Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why blog?

I was watching the oh so bad-ass, Anthony Bourdain on his show, No Reservations, the other day. The theme of that specific show happened to be about food obsession. It showcased people who were, for lack of a better term, obsessed with certain types of food. They interviewed the farmer who raised Wagyu beef (you may know it as Kobe...Kobe is a place, Wagyu is a breed), the chef who is in love with artisan cheese, the baker that eats, sleeps and breaths bread...and the list goes on. But then they interviewed the food bloggers. It was interesting because these bloggers weren't actually creating anything. They weren't baking award winning bread or making the creamiest, stinkiest, most ooey, gooey small batch cheese on earth. The bloggers were simply talking about it. Anthony asked them why they did it and it got me thinking. Why do I blog about, well, what I blog about?

I blog for a few different reasons. I blog about travel because I want to share my experiences and inspire others to get out there and make experiences of their own. I'll never be that person who rents the same beach house year after year because dammit, there is so much to see and so many places to visit in this great (and I do mean great) big world. I personally LOVE hearing about folks' travels. I'm probably the only one I know who would be happy to sit through a slide show of someone's trip to Vegas... ok, maybe not Vegas, but I'd be interested in a slide show of somewhere I've never been. I want people to read about the trips that Nick and I take and get inspired. And I want to read about the trips that OTHER people take and get inspired as well. Anyone out there been to Peru? That's our next big trip and I'd love to hear about it!

I blog about my own cooking because cooking is something that I honestly love to do. When we get back from a week abroad and I cook that first meal in my own kitchen I'm like a giddy little child. I love creating things...things that look beautiful, smell beautiful and taste beautiful. And, so many of my favorite childhood memories are connected to food. Cooking a dish that I've had since I was a child and then sharing it with the world makes me feel like I'm sharing a real part of myself. Or re-creating a dish that I had halfway around the world makes me feel like I'm sharing a piece of that trip with you.

And last but not least, I blog about restaurants and the food scene both local and global because I think these spots deserve it. I'm not gutsy enough to open my own store or restaurant. Honestly, the idea of working long (and I mean long) hours, busting my butt and not knowing if I'll go bankrupt in the first year is terrifying for me. I give mom and pop restaurant owners a lot of credit. I also give those groundbreaking chefs credit for being obsessed with perfection. Without them I probably wouldn't be so inspired by food.

So I suppose I write this blog for a number of different reasons. Some of which are pretty selfish...I mean, I'm so happy and thankful and proud that I've seen, done, touched and tasted so much already, so I really LIKE sharing experiences that I think are share-worthy with you fine folks. Some reasons are not so selfish. I can't tell you how many times I wished I had read someone's take on a certain travel destination before heading there. I mean, sure, half the fun is learning as you go, but sometimes having a little bit of inside info can make a world of difference.

So I'm going to keep on blogging as long as people care to read what I have to say...and honestly...I would probably keep blogging even if no one listened. As I read back through my blog posts to date I can't help but smile. That amazing meal we had at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal has long since been digested, someone else is now strolling through the lovely Englischer Garten in Munich and those baby sea turtles we saw while scuba diving in St. Lucia are probably all grown up by now.........but the memories of these things will live on in my mind, and my blog, for a long, long time.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Booker's Bourbon - Thanks Chef Rich!

I'd like to thank a loyal reader and great commenter, Chef Rich, for asking what my husband thought of Booker's Bourbon after reading my post last month called, A Boy And His Bourbon. After forwarding that question to Nick he said, "Never tasted it. I'm going to have to give it a try". And try he did. A few days after Rich suggested it the hubby came home with a big 'ol bottle of Booker's and minutes later fell in love...with the bourbon that is.

After hearing my hubby ooh and ahh over it I decided to do some research to find out why it's so good. Here's what I found:

1.) Did you know that there are actual legal requirements that govern what can and cannot be called bourbon? Well there is. Some of said requirements state that the grain mixture must be made of at least 51% corn, however in practice most bourbons are made of 70%. It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. And it also must be distilled to at least 80 proof (I second that one)...I'll tell you what proof Booker's is in a moment.

2.) Booker's Bourbon is actually produced by Jim Beam. Prior to the 1990's you couldn't even buy "Booker's". It was originally the distiller's pick-of-the-litter which he bottled and gave as a gift (why don't I have any friends that own distilleries?). The Jim Beam distillery also makes Basil Hayden's, another fantastic bourbon. Go Jim Beam!

