Tuesday, December 31, 2013

St. Petersburg, Russia – August, 2013
After a delicious breakfast at the Maxima Panorama Hotel in Moscow, I took the metro to the train station and boarded the express train for St. Petersburg.  While watching the countryside go by, I ate the croissants and cheese I had taken along from breakfast.  What a pleasant journey.  Arriving at the train station at about 6 p.m., I asked a young lady with a smart phone if she could help me find my hotel.  She was more than helpful!!!  She and two of her friends (all barely speaking English) took me on the bus along Nevsky Prospect where we got off and then walked towards the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, across the river and along the canal to my hotel where the receptionist waited for me!!!  Mosta3 was a delightful boutique hotel so close to everything!!!

I wandered around the canals to get my bearings, stopping at Stolle where I wanted to have breakfast in the morning, by a fruit stand to get some peaches and finally at a Georgian Restaurant where I had a delicious Greek salad with walnuts and some hot Georgian cheese bread for dinner.  Afterwards, walking along the canal back to the hotel I was already enjoying being in St. Petersburg.

In the morning after a lovely walk along the canals I had a small piece of fresh plum pie and coffee at Stolle (www.stolle.ru).  There are only large pies for sale, i.e. cheese, spinach, plum, hackberry which they cut into large or small pieces and if you arrive at 9 a.m. when they just open the pies are still warm!!!  I walked through the little craft market on my way to the Russian Museum and decided I would buy a set of Russian stacked dolls sometime during my stay in St. Petersburg.  The museum was excellent.  Set in the Mikhailovsky Palace erected
from 1819 – 25.   The rooms are still filled with old furniture and wonderful fine art.  There is also a separate folk art collection with gingerbread molds, toys, etc. 

I went inside the famous Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood with its dazzling multi domes, topped with glistening gold crosses and partly modeled on St. Basil’s in Moscow. It was built on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  Inside are 7000 sq. meters of incredible mosaics worked on by over 30 artists. 

I returned to Stolle for a spinach pie and coffee for lunch before walking down Nevsky Pprospect (the main thoroughfare) to Dostoyesvky’s “house”.  He lived there from 1878 until his death in 1881 and composed some of his most notable works in that apartment.  He lived with his second wife Anna who wrote down and corrected his stories and the flat is filled with memorabilia relating to his life and work.  Later I returned to this same area for dinner where I had baked trout with vegetables and Georgian bread at a charming little restaurant called Cat Café.

Huckleberry pie and coffee at Stolle and then to the State Memorial Museum of Leningrad, also called the blockade museum.  It was a very interesting museum about the famous 900-day blockade of Leningrad by Hitler.  Many civilians wasted away from hunger, cold and disease from September 1941 until January 1944.  The only source of supplies to the city was the Road of Life, a rough and remote ice road cut across lake ladoga during the first winter siege.  There are many artifacts and pictures inside to explain the history.  Afterwards I walked across the river to the Peter & Paul Fortress which occupies Hare’s Island.  It contains the Peter & Paul Cathedral erected in 1723 and was St. Petersburg’s first church.  It’s interesting to wander around as there is so much history there.

Lunch nearby at a wonderful outdoor called Café Botanika where I sat on the patio and had a carrot salad with sunflower seeds and cashews and pancakes filled with cheese for lunch.  Afterwards I walked over to St. Issac’s Cathedral called the inkwell because of its boxy shape topped by a single gray dome.  Its massive hall can accommodate 14,000 people and during the 900 day siege its grounds were planted with cabbage.  The interior is breathtaking with columns made of single pieces of granite, floors of different colored marble and never ending frescoes.  Dinner across the river at Zoom, a funky café which doesn’t take reservations.  It is like an old house where you dine in different rooms.  There are children’s books, games and crayons on the shelves, a plate of grapefruit and orange slices on the bar for you to help yourself to when you arrive and delicious food.  I had a beet salad with goat cheese and pistachios and a warm fried potato, chanterelle and onion dish which I had to wait 40 minutes for but which was really good.  I finished off with a homemade oatmeal cookie and then walked back to the hotel.

After breakfast at Stolle I walked to the Hermitage State Museum and Winter Palace, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great.  Its collections comprise over three million items, of which only a small part is on permanent display, including the largest collection of paintings in the world.  I had made a reservation so was able to walk right in without waiting in line which saved a lot of time. The “museum” has a patterned parquet floor, dazzling chandeliers and on the second floor several rooms are filled with furniture from the past when royalty lived there.  As the museum is overwhelming it is important to see the things you love first of all.  I started with the French impressionists, i.e. Cezanne, Picasso, etc. on the third floor, continued with some Rubens, Japanese netsuke, some porcelain from England and finally some primitive art.  After three hours I had to leave….

I looked for a restaurant I had read about near Botanika called the black cat but it had closed awhile ago so I sat outside again at Botanika and had a delicious warm lavash sandwich filled with cheese and tomatoes.  I walked to the Kazan Cathedral, inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which was begun in 1801 and completed in 1811.  The interior, with its numerous columns, echoes the exterior colonnade and is reminiscent of a palatial hall.  The interior features numerous sculptures and icons created by the best Russian artists of the day.  I walked along the canals, stopped at Stolle for a quick spinach pie for dinner and returned to my hotel to change for the ballet!!!  Since the famous Mariinsky Theatre known for its classical ballet company was closed for the summer I bought a ticket to the smaller Hermitage Theatre.  I allowed plenty of time to get to the Theatre even though it seemed only about a ten minute walk from the hotel.  Finding the entrance was rather confusing but once inside it was so beautiful.  The theatre is small and you can sit where you like so I found a seat close to the stage.  I had booked “Red Giselle” but it turned out to be Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  The dancers were superb and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

In the morning it was raining so I decided to go to the Pushkin and save Peterhof for the following day in hopes the weather would improve (it didn’t!!!).  I bought an extra cheese pie for lunch and took the metro to Moscowkaya station and caught a bus to Catherine’s Palace located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin).  I met a very nice Russian lady travelling with her young son and we walked to the palace together.  There was a very long line to visit the palace but it was well worth the wait.  It is a Rococo palace which originated in 1717 when Catherine I of Russia engaged Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to construct a summer palace.  It is 325 meters long and more than 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and numerous statues erected on the roof.  The Amber room is one of the most famous rooms in the palace and has walls lined with amber panels.  The other highlight is the great hall, a grand ballroom, with walls lined with mirrors.  Afterwards I spent about an hour wandering the lovely grounds filled with fountains, statues, etc. before taking the bus and then the metro back to my hotel.  Dinner at Idiot, a fun cozy restaurant filled with antiques and memorabilia from the Soviet era set on the canal.  I had mushroom pancakes for dinner and then cheese pancakes for dessert – both delicious!!!

