one dish or simply prepared.
What else constitutes Cajun cuisine – and traditional Acadian fare? Anything deep fat fried – alligator and crawfish (not in Acadia) fish fillets, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, pork chops, rabbit, game, chicken, and shrimp. Crabs, shrimp and crawfish come steamed as well. Lots of carbohydrates accompany a Cajun meal – and an Acadian meal – with rice, potatoes and corn not uncommon on the same plate along with okra and beans.
The greatest difference separating Cajun and Acadian cooking is spices. Acadian rarely goes beyond salt and pepper although they do use pickled combinations such as chow chow to enliven a meal. Cajun uses spices borrowed from Creole cuisine – a different fusion altogether. Of course world famous Tabasco sauce made for the past century and a half on Avery Island has become a Cajun standard even though its origin is clearly West Indian.
Maque Choux is a classic Cajun side-dish that has elements of both Acadian and Cajun dishes. Most of the ingredients are Native North American – corn and peppers – with pork introduced by European colonists. If you visit Louisiana’s Cajun country you will experience variations including some that add sugar – a later 19th century addition.
There are many variations on “Cajun seasoning.” It’s basically a mixture of salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic, onion and assorted spices. The “assorted spices” are best determined by an internet search. Especially important if you have a salt preference, packaged mixes have varying degrees of salt – both Cajun and Creole cooking love salt – but I prefer less (more for taste and thirst than health reasons).
Cajun Maque Choux with Pork ChopsIngredients – 2 servings (simply multiply all ingredients for more servings)
for the pork:
4 – 1/2 inch boneless pork chops
low-salt Cajun seasoning
for the Maque Choux
1/4 cup small dice salt pork
1-1/2 cup diced sweet onion
1 cup diced celery
1/3 cup diced bell pepper – green, yellow or red
1 cup diced, peeled fresh tomato
1/8 cup minced fresh parsley
2 cups corn kernels – cut from the cob or frozen
1-1/2 teaspoons low-salt Cajun seasoning
hot sauce to taste (optional)
Rub the pork chops with a thin layer of cajun seasoning and refrigerate while preparing the Maque Choux.
To prepare the peeled tomato: bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Drop a large tomato into the boiling water for 30 seconds (small tomato) to 60 seconds (large tomato as pictured.) Remove the tomato to a cutting board. With a sharp knife make a thin cut around the tomato. The skin will easily slip off with your fingers or the blunt side of a dinner knife.
In a heavy frying pan – preferably cast iron – sauté the salt pork until crispy and all the fat has been rendered. Remove the salt pork with a slotted spoon and discard.
Add the onion and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the celery and sauté for an additional 2 minutes
Add the peppers, tomato, parsley, corn and Cajun seasoning. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
In an oven proof baking dish spoon some of the Maque Choux to make a bed the size of a pork chop and place the chop to cover half. Overlap the corn and pork for the remaining chops.
Cover with foil and bake for 90 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
Serve with rice, a green salad, cold beer or a nice red wine.
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The “super” Krewe of Endymion lived up to its hype. As one of New Orleans largest krewes, founded in 1967, Endymion created new traditions with mega floats using the latest technology of the day and featuring national celebrities from stage, screen and recording studio.
The 30 plus mega float parade, interspersed with as many marching bands and other groups, is one of the season’s most anticipated. Making its way from City Park in Mid-City down Canal Street and through Uptown to the Mercedes Super Dome for Endymion’s Extravaganza, the estimated crowd was put at 35,000+ watching and participating in the three hour parade.
The Krewe of Endymion marches on Samedi Gras (Fat Saturday) second only in importance to the season’s ultimate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). But parades are only part of the spectacle that make the season (January 6 through Fat Tuesday – in 2015 February 17) New Orleans largest block party.