3.) Apparently bourbon becomes darker in color the longer it ages in the barrel. Holding the bottle of Booker's beside three other bottles of bourbon on our bar it looked to me like this bottle, which has been aged for 7 years and 2 months (as stated on it's cute little stamp) does in fact seem to be darker than the others.

4.) And speaking of sitting in the barrel longer, I can't be sure, but I reckon that's what gives Booker's that deep, smokey, almost tobacco like flavor. That being said, it's still as smooth as a baby's bottom and you would never know that it's 130.1 proof. Yup 130.1!!!! That's 65% alcohol by volume. That is not child's play my friends.

So if you're looking to try a new bourbon, or attempting to work your way down the Bourbon Trail like my hubby, you might want to spring for a bottle of Booker's. It will run you about $50 a fifth, but I recommend giving it a try...at least once. If it's not your cup of tea at least you'll get your bang for your buck at 130 proof...and it even comes in it's own cute little wooden box! **note...this is what you get when you let a woman write about bourbon..."cute little wooden box"**

So thanks for the recommendation Chef Rich! The hubby and I owe you one!
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Aruba slideshow

Hi folks. I just set up the slide show from our trip to Aruba last week. If you click on the actual slide show it will take you to picasa where you can see larger pictures and read some captions I wrote to go along with them.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Hey folks. Sorry It's been so long since my last post but the hubby and I were in Aruba all last week! We were having such a wonderful time that I just couldn't pull myself away to post anything.
Interested in escaping to Aruba for a few days? Here are my hits, misses, do's and don'ts:

Do HIT the beach. Aruba's beaches were some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Go to Baby Beach at the southern most tip of the island. It's called Baby Beach because you can wade hundreds of feet out and still have the water only reach your waist. Bring a snorkel and mask with you as well. There was an abundance of fish! No matter where you stay, however, there will be a powder white beach with calm, crystal clear water nearby. **Note...you can only swim on the western side of the island. The eastern side is truly wild and crazy, in that it's barren, the nature is as wild as can be and you would be crazy to try and swim amidst the crashing waves and rocks**

Don't go out of your way to scuba dive if you're a diver. The hubby and I are certified and like to dive about once or twice a year. We saw an OK airplane wreck and a few decent sized fish during our dives but nothing mind-blowing.

Do HIT up a local street food cart if you can find one. The island is very small (around 15 miles long) and we looked for what felt like forever to find a good local street food cart that wasn't touristy. We finally found this place when we were too famished to go on and we were happy we did. This may not look like the most amazing plate of food, but it was delicious! Homemade sausage spiced with turmeric, mango glazed grilled chicken and some cheese filled empanada-type-bites. It didn't look to me like there was a great local food scene so this find made us happy. As a side note to this, I had to remember that next to nothing grows on the island. They have no natural fresh water and perhaps grow a few coconuts, but it's a pretty barren place when it comes to agriculture. I suppose that, mixed with the fact that the entire island basically runs off tourism (and tourists don't always like eating from weird roadside carts) might result in a lack of local eating spots.

Don't spend too much time in the high-rise resort area. We stayed in the low-rise section at the Divi and our room was literally a stone's throw from the beach. The high-rise area is just what it sounds like, flashy looking high rise resorts with little to no beach front. We drove through and Nick said he felt like he was in Florida. Also, all of the restaurants and shops surrounding it were very touristy (I mean, they had a Soprano's themed restaurant and another place shaped like a big wind-mill). If you're going on a beach vacation, you want to enjoy the beach right? The low-rise resorts offered just that. **P.S. Trying to get the hubby to take a "nice" picture is like pulling teeth...silly/creepy faces abound (see picture right)**

Do order the FISH! Practically every single fish dish Nick and I ordered was delicious. Snapper, grouper, tuna and mahi mahi are all found in the local waters and are ALL amazing. If there is one thing you can count on it's that the chef at your restaurant will know how to cook this fresh local fish. We had amazing tuna carpaccio, grilled mahi mahi, broiled grouper (oooohhhh the grouper!!!) and so many other delicious seafood dishes while we were there. I ate fish an average of 2 times a day for the 7 days we were there and I happy to do so (although the minute I got back in Philly I headed to my local butcher for a big hunk of dry aged steak...I just had a craving). The rest of the proteins we tried were alright but didn't hold a candle to the seafood.