In the morning it began to rain and rained allll day.  I wanted to take the hydrofoil to Peterhof but the water was too rough and they were not running so I took the bus instead.  I waited in line to visit the great palace built in 1715 by Jean Baptiste Leblond for Peter the Great and sometimes called the Russian Versailles.  It was absolutely magnificent inside.  The wall coverings matched the chairs, the small Chinese room was elegant and wonderous, the study has 14 fantastic carved wood panels, etc.  The uncontested centerpiece is the Grand Cascade, a symphony of over 140 fountains in the lower park where I wandered for about any hour visiting small cottages, baths and even more fountains.  Finally I was soaking wet so took the bus back to the hotel to warm up.

In the evening I walked to Teplo for my last dinner in St. Petersburg and it was an excellent choice.  Set in an old house, the rooms are the dining rooms.  I sat at a comfortable table and had a marinated beet salad with roasted apples and hazelnuts, thin pork medaillons with mushroom cream sauce and cubes of fresh pumpkin, and finished with an apple almond tart for dessert. 

In the morning I took a nice walk along the canals, breakfasted at Stolle and then walked to the Grand Choral Synagogue consecrated in 1893.  It is quite a beautiful building and quite lavish inside.  I walked down to see the Mariinky theatre built in 1859 even though I knew it was closed.  A last delicious lunch at Botanika and then the metro and shuttle bus to the airport where I was able to carry on my bag as I would have a stopover in Vienna.

I arrived in Vienna about 6 p.m. and took the train to the metro and as I alighted there was Hotel Kummer!!  It was a terrific place to stay, near a walking street and near the restaurant where I had chosen to have dinner.  I wandered the streets a bit, visiting a cathedral, walking into some narrow streets and finally ending up at Mini Restaurant for dinner.  I sat outside on the patio and had a delicious piece of salmon on top of arugula mashed potatoes, enjoying the evening.  Afterwards I stopped at Café Ritter for apple strudel and whipped cream as who can leave Vienna without eating a piece of apple strudel.

In the morning I savored the wonderful buffet breakfast of little pastries, hard cooked eggs, fruit, rich coffee, etc.  I picked up some whole grain bread, cheeses and some fruit for the flight home as airplane food is never very good.  And so ended another wonderful trip, thoroughly enjoyed.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Warm Crab and Artichoke Dip
1/4C cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
3/4C (about 4 oz.) crabmeat, well drained
6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp. chopped drained grilled marinated artichokes from a jar
2 Tbsp. sliced scallions
2 Tbsp. diced red or yellow bell pepper
2 Tbsp. diced celery
1/4C fresh corn kernels
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
2 tsp. Sherry wine vinegar
½ tsp. hot pepper sauce

Toasted baguette slices

Preheat oven to 400F.  Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in the crabmeat, ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese, artichokes, scallions, red pepper, celery, corn, basil vinegar and hot pepper sauce gently with a rubber spatula.

Transfer the mixture to a two cup soufflé dish and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese.  Bake until the mixture is warm and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a platter and surround with toasted baguette slices.

MAKES:  1-1/2C

Friday, December 13, 2013

San Francisco/Napa Valley – November, 2013
Near the end of November, I flew up to Oakland, took the bart into San Francisco and checked into the Golden Gate Hotel on Sutter, a cute little bed and breakfast inn with a very friendly cat who wanders in and out of your bedroom!!!  I took a longgg walk down Post, up Hyde and over on Sacramento to have lunch at Spruce which I usually really enjoy.  This time the menu was rather limited and I was a bit disappointed with what I chose… 

Bus to the Legion of Honor to see the watercolors by the famous Swedish master Anders Zorn. There were also a few paintings on display by Matisse which I also enjoyed.  Had a fabulous dinner at Frances, one of my all time favorite restaurants.  It is small but so comfortable and friendly.  I ordered some winter squash with a green sauce, roasted beets with sunflower and sesame seeds and a warm cauliflower panzanella salad with kale and date.  Dessert was a delicious chocolate walnut torte with caramel sauce!

In the morning I rented a car and drove towards the napa valley, stopping at the cornerstone gardens (www.cornerstonegardens.com) in Sonoma.  What an incredible place!!!  There are several unique gardens designed by local architects and landscrape designers and some wonderous galleries and shops selling “big” art!  Definitely worth an hour or two stop!  On to Napa where I wanted to have lunch at Tarla Mediterrean Grill for obvious reasons!!!  “Tarla” means “fields” and the restaurant specializes in Turkish/Mediterrean fare.  I had some hummus/pita bread, a small spinakopia and some baklava.  It was a nice little restaurant but the food was not particularly memorable.  I wandered over to the Oxbow Market nearby and when it started to rain I headed on to Calistoga where I would be staying at Fanny’s (www.FannysNapaValley.com), an adorable bed and breakfast inn, for two nights.  I checked in, found my very sweet room and wandered down the main street of Calistoga, checking out the little shops which were still open.

Dinner that night at Redd in Yountsville where I had only had lunch in the past so I decided to splurge and go for the tasting menu. I was NOT disappointed!!!  It started with creamy sunchoke soup with sunchoke chips, followed by tuna tartare with Asian pears and fried rice, scallops with cauliflower puree, almonds and capers, duck breast with farro, kale and chanterelle mushrooms, Sonoma lamb with couscous and arugula and chocolate mousse cake for dessert!!!

In the morning I took a walk around town before having breakfast at Fanny’s.   Deanna fixed French toast with berries and syrup which was delicious and then I headed out to Napa to visit the Di Rosa Galleries (www.dirosaart.org) where I had booked a guided tour.  There are sculptures and very unique art inside the enormous house and buildings owned by Rene DiRosa as well as outside all over the grounds.  I was so fortunate to be the only one booked for the 10 a.m. tour so we spent almost 3 hours looking at some wonderous things!   Afterwards I drove to St. Helena and had lunch at Cooks on Main Street.  The portabello mushrooms and crescenza cheese on focaccia bread with arugula and theflourless chocolate cake with whipped cream for dessert were both excellent!!!

Driving back to Calistoga I stopped at the Bothe-Napa Valley Park and wandered through the redwoods until it started to get dark and then stopped by the Castel di Amorosa, an authentically styled 13th century Tuscan castle and winery just to have a look around.  You can take a tour of the castle and sample their wines but it was too late to do either one.  I returned to Calistoga to “regroup” and then set out for the Farm in Sonoma (almost next door to di rosa galleries!!!) for a delightful dinner.  The Farm is in the Carneros Inn with high ceilings, a fireplace and fabulous food.  Again I decided on the tasting menu and had:  Mendocino uni with sunflower sprouts, crudo of Hawaiian kampachi with edamame and radish sprouts, lobster nicoise with tomato jam, California squab with toasted farro and slow cooked garden greens, crispy shortrib with truffled salsify, redwood hill goat cheddar with hot pepper jelly and ricotta beignets with persimmon four ways!!!