A full two days ahead intrepid groups of revelers staked out their territory on the wide neutral ground of Orleans Avenue in Mid-City near iconic City Park. One of the city’s wide boulevards, the grass and often tree shaded middle-of-the-road “neutral ground” becomes a focal point for a round-the-clock block party. Camping out and cooking is allowed, porta potties are provided and as Saturday morning arrives every square inch of the long avenue’s neutral ground is a festival in itself. Children toss footballs, parents throw frisbees, barbecues send up aromatic aromas and long tables groan under the weight of such traditional fare as Louisiana crawfish boil and copious amounts of beer. The street and house parties spread throughout the neighborhoods that Endymion snakes through and continue for hours after it passes.
But once the parade rolls the thousands that line the long route have eyes only on the floats and catching the many “throws” from iconic strings of beads to frisbees and creations with flashing lights.
See a full list of Mardi Gras 2015 krewe and parade information and get ready for Fat Tuesday!
You can read all my articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:
The opening parade January 31 for the 2015 New Orleans Mardi Gras season by the Krewe du Vieux maintained the traditional small scale donkey or man-power drawn floats but was LARGER THAN LIFE in political satire mixed with “adult themes.”
The Krewe du Vieux is the ONLY major parade that actually can go through the French Quarter.
As you’ll see over the next 2 weeks, the parades are “monumental.” BTW: some of pics in costume are just people viewing the parade, not participants – but in New Orleans, everyone’s a “participants”
Mardi Gras World is a living museum for an international festival as celebrated as it’s misunderstood. Daily public tours showcase a wide range of Mardi Gras themes from the ribald to down home family friendly. And while a guest is snapping photos and listening to the guide, Kern Studio artists are busy in the real work of creating Mardi Gras 2015.
Fat Tuesday falls on February 17th this year (2015) but in New Orleans, Mardi Gras season begins on the Twelfth Night of Christmas, January 6, which also happens to be the birthday of the city’s patron saint, Joan of Arc. History, legend and real life often create everyday activities in culturally diverse New Orleans. At Mardi Gras World that legacy keeps 50 artists busy year round.
Mardi Gras expresses the uniqueness of a region that’s been home and country to Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, the Americas and displaced populations (Cajuns, slaves). There are Mardi Gras parades from Mobile, Alabama to Galveston, Texas and in every parish in southern Louisiana. But New Orleans is the cultural center of Mardi Gras in North America.
Mardi Gras is the gumbo of festivals, a melange of cultural and social influences. It has traditions set by krewes – dozens of them – but it’s the individual themes chosen each year by the krewes that make Mardi Gras parades unpredictable fun. Yet the evolution of Mardi Gras as we know it today is an 1870s invention of New Orleans businessmen to honor the visit of a Russian prince on Fat Tuesday. They created the Krewe of Rex and the good times have been rolling since.
Mardi Gras World is a family owned juggernaut of monumental float designs. Founded in the 1930s by New Orleans artist Blaine Kern (Kern Studios ) what started as painting random props for parade floats quickly blossomed into contracts with over a dozen of Mardi Gras most influential and historic krewes including Rex. Beyond parades, Kern Studios is the leader in creating “themed environments” for conventions, resorts and the media.
The krewes own the massive float infrastructures – the actual moving machines – but the decorations, the props, are usually rented from Kern Studios since themes change annually. Many props today start with a base of styrofoam.
Often props are repurposed several times and Kern Studio artists make magic with such standard mediums as paper mache to create features.
The larger than life demensions of most props dictate spray painting as an efficient method, although meticulous brush painting may still be necessary with elaborate detail.
Appropriate to the city’s nickname, the Big Easy, after the tour guests are free to wander the massive warehouse admiring, photographing and watching the artists at work. One would never guess that the parades begin in a couple short weeks. By the end of January, Mardi Gras season will be in full swing with over two weeks of parades, many showcasing the grandeur and fun of Kern Studio’s Mardi Gras World artistry.
Mardi Gras World, located on the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, is open for tours seven days a week. Parking is available but a free shuttle runs from several hotels and tourist locations in the city.