Don't even bother exchanging your currency. EVERYTHING is listed in dollars and Florins (Aruba's currency). Some places (like cabs) won't even have change in the local currency for you. We tried to use the local dollar for about 5 mins...when we realized no one carried it we just used US green-backs. You can get it out of the ATM's there.

Do rent a Jeep to explore the other side of the island. It will cost you about $100/day but you get to see geography like you've never seen before. Naturally formed bridges, ancient caves, pounding surf...it reminded me of a mix between the Grand Canyon, Mojave Desert and the rocky coastline of Maine...with a few water explosions added for fun. It will take you most of the day to explore the other side of the island and you will get dirty and hot, but the hubby and I both agreed that it was well worth it.

Don't try to explore the other side of the island in a sedan (or anything other than a jeep for that matter). There are very few roads on the eastern side of the island and those that were there were either dirt, sand or rock. And I do mean rock. We drove about 3 miles on almost nothing but rocks.

Do drink the water. Unlike some other Caribbean or Mexican destinations you've visited where they told you specifically not to drink the water, the tap water in Aruba is safe as can be and delicious. Aruba runs the worlds 2nd largest desalinization plant, which converts that sea water you're swimming in to fresh, pure drinking water. I mean honestly, the purest type of water because they boil it off and collect the condensation. The hubby and I were lucky enough to snag a tour at the plant (they only offer one a week on Thursdays at 9:30am, and only let in 8 or 9 people). We couldn't take pictures inside...sorry...and the pictures I did take of Nick and I in our hard-hats are stowed safely away...we looked ridiculous. We found it really interesting and were glad we went, but it might not be everyone's idea of a great way to spend your Thursday morning (it would be my Dad's idea of a great way to spend his entire day though). Whether you think it's neat or not, remember that most of the restaurants and some resorts won't even offer bottled water because theirs is some of the safest in the world, even right out of the hotel room tap.

And last but not least, do give Aruba a shot if you're the type of person that visits one same warm weather beach spot a year. Nick and I still can't get over how relaxing, beautiful and safe the island was. The food was great and we didn't even suffer from heart-burn, let alone the type of stomach ailments you can get from visiting places like Mexico. And although the island was small, it had everything you needed...crystal clear, calm beaches...dry, sunny days most of the year...and the ability to get away from it all and spend some quality time with the one you love. At least that's what I liked most about it.

Direct flights can be found in abundance. We booked our whole trip through CheapCaribbean.com and saved about $500/person over the other travel sites for this particular trip.

Want more pictures? Check out the slide show in the left banner...coming soon.
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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Village Whiskey - If only such a town existed

Ahh the make believe Village of Whiskey. I picture something reminiscent of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory...except with booze. Yes, bourbon would flow down the river, you could pick fresh buttermilk biscuits in the field or help yourself to a Quail drumstick lolly-pop. Pickled vegetables would fill the vegetable gardens, duck-fat-fried french fries would sprout up like wildflowers and mushroom caps, upon closer inspection, would actually be the most beautiful foie gras topped burgers you could imagine.

In reality a place that offers all of these eats and more does exist, and it's called Village Whiskey. It's famed Philly chef Jose Garces' newest hit restaurant in Philly and it's menu reads a lot like my make-believe land, minus the fantasy and magic. Perhaps, however, it could do with a bit more magic...or at least a spit and polish.

I'm not sure if this high-class remake of traditionally low-class food can be classified as a current trend, but it certainly looks that way. Just yesterday I received the latest edition of Garden and Gun magazine (a delightfully unique magazine I might add...that happened to be one of my favorite all-time gifts...thanks Pops and Janet!). This month's "Talk of the South" section featured a section on "The Bourbon Renaissance" and on the adjoining page printed a recipe for "No-Fail Quail". This combination happened to be the exact same thing I ordered when the hubby and I visited Village Whiskey a few weeks back. Coincidence, fad, or simply a match made in heaven? Perhaps all of the above.

To say that Village Whiskey is a small establishment is being kind at best. It's located directly next to Garces' Tinto, and, from what it looked like to me while snooping around on my way to the ladies room, shares a basement kitchen with said Tinto. It looks to me like Garces had an empty space and filled it with a great restaurant concept...that really needs 3 times the space.