In the morning Deanna fixed crisp little apple puffs for breakfast and I returned to San Francisco and turned in the car.  Lunch at Prospect, a restaurant owned by Nancy Oakes of Boulevard was wonderful.  I started with kabocha squash hummus with pomegranate seeds and homemade crackers and followed with a prosciutto/eggplant caponata/arugula and burrata cheese platter.  Dessert was a decadent salted chocolate caramel tart with caramel sauce and caramel ice cream!!!  I could barely make it to the De Young Museum after all that food!!!  There was a veery extensive Bulgari exhibition of their jewelry through the ages which also contained some pieces from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor.  Ongoing videos of famous people were shown wearing some of the jewelry on display which was quite interesting to see.  David Hockney’s “big” exhibition was also quite interesting with his large scale, multi-canvas oil paintings and digital movies shot with multiple cameras of the English countryside.

Dinner at Nopa, another of my favorite restaurants, was great fun.  I like to sit upstairs overlooking the kitchen where you can see all the “action”.  I had crisp flatbread topped with tapenade, squash, caramelized onions and crescenza cheese sprinkled with arugula.  Dessert was a chocolate pot of cream with cocoa nib cookies!!!

In the morning I stopped by the Xanadu Galleries on Maiden Lane designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and housing some very fine Asian art.  Lunch at Cologna near Jackson Square was a burrata cheese salad with beets, a crisp slab of freshly made focaccia brad and a “chocolate bar” for dessert.  Bart back to Oakland Airport and a quick flight home.  It was a really great trip.  I saw so many new and wonderful things, tried a few new restaurants, tasted some delicious food and thoroughly enjoyed myself!!!  Until the next time!!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Winter Fruit and Vegetable Salad
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. honey mustard
2 Tbsp. Sherry wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Belgian endives, cut into thin strips
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
½ fennel bulb, stalks cut off and discarded, bulb cored and thinly sliced
½ celery root, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Comice pear, peeled, cored and cut into matchsticks
1C baby arugula
1/2C pea sprouts or micro greens
3 oz. manchego cheese, thinly sliced
1/2C whole almonds, toasted

Mix orange juice, honey, mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a jar and shake well.  Toss the endives, onion, fennel, celery root and pear with dressing to coat.  Add the arugula and pea sprouts and toss again.  Finally add the manchego cheese and almonds.

MAKES:  6 servings

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Silk road – UzbekistanKazakhstan – , Moscow, Russia August, 2013
After breakfast our new little group of 3 plus Dima our intrepid leader drove to Ugam Chatkal National Park not far from Tashkent.  We took a tram up to the top of the trail and walked for almost 6 hours through beautiful fields, up and down rocky paths and over some very difficult trails.  We stopped for lunch partway through the day by a lovely river where we soaked our feet and had bread, cheese, hot tea and snickers bars for energy.  We finally (!!) arrived back at the hotel near the tram where we took showers and relaxed a bit before enjoying a delicious dinner overlooking the meadow.  I had lamb and pork kebabs, beet/carrot/cabbage/potato salad and some very juicy watermelon slices for dessert.  We drove back to Tashkent where we had to leave one of our travelers as her visa had the wrong date for entering Kazakhstan.  She had to fly back to Kyrgyzstan and meet us later in Samara, Russia…We had to get two visas for this part of the trip, i.e. Kazakhstan and Russian, both of which were very expensive.

We boarded the train to Kazakhstan very late and slept the night on the train.  The next afternoon they served us some delicious plov (rice pilaf with carrots) and I had taken some biscuits and cheese from the hotel in Tashkent which served nicely for dinner.  The scenery was rather boring which made for a long trip… Arrived in Amalsk, Kazakhstan late in the evening and transferred to a homestay, a large home with several bedrooms let out to travelers.  I took a hot shower and slept pretty well although it was veryyy hot.

In the morning our “hostess” served us hard cooked eggs and fruit and a guide came by and took us to the ship museum where we saw photos of how the Aral sea use to be when it was filled with water and fish.  Walked to the square – rather small as it is a very small little town and then to the market where fresh bread, fruits, vegetables, etc. were sold.  We picked up a melon for tomorrow when we would go to the Aral Sea.  In the evening our “hostess” prepared a traditional stew.  She cooked some meat until tender, made some fresh pasta sheets and cooked some onions and potatoes.  Everything was layered up on a platter and we ate outside where it was cooler.

In the morning after an early breakfast of delicious pancakes filled with homemade apricot jam we left with a guide to the Aral Sea.
The Aral Sea was once a lake lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world it has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by the Soviet irrigation projects.  The region’s once prosperous fishing industry had been essentially destroyed and the Aral Sea region became heavily polluted.  In 2005 a dam project was completed and, as a result, the water level in the lake has risen, salinity has dropped and fish have started to appear again – all great news.

When we arrived at what is left of the sea we waded in a bit and the water was quite warm and the area was very beautiful.  We sat on an old, overturned boat and ate our fresh melon which was delicious.  Afterwards, we walked over to where some fishing boats were tied up and it looked like they had caught a few fish after all.  They had put out their nets the night before and were gathering in their catch.  One of the fishermen offered to take us for a boat ride and it was delightful.  On our drive back we stopped at some old rusted abandoned ships left when the sea had dried up and took some pictures of camels resting underneath the boats in the shade.  Our “hostess” cooked a nice “farewell” fresh fish dinner for us that night with lots of potatoes – simple but quite tasty.

At 9 p.m. we took the overnight train to Samara, Russia.  In the morning we bought some warm fried potato pies and hard cooked eggs for breakfast.  The scenery changed a bit becoming more lush as we neared Russia.  We had a 40 minute stop and got off the train to stretch our legs and to buy some chicken pies for dinner and about 11 p.m. we arrived in Samara and settled in to our hotel.
Samara is a leading industrial center in the Volga region and known for the production of aerospace launch vehicles.

In the morning we were ALL together again for breakfast.  We took a lovely two hour ferry ride along the Volga River which is the longest river in Europe and across to the village of Shiryaevo where a guide met us.  We toured some deep caves and then visited the Repin Museum where the famous Russian artist Ilya Repin lived for two years and created some very famous paintings, one of which (“Barge Haulers on the Volga”) I saw later in the Russian museum in St. Petersburg!!!  Some of the reproductions of his paintings are in the museum.  As it was his 100th birthday celebration there was a wonderful show outside the museum with Russian performers singing, playing Russian musical instruments and dancing traditional dances in costume.   It started to rain so we found a little restaurant nearby and shared some delicious plov (what else!!!), and cucumber, tomato salad until the rain stopped.  We had planned to take a walk but it was too muddy so we took the fast boat back to the “mainland”. 

The weather turned sunny again and we strolled along the sandy beach along the river and back to the hotel.  Later we walked to a cozy brewery for dinner…

In the morning I walked down to the Volga river before breakfast.  About 10:30 we walked to the Stalin Bunker built during WWII for Stalin and his “men” seventeen floors down with oxygen, water and food at the ready if Hitler were to attack Moscow.  A guide explained that it was built in nine months by a team of 800 engineers and 2900 workers but, interestingly enough, was never used.  We wandered around the old city taking pictures of old houses, interesting doors, people, etc. and then had lunch at a cute little restaurant.  Dima and I shared a potato/herring/beet salad and cheese pancakes which I am getting addicted to!!!  I stopped by the beautiful Iversky Women’s Monastery founded in 1850 but there was no one available to give me a tour.  Overnight train to Moscow!!!

