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 ( 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 (, 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….