The hubby and I tried twice to get a table at Village Whiskey (they don't take reservations). The first time we arrived around 6:30pm on a Friday, only to be told that the wait would be 2 1/2 hours, but we were "welcome to grab a drink and wait". 2 1/2 hours of drinking expensive bourbon!?!? If anyone agreed to that they would inevitably be broke AND trashed by the time they were seated for dinner.

The second time we tried to get in we arrived around 5:45pm and were told it would be a more reasonable 45 mins wait. We gave them our cell phone number and wandered over to a dive bar to kill some time. 45 mins later came and went without a phone call. We wandered back and checked on our table. "Oh, we called you" said the snobby host. "You most certainly did NOT", replied my husband. I can support this statement. We skipped lunch that day and sat, bellies grumbling at the dive bar down the block staring at the cell phone which we placed directly in between the two of us. It did not ring...I can promise you that. "The next open table will be yours" the host replied. Then he recommended that we grab a drink and stand in the back of the restaurant to wait. I'm not sure if I can properly explain exactly how cramped this restaurant is. We squeezed our way towards the back of the restaurant and packed ourselves in like cattle while we perused the menu. Someone asked us if we would like a drink while we were waiting and honestly, I don't think we had enough elbow room to raise a glass to our mouths. We said that we would wait until we were seated, and continued to stand shoulder to shoulder, ass to ass with the other human cattle (some of which were actually trying to enjoy a drink or even a BURGER in that hallway they call a bar). After about 10 minutes a table opened up and the hubby, who was NOT playing around by this time, squeezed his way to the front of the restaurant to be sure we received THAT table.

Once seated we re-perused the menu and decided on some bourbons. I have to say, the selection was impressive...over 50 bourbons and then countless other whiskey varieties. The hubby chose the Basil Hayden (his NOW favorite daily sipping whiskey) and I chose the Kentucky Vintage. Both delicious, but cheap they were not. Each were $14 for a 2 oz serving, BUT, I have to admit, I've never seen such a selection, so we were happy to be able to taste bourbons without having to roll the dice on a whole bottle.

For a starter we shared the Homemade Cheese Puffs. I asked the waitress if they were similar to Gougeres, and after looking a bit confused she said, "no, they're more like puff pastry". When they arrived they were in fact delicious cheesy Gougeres. They were light, fluffy and actually quite a literal interpenetration of "cheese puffs"...who could ask for anything more?

For his main course, the hubby ordered the Whiskey King. This burger has taken Philly by storm and he had been thinking about it since he first heard it mentioned weeks before. It's an 8 oz Angus burger topped with blue cheese, apple-wood smoked bacon and *drum roll* a huge hunk of foie gras. Before he dug in he asked if I would like a smidgen of foie. "YES!" I exclaimed. We both let the foie melt on our tongues, while we made equally silly yummy faces. Wonderful quality foie, wonderful quality burger, WONDERFUL quality bacon (no lie...this bacon was to die for). Unfortunately, that lovely slab of foie gras became utterly lost in the sea of rich beef, pungent blue cheese and smokey bacon. When Nick was done he said how he wished he had eaten the foie gras au-natural before he consumed the burger. Sometimes you CAN have too much of a good thing.

I ordered the Kentucky Fried Quail, which, as I look at the current menu, seems to have disappeared and looks to have been replaced by fried chicken. That's a pity because my quail was wonderful. It was delicate with just the right amount of smokey spice to counter balance the somewhat gamy quality quail can have. It came with a succotash of sorts and a delicious, albeit TINY homemade biscuit. It wasn't a lot of food, but paired with a started and the bacon fat fried french fries we shared it left me satisfied.

When our meal was finished and we were sitting comfortably (finally) at our table we had mixed emotions. The front of house staff was an unfortunate disappointment. Our waitress was ok I suppose, but the host and hostess were, for lack of better terms, snobby, unaccommodating and entirely unapologetic. I suppose they thought that since they were working at one of the new hot-spot restaurants in town they could get away with telling people that they should cram into what should be the restaurant's coat closet to over-pay for a drink while they wait for their table that they should have had an hour ago had the call ever been placed.

On the plus side, the food was amazing and the whiskey was abundant. Not one piece of our meal was over or under cooked...over or under seasoned...over or under pretentious. Garces, it seems, knows his food. I wish, however, his front of house would try to act more like they're in the hospitality industry. But I suppose if the whiskey is flowing and the food is finger licking good, the rest will hopefully fall into place.

Village Whiskey
118 South 20th Street
Philadelphia PA


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