We arrived in the morning and took the metro to the hotel.  The metro stations are really beautiful and so convenient to use.  We stayed at the Cosmos Hotel which was really enormous and fairly centrally located.  As we hadn’t had breakfast as yet Dima took us to an adorable café near the exhibition center and I had Greek salad and some delicious cheese filled pancakes. 

We took the metro to the Red Square where we met our guide and she took us through several churches and cathedrals within the Kremlin.  We walked to the Kutafya tower, up the ramp and through the Kremlin walls beneath the Trinity Gate Tower.  We started in the church of the Twelve Apostles with its five domes and wonderful collection of icons, on to the Assumption Cathedral with five golden helmet domes, the burial place of most of the Russian Orthodox churches.  Inside is a tent-roofed wooden throne made in 1551 for Ivan the Terrible.  Nearby is the Ivan the Terrible Bell Tower, the Kremlin’s tallest structure and a Moscow landmark visible from 30 km away.  Beside the bell tower is the Tsar Bell, the world’s biggest bell.  Sadly, this 202 ton giant never rang.  North of the bell tower is the Tsar Cannon, cast in 1586 for Fyodor I, whose portrait is on the barrel.  It was never shot.  On to the Archangel Cathedral dedicated to Archangel Michael, guardian of Moscow’s princes where Ivan the Terrible and his sons are buried.   Finally, the Annunication Cathedral containing the celebrated icons of master painter Theophanes the Greek.  Afterwards we spent about two hours in the fascinating Armoury with it opulent collection of treasures accumulated over centuries by the Russian state and Church.  There were renowned eggs made from precious metals and jewels by Faberge, royal regalia containing the joint coronation throne of boy tsars Peter the Great and his half-brother, Ivan V, coaches and dresses and crowns worn by Elizabeth and Catherine the great, etc. There was so much to see it was exhausting!!!  Dima met us afterwards and we walked to a “typical” cafeteria where the locals ate dinner.  I chose spinach pancake/kasha/cabbage and cucumber salad and an almond paste cornet (mandelhornchen) which I remember loving when I lived in Germany.  We wandered the walking street before returning to the hotel…

In the morning we visited Lenin’s tomb in Red Square.   Lenin died in 1924 and pathologist Abrikosov had embalmed the body soon after Lenin’s death and he was first placed in a wooden coffin.  However, in 1929 it was determined possible to preserve the body much longer than usual and the next year a new Mausoleum of marble and granite was completed to house the newly embalmed Lenin.  More than 10 million people visited Lenin’s tomb between 1924 and 1972.  Afterwards we walked into the enormous GUM shopping mall with its beautiful glass dome, filled with cafes, restaurants and shops selling fashionable brand names.  On to St. Basil’s Cathedral built from 1555 – 61 and shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky.  Inside is a labyrinth of narrow vaulted corridors and walls covered with breathtaking murals.

With the afternoon free, I walked across the Moscow river to the Tretyakov gallery considered the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world.  It is filled with paintings, portraits of famous Russians, sculptures and drawings.  Lunch around the corner at a little outdoor café of crepes filled with cheese and an espresso before strolling along the river to Gorky Park.  The park has lots of interesting outdoor sculptures and is a pleasant place to sit and relax.

Later in the early evening we all met at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guards and then set off for dinner.  Dima chose a cozy restaurant for us where we dined in the cellar and there were some great minstrels playing as we shared potato pancakes, pickled mushrooms, several salads.  One of the travelers picked up the tab for all which was a really nice gesture for our last night together – how time does fly!

After breakfast I transferred to my new hotel Maxima Panorma and walked DIRECTLY into the hotel from the metro – so veryy convenient.  Next I visited the Novodevichy convent and cemetery founded in 1524 as a haven for wayward wives, sisters and daughters.  Peter the great deposed his half-sister Sofia and confined her to this convent for life along with his first wife!!!   There are several interesting buildings inside the convent walls, the oldest and most dominant of which is the white Smolensk Cathedral filled with beautiful frescoes and icons from the time of Boris Godunov.  Adjacent to the convent the Novedvichy Cemetery is among Moscow’s most prestigious resting places – a veritable “who’s who” of Russian politics and culture.  It is beautifully laid out and quite pleasant to wander among the tombstones.

I had planned to visit the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum but was told there were only replicas of fine art inside.  So, I visited the Museum of Private Collections next door instead and there was a fabulous exhibition of 19 and 20th century European art.  I was determined to have lunch (even though it would be a late one!!) at the elegant Café Pushkin (www.cafe-pushkin.ru) set in a lovely 19th century building with a different atmosphere on each floor, including a richly decorated library.  I “dined” downstairs by the window and had the most delicious (and most expensive!) slightly warm cheese stuffed pancakes yet, this time served with hot fruit – yum!!!  I wandered on down the lovely little tree-lined Tverskoy street and stepped into Nedalny Vostok Restaurant which I had heard was excellent.  It looked wonderful so I decided to come back later for dinner.

Although the famous Bolshoi theatre, a landmark of Moscow and Russia, was closed for the season I wanted to see it anyway so walked down Tverskaya Street, one of the main shopping streets in Moscow to have a look. I did return to Nedalny Vostok which was a cozy wood lined “café” with fresh fish, fruits and vegetables on display as well as an open kitchen.  There were three stations serving different cuisines, i.e. Japanese, Chinese and Fusion.  The Australian chef was not there so I tried to explain that I was a chef from California and just wanted to try a few dishes.  They were soo very nice.  They sat me down at a nice table, gave me a menu and then brought me first a crab salad, followed by delicious crunchy spicy shrimp with crisp noodles and finally a perfectly cooked filet of fresh fish with an olive, tomato and red onion sauce.  When I tried to pay they said it was complimentary and thanks for coming!!!  I couldn’t believe my good fortune – a perfect ending to my stay in Moscow as that was my very last night…

In the morning I walked around my new neighborhood before having a wonderful breakfast at the hotel.  I took along some croissants and cheese for my train ride to St. Petersburg and easily found my way to the train station, thanks to the wonderful directions given to me by Dima.  I took the express train which only took 4 hours, had a lovely window seat and thoroughly enjoyed travelling through villages, seeing the lovely countryside and watching the Russian people going through their daily lives...  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chocolate Almond Cake
½ lb. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut into pieces
8 large eggs, separated
1-1/4C sugar
3/4C toasted almonds
1 Tbsp. amaretto or water

sifted powdered sugar
1/2C cream beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste

Preheat oven to 325F.  Butter a 10-inch spring form pan and line with parchment paper.  Butter the paper.  Grind the almonds with two tablespoons of the sugar and set aside.  Melt the chocolate and butter in a pan set over simmering water until melted.  Let cool slightly.  Beat yolks and ¾ cup sugar until thick.  Add the chocolate mixture and liqueur to the yolk mixture.

Beat the whites until soft peaks form.  Add remaining sugar and beat until almost stiff peaks.  Fold nut mixture and whites, alternately, into the chocolate mixture.  Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake until firm around the edges – about 55 minutes. Let cool.  Run a knife around the edges of the cake pan to let the cake fall evenly.  Remove the sides of the pan and let cool.

Transfer cake to a serving platter off the parchment, dust with sifted powdered sugar, slice and serve with whipped cream.

MAKES:  8 – 10 servings

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Goat cheese topped with warm apricot, cherry and chili chutney
8 oz. log goat cheese

2-1/2C dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1-1/2C apple cider vinegar
1-1/2C sugar
1C chopped roasted, peeled poblano chilies
1/2C dried sweet cherries
1/2C chopped red onion
1 cinnamon stick (3 inches)
1-1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
Italian parsley sprigs (garnish)


Combine all ingredients except Italian parsley leaves in a 3-quart pan and bring to a boil.  Turn heat to medium, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens – about 20 minutes.  Uncover and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated – about 5 minutes more.  Let cool, discard cinnamon stick and stir in Italian parsley leaves.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Place goat cheese in a glass dish and heat 5 minutes until just warm.  Transfer goat cheese to a platter and spoon some of the chutney on top.  Surround with crackers and garnish with Italian parsley sprigs.
MAKES:  8 – 10 servings

Friday, November 1, 2013

Silk Road – Uzbekistan – July/August 2013
Our intrepid group flew from Bishtek, Kyrgzstan to Tashkent, Uzbekistan to continue the rest of the silk road journey.  Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and the largest city in central asia.  It gained its independence from Russia in 1991 and is noted for its tree lined streets and numerous fountains.  We stayed at the elegant Hotel Uzbekistan which was centrally located and close to the metro station.  The metro stations are very modern with beautiful Islamic themes.  We took a walk to the square nearby looking for a restaurant but it was late so there wasn’t much available.

In the morning I took a walk across the street to the enormous Amir Timur statute (he was a famous or perhaps infamous conqueror) before enjoying a delicious breakfast of spicy chickpeas, little rolls with cream cheese, eggs, cucumbers, etc. etc.  Our guide met us afterwards for a walking tour of Tashkent before it got too hot.  Most days it was about 110F!!!  We walked to the Independence Square to see the crying mother statue, constructed in 1999 to honor the 400,000 uzbek soldiers who died in WWII.  We also changed money which resulted in large packets of Uzebek som (2600 to $1).  Most of the notes were 100 som so it took wads of money to buy anything.  On to the Chorsu Bazaar filled with fruits, vegetables, warm breads, clothes, etc. and then into the old city with its mud brick houses.  We finally arrived at the Khast Imam square which contains a complex of mosques, the mausoleum of St. Kaffal Shaski, etc.  The buildings have been artfully restored with their turquoise domes and beautiful tile facades. 

Later in the afternoon my roommate and I walked to the Uzbek state museum of fine arts which had many beautiful examples of suzani embroidery.  Lunch at a little Mediterranean restaurant and then a metro ride to see the 1230 foot high TV tower (the eighth highest in the world).  Dinner was a little chicken potato pie and tea…

Early breakfast and then a 4 hour train ride to Samarkand, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.  Our hotel was in the old section near the bazaar.  Jolie took us on an orientation walk past the Registan, an enormous plaza with turquoise domed buildings all around – it used to be a meeting place along the silk road where goods were exchanged and travelers stayed.  Samarkand sat in a central position on the silk road between China and the West and in 1221 it was destroyed by Genghis Khan.  Timur (Tamerlane) made it his capital in 1370 and his grandson Ulugbek ruled until 1449.  Many of the buildings were also destroyed in the 18th century from earthquakes but most have been restored by UNESCO.  Lunch on one of the little streets – tomato/cucumber/onion salad and rice pilaf with carrots.  A few of us continued on to Tashkent Street, the main street in town to shop and then stopped for coffee and soft serve ice cream at a little outdoor café.  Inside was a very eclectic shop with unique art.  I bought a “belt” embroidered with little white buttons that I liked and then we wandered around the bazaar where they sold all sorts of nut candy and nougat, fruits, vegetables, etc. 

Once it cooled down a bit in the evening a guide took us to the Gur-E-Amir (Persian for “Tomb of the King”) Mausoleum where Timur, two sons and two grandsons lie beneath this beautifully restored building.  It is famous for its simplicity of construction crowned by a bright blue fluted dome.  Afterwards we stopped for dinner nearby.

In the morning I took a walk to the Registan and leisurely wandered around.  Our guide met us after breakfast and we walked through the farmer’s market to Bibi-Khanym Mosque, once one of the Islamic world’s biggest mosques.  It has slowly crumbled over the years and partially collapsed in the 1897 earthquake.  The interior courtyard contains an enormous marble Quran stand.  Legend says that Bibi, Timur’s Chinese wife ordered the mosque built while he was away.  Her own compact 14th century mausoleum across the street is rather drab in comparison.  On to Shah-I-Zinda, a stunning avenue of mausoleums which contain some of the richest tilework in the muslim world.  The name which means tomb of the living king, refers to its original holiest shrine – the grave of Kusam-Ibn-Abbas, a cousin of the prophet Mohammed.  Next we visited the Registan, an ensemble of three majestic, tiled madrasahs (Islamic schools).  It was medieval Samarkand’s commercial center and the plaza was probably a wall to wall bazaar.  The three great edifices here are among the world’s oldest preserved madrasahs; anything older having been destroyed by Genghis Khan.  Afterwards I returned to the restaurant where we had dinner last night and shared rice pilaf with our intrepid guide.  We picked up a watermelon and shared it with some of the other travelers later for “dinner”.

In the morning after breakfast of some freshly baked flatbread and homemade jam we drove to Shakhrisaby, the birth place of Tamerlane.  We arrived at our home stay and divided up into the available rooms.  Even though it was verry hot we walked to the bazaar, stopping for some soft serve ice cream along the way.  Later in the afternoon we visited the Ak-saray palace built by Tamerlane and took 20 years to finish and a large statue of him as well.  Today only the entrance portals still stand in fine mosaic but even so it is very impressive in ruins.  There was a very old ferris wheel nearby which we rode on verrryyy slowllly…

About 6 p.m. our hostess began preparing “plov” (rice pilaf with carrots) in the courtyard using a cauldron placed over a wood fired stove.  We all took turns stirring the vegetables, adding the rice, etc. and finally covering the pot to let it simmer for 30 minutes.  It was delicious!!  She had added several whole heads of garlic which she squeezed into the rice for extra flavor.

In the morning we walked to Timor’s tomb and the tomb of his favorite son before heading to Bukhara, which was a part of the Persian Empire for a long time, about 5 hours away.  Walked across the street for a delicious lunch of lamb kebabs and cabbage/carrot/cucumber salad and then wandered around the city.  Walking tour later in the afternoon started in Lyab-I Hauz, a plaza built around a pond in 1620 where there is great bronze statue of Hoja Nasuddin “wise fool”.  On the east side is the Nadir Divanbegi Madrasha, built as a caravanserai and on the west side is Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka, a lodging house both with beautiful tile facades.  Walked through gates and passed by many other mosques and beautiful buildings, some of which now sell rugs and handicrafts inside.  The tour ended at the jewelry bazaar and after picking up an ice cream for dinner I turned in for the night.

In the morning we walked to the Kalon Minaret, almost 150 feet high with 14 ornamental bands – all different.  It was known as the Tower of Death, as for centuries criminals were executed by being hurled off the top.  On to the Kalon Mosque which is said to hold 10,000 people.  Its roof looks flat but actually consists of 288 domes. 

We also visited the Ark, a royal town within a town.  It was initially built and occupied around the 5th century AD and many times constructed and many times destroyed.  In 1920 it was greatly damaged by the Bolsheviks which left a large part of the structure in ruins.  It is now a museum with a vast reception and coronation court, open air royal stables, robes worn by the emir, etc.

Later in the afternoon I stopped by the carpet museum located in the very old Magok-I Attari mosque.  Inside were some fine examples of Uzbek, Turkmen, Kazkh, etc. rugs and pocket bags which drape over horses’ backs.  The Fine Arts Museum was also very interesting with many fine paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Finally, I decided to seek out the Jewish Cemetery and did actually find it!!  After walking through the domed building topped with a star of David, I found the cemetery filled with very old tombs – so old that they looked just like stones.  Farther away were the more recent ones all rather jumbled together…In the evening we saw a cultural show in one of the Madrashas but it was rather lame and the dinner included was so bad that after the show I walked back to the restaurant where we had had the delicious lamb kebabs and had dinner there!!  Walked around the pond one last time as we would be leaving for Tashkent in the morning….

The train to Tashkent took all day and we arrived in time to shower and say good-bye to some of our fellow travelers.  The remainder of us had dinner at a nearby Russian restaurant to prepare us for the next part of our adventure.  As it was Rick’s birthday our guide had brought a delicious cake for us to share.  That evening and for the remainder of the trip I had a room to myself!!!  Heaven!!!

The next day was a free day and I took the metro to the applied Arts Museum set in an old residential house.  There were some beautiful jewelry, old wall hangings, fabric paintings, etc.  I stopped by the bazaar again so I could really take my time wandering through the spice and vegetable sections and then back through the old city and the area where our guide had taken us before.  This time I could spend as long as I wanted savoring the beauty of the Madrashas covered in mosaics topped by elegant domes, etc. 

In the evening we met our new guide Dima who is from St. Petersburg and he would be leading us through Kazahkstan to Moscow.  There are only four of us (including Dima) continuing on and we had dinner together at Sim Sim where there was live music and great food.  We shared Greek salad, beet and cabbage salad, bread, pork, lamb and beef kebabs, eggplant/mushroom kebabs which was really fun.  And so the adventure continues….

Monday, October 28, 2013

Roasted Pepper Rolls filled with goat cheese
4 red peppers (or orange or yellow), ends removed, cut down one side
  to open, veins and seeds removed, roasted flat, peeled
5 oz. goat cheese, soft
10 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
freshly ground pepper

Whip the goat cheese until fluffy.  Add the olives and pepper.  Lay the peppers out flat and spread each with ¼ of the goat cheese mixture.  Tightly roll up like a jelly roll.

Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and chill until firm – about one hour.  Remove plastic wrap and slice into three-fourth-inch rounds.  Serve with toothpicks stuck through the colored part of the pepper.

MAKES:  6 - 8 servings

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Bisque with crème fraiche
2 red peppers, seeded and chopped
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 razor-thin lemon slices
3 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (2 Tbsp., 1 Tbsp.)
1 bay leaf
half jalapeno pepper, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp. olive oil (2 Tbsp., 2 Tbsp.)
2 slices stale French bread, broken up, toasted until brown and dry
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3C canned tomatoes in juice
3C chicken stock
1C dry white or red wine
1/4C crème fraiche, thinned if necessary with 1 or 2 Tbsp. cream
6 basil leaves, thinly sliced (garnish)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Arrange peppers, onions, garlic and lemon in a roasting pan.  Season with the thyme, bay leaf, jalapeno, salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle the vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the oil over the vegetables.  Roast for 25 - 30 minutes until they start to brown.

Put the bread and roasted vegetable mixture into a large pot with one tablespoon thyme, rosemary, 2 tablespoons olive oil, tomatoes, stock and wine.  Cook over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken.  Remove from the heat and puree in a blender at high speed.  Strain if desired through a sieve.

Season with salt and pepper and garnish with a swirl of thinned crème fraiche and fresh basil slices.
MAKES:  6 servings

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Silk Road – Kyrgyzstan – July, 2013
Leaving Kashgar behind, we crossed the gorgeous Torugart Pass high in the tian shan mountains into Kyrgyzstan which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  The little potstickers and mooncakes from breakfast were a delicious lunch and we drove for many hours through gorgeous landscape to the Tash Rabat Yurt Camp.  After so much heat it was amazing to feel cold for a change and I was happy to have my long underwear and parka with me!!!   We older women shared one yurt (traditional round house of the nomandic herdsmen) and the younger ones another which worked very well for all of us.  I took a walk around the camp along a stream and out into the meadows – so fresh and clear out.   We all met in another yurt for dinner of noodles and vegetables, cabbage and potatoes.  After cleaning up a bit in the cold water, I climbed into my cot piled with extra blankets.  A fire had been lit in the wood stove in our tent and it was nice and cozy inside…

In the morning after a delicious breakfast of homemade crepes and jam we walked to the well-preserved 15th century stone caravanserai where the travelers along the silk road slept, rested, traded and tended their camels.  Stopped for lunch of delicious omelette wrapped beef rolls filled with mushrooms and kasha before heading on to Song Kol lake, hiking up to a beautiful waterfall along the way.  En route to our next yurt camp we passed little furry marmonts, wild horses and incredible mountain scenery.  Before dinner I wandered down to the lake and it was so peaceful and quiet…Little smoked white fish and soup for dinner and then into our tent where we slept on mats this time.  I got up in the night and went outside to see the wonderous sky filled with stars – it was breathtakingly beautiful.

After fry bread and fried eggs for breakfast I walked down to the lake passing horses grazing nearby and then we were on the road again.  We stopped in Kochkor to see how felt was made and I bought a felt wall hanging which depicted camels and a yurt tent reminding me of the silk road.  There was also a very interesting museum nearby filled with old instruments, clothes, kitchen utensils, etc. and then we stopped for lunch, i.e. lentil soup, grated carrots salad and juicy watermelon which I have truly come to love.  We arrived in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, later in the afternoon.  Some of the travelers went out “clubbing” but I decided to take a walk into the “town” and enjoy a quiet evening on my own…

After a leisurely breakfast by the pool we stopped by the Uzbekistan embassy to drop off passports to get our visas.  We took a 2 hour walking tour of the city filled with lovely plazas, parks, statues, flowers, fountains and open spaces.  Went inside the 5-story Tsum department store filled with electronics, cell phones, perfume, etc. and then to a bustling open air market selling dried fruits, spices, clothes, etc.  I bought some delicious dried apricots to eat along the way.  Lunch at a Turkish restaurant for a change was delicious, i.e. platters of lamb kebabs, rice, peppers, roast tomatoes, eggplant and warm crisp flatbread.  We then drove out of town to the Burana tower which is like a minaret and climbed inside up to the top for a nice view.  There were also some very interesting totem grave stones around the site.  On we drove through little towns with small horses grazing in the meadows – such beautiful countryside, arriving at our home stay in the Chong Komin Park in the late afternoon. Dinner in the large dining room was grated carrot and cabbage salad, lamb stew, potatoes, tomatoes and breads.  Afterwards, our hostess sang as she strummed a traditional guitar type instrument which we all enjoyed.  Took a nice hot shower before turning in for the night…

In the morning after breakfast we hiked into the Chong Kemin park which was lovely, especially as it had rained the night before.  We stopped in a meadow for a picnic of crisp meat pies, tomatoes, cucumbers, dried apricots and nuts.  When we returned to the home stay I took a leisurely walk around the little “town” before dinner of kasha, carrot salad and melon. 

After breakfast we drove to Cholpen Ata and took a veery rocky walk down to the Issyk Kul lake.  It is one of the biggest natural water lake “reservoirs” in the world and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea.  Afterwards we had a delicious lunch of rice pilaf, duck, tomato/cucumber/onion salad, cookies and tea before walking to fairy canyon and into its sandstone hills which reminded me somewhat of Sedona.  Dinner that night at the yurt camp was deliciously tender fresh water smoked salmon from the lake, boiled potatoes and onions.  It rained pretty heavily during the night and some of the tents (luckily not ours!!!) leaked!!!

After delicious thin pancakes with local honey and melon for breakfast we drove out towards Karakol, stopping to walk in the Jeti-Oghuz valley surrounded by pine trees and mountains.  Had lunch of kasha, peppers and onions, beef stroganoff, chicken with vegetables and bread along the way.  Stopped by the holy trinity Russian Orthodox cathedral made of wood and then the Dungan mosque built in the Chinese style and on to the village of Pristan Prehevalsk where we visited an interesting museum and memorial to Russian explorer/geographer Nikolai Przewalski who died young of thyphus on one of his expeditions.  Stayed in Cholpen Ata for the night.

Stopped by the “stone gardens” in the morning to see the petroglyphs, rocks on which the people of the time carved shapes such as hunters tracking snow leopards, camels, chariots, long horned ibez, etc. dating from the bronze age.  The art of stone inscriptions gradually disappeared, with the spread of Islam in Central Asia, which restricted images of animals and human beings.  However, many of the forms used in these petroglyphs are seen in Kyrgyz felt carpets and other forms of traditional arts and crafts.  Stopped in an elegant restaurant near a lake and had steamed meat buns, stir fry beef with peppers and onions and French fries!!!  Picked up our Uzbekistan visas in Bishkek and then took an evening flight to Tashkent…Our guide and driver were terrific!!!  I will miss them both.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Silk Road – china – July, 2013
I arrived in Beijing, China on Wednesday morning, July 3 and took the metro to Guloudajie and from there easily walked to the Bamboo Garden Hotel (www.bbgh.com.cn) where I had stayed in 2008.  It is a charming hotel with a delightful courtyard and all the rooms are decorated in the traditional Chinese fashion.  The breakfast buffet is delicious, especially the noodles with vegetables and the fresh litchi which put you right in the Asian mood.

Afterwards I took a walk around Hou Hai lake, through some hutongs and little alleyways to the residence of Song Qingling Guju, a very powerful and influential woman.  On to the Bei Hai Park, visiting Prince Qong’s Mansion, one of the most exquisite and best preserved imperial mansions in Beijing along the way. 

My last stop of the day was the Temple of Heaven considered a masterpiece of architecture.  Several features of the temple complex symbolize the connection of heaven (circle) and earth (square) and all of the buildings within the temple have special dark blue roof tiles, representing the heavens.  Dinner that night at the Black Sesame Kitchen (www.blacksesamekitchen.com), rated #1 by Tripadvisor, was very special.   Luckily, I had reserved my “seat” at a long wooden communal table several months in advance.  23 international diners feasted on 10 courses of pork and pumpkin potstickers, sweet potato chips, roasted shiitake mushrooms, pork and red pepper stir fry, eggplant with cilantro, pork belly, etc. ending with black sesame ice cream and caramelized bananas.  There was also a mirror where we could watch the chefs cook if we liked.  It was great fun and the food was delicious.

After breakfast I took a boat to the summer palace and visited the beautiful temple of longevity, walked the famous corridor along lake kumming and stopped along the way to visit several pavilions which looked particularly interesting.  On across the marble bridge I walked and out the gate to the metro stop and back to the center.  Dinner was at No Name Restaurant near the hutongs and river nearby.  I had an interesting chrysanthemum/carrot salad and some crisp eggplant, peppers and onions for dinner and just wandered around enjoying the nightlife filled with music and dancing. 

In the morning I walked to the Lama Temple, formerly an imperial palace.  It was converted into a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and its many halls each contain enormous statues of different buddhas. I checked into my new hotel where our intrepid trip would start that night and then visited the Capital Museum filled with Chinese culture.  Our meeting started at 6 p.m. and our guide Jolie from Russia spoke fluent Chinese and Russian which was very helpful!!!  There were 12 of us and we all enjoyed a Chinese meal out together which included some delicious Peking duck!!!

After breakfast we drove 2 hours to the Mutianyu side of the great wall, built of granite in the mid 6th century.  A few of us walked from the parking lot up to where the wall began and then turned right to walk the part still in ruins and overgrown with grass before turning back and walking through the watchtowers along the part of the wall most travelled.  I have walked this wall a couple times before but it is always a breathtaking experience nevertheless.  This time I took the speed chute down which was great fun!!! 

When we returned to town I stopped nearby for some delicious noodles with baby bok choy and later took the metro and then walked about 20 minutes to the Liyuan Theatre where I had reserved a ticket for the Peking Opera.  The opera started with an actor on stage putting on his makeup and is then dressed as a woman plays a traditional Chinese string instrument.  Afterwards the actors perform with elaborate costumes and traditional Chinese music – I found it wonderful!!!  When it ended, I took the metro to the street with red lanterns and had a tasty eggplant in hot pot dish for dinner at an outside restaurant – what a terrific day!!! 

In the morning, we had a great tour of the forbidden city, the Chinese imperial palace which served as the home of emperors and their households for almost 500 years.  It is filled with halls, palaces and wonderful collections, i.e. timepieces, ceramics, paintings, etc.  Afterwards we took the metro to 798 which is the funky artist area and wandered through the shops and galleries.  Lunch at a little café was a very good caprice salad.  Overnight train to Xian.

We arrived early in Xian and several of us shared a cab to the tomb of emperor Jingdi which is still intact and visited the man-made necropolis nearby.  I wandered around the Muslim quarter later in the afternoon and in the evening we took a bus to see the dancing fountains and music show in front of the goose pagoda which was beautiful.

In the morning, we took a local bus to the terracotta warriors discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well.  There are approximately 8,000 clay figures, depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China including chariots and horses all lined up in battle formation.  The figures are life sized and were originally painted with bright pigments.  There is also a nice museum nearby where you can see a few individual figures and chariots in more detail than in the 3 pits.  Afterwards we had a delicious Chinese lunch nearby.  Later in the afternoon I walked back to the muslin quarter bustling with activity and then visited the old folk house of a diplomat where there was a shadow puppet show with traditional music in the background.  Overnight train to Turpan and the beginning of the silk road going west towards the Gobi desert.  It was the route used by Marco Polo and traders between east and west.

Arrived after two nights and a full day on the train.  Had one meal in the dining which was fun…Next to our hotel was a little café called John’s where they served scrambled eggs on toast – a really nice change from the Chinese noodles we had been having for breakfast.  Headed out to the ancient city of Jiaohe and wandered through the remains of courtyards, monasteries, etc. dating back to the Han dynasty.  On to the 2,000 year old Karez irrigation system.  Turpan’s water system was made up of a horizontal series of vertically dug wells linked by underground water canals to collect water runoff from the Tian Shan mountains.  Ample water was crucial to the oasis city of Turpan and to the caravans passing through on the silk route.

We had lunch outside at a new hotel sitting at low tables and eating delicious thin spicy noodles, morning glory, chicken skewers, etc.  On to the flaming mountain made of red sandstone which glows red from the heat.  We visited the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, once an important Buddhist worship area.  There are about 70 rock cut caves filled with murals but most of the murals have either been severely damaged by the Muslim population or removed by German explorer Albert von le coq and sent to Germany.  Our final stop was the Emin Minaret, a beautiful circular tower built out of mud brick.  Later that night we walked to the night market and sat outside and had street food, i.e. flatbread, grilled mushrooms, quail eggs, eggplant and chicken for dinner.  As it was still Ramadan the Muslims couldn’t eat until the sun goes down so it was about 9:30 p.m. by the time we had dinner.

I took a walk in the morning and picked up a large warm flatbread which we all shared for breakfast before boarding our train for Kashgar.  I shared a little two bunk compartment with one of our travelers and it was so nice and quiet!!!  Scenery was lovely, i.e. from the flat desert to grasslands, beautiful rivers and streams.  I had picked up bread, fruit, figs and cookies and that served me well throughout the trip.  We arrived in Kashgar around noon and, after settling into our hotel, went nearby for lunch.  A couple of us shared the famous meat flatbread pie and morning glory before we met our guide who took us into the old part of town along stalls selling clothes, bread cooked in tandoori ovens, fruits and vegetables, dumplings, etc.  We went inside the modest Id Kah mosque and then had a free afternoon.  I wandered around the old city which is being torn down to make way for the new.  People are being displaced and it seems rather sad…That evening my roommate and I walked back to the market and picked up some delicious street food, i.e. lamb pies, noodles, chickpeas, cabbage salads, etc. for dinner which we ate in our room. 

In the morning after a wonderful breakfast of pastries, eggs, Chinese food, melons, etc. we visited the tomb of Abakh Hoja, a powerful ruler before visiting the animal market.  The market was filled with goats, sheep, horses, chickens, etc. all for sale, some being sheared, some tied together in bunches – it was really fascinating!!!  We had delicious spicy noodles for lunch at a nearby restaurant and then wandered around the Sunday market which sold EVERYTHING!!!  We bought a melon to share for dinner which was juicy and just enough after our hearty lunch.

I picked up some pastries and fruit from the breakfast buffet for the long ride to the Kyrgystan border and a new country…. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fresh fig Pizzas
2 Trader Joe’s pizza dough rounds, cut in half
one jar fig jam
1 lb. fresh figs, thinly sliced
8 slices prosciutto
½ lb. crumbled blue cheese

Form pizza dough rounds into small tight balls, using flour as necessary to keep them from sticking and place on a cutting board dusted with flour.  Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for one hour.

Preheat two pizza stones or cookie sheets in a 500F oven for 30 minutes.  Roll pizza dough into thin 8-inch rounds, using flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.  Place rounds on hot cookie sheets and bake 3 – 4 minutes on each side to crisp.  Remove from the oven and roll out thinner with a rolling pin while hot.  Return to the oven for 3 – 4 minutes to crisp up.  Just before serving, spread each with half of the fig jam, top each with two prosciutto slices, arrange fresh fig slices on top and sprinkle with blue cheese. 

Reduce heat to 450F.  Return rounds to the hot cookie sheets and bake 5 – 6 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the figs are caramelized.  Cut each round into 8 slices and serve.
MAKES:  8 servings

Baby Arugula option
2C baby arugula

3 – 4 minutes before the pizzas are done sprinkle each with 1/2C baby arugula and return to the oven to lightly heat the arugula.  Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper, cut in slices and serve.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Butterscotch Pudding
1/2C sugar
2 – 3 Tbsp. water

1/2C cream
1-1/2C whole milk
2 yolks
1 egg
1/4C cornstarch
½ tsp. vanilla

1/2C cream beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste

Bring sugar and water to a boil in small pan without stirring and boil until caramelized.  Remove the pan from the heat and allow the sugar to cool slightly.  Meanwhile heat the cream and milk.  Add the cream/milk mixture to the caramel and cook on slow heat, whisking until the caramel has dissolved.

Whisk the yolks, egg and cornstarch together in a bowl.  Add half of the cream/milk mixture to the yolk mixture, whisking to combine.  Return the mixture to the pan with the remaining cream/milk mixture and heat until thickened, stirring constantly.  Pour the pudding mixture through a sieve and let cool slightly.  Add the vanilla and divide among 4 to 6 small ramekins.  Press a piece of plastic wrap onto each ramekin to prevent to puddings from forming a crust and chill 1 – 2 hours.  Serve with whipped cream

MAKES:  4 – 6 servings

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Roasted Beet and Quinoa Salad
3 – 4 medium beets, greens cut off, leaving 2 inches
1/2C red quinoa
1C chicken stock
3C greens or arugula
1/2C hazelnuts, roasted, shells rubbed off, coarsely chopped
4 oz. feta cheese, cut into small cubes

3 Tbsp. pear vinegar
1 Tbsp. sherry wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey mustard
salt and pepper to taste
6 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350F.  Wrap each beet in foil, place on a cookie sheet and roast until tender – about 50 minutes.  Unwrap, let cool, peel and cut into wedges.

Sauté quinoa 2 – 3 minutes in a dry pan until lightly toasted, add the stock and bring to a simmer.  Cover and simmer 15 minutes or until tender.  Drain off any excess liquid.

Toss the greens with vinaigrette to coat.  Add the quinoa and toss again.  Add the hazelnuts and finely the feta, tossing lightly.  Toss the beet wedges separately with vinaigrette to coat.  Divide the salad among plates and spoon the beet wedges on top.

MAKES:  6 servings