Monday, May 26, 2014

Olive Tapenade Tart with caramelized red onions and ricotta
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
medium red onion, thinly
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
3/4C tapenade
1/4C kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1/2C whole-milk ricotta or goat cheese
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed and rolled out into a 9 x 12-inch rectangle

Heat the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan and add the sliced onion.  Cook until slightly wilted, reduce heat, cover lightly with foil and cook until caramelized.  Add salt and pepper, thyme leaves and let cool.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and top with puff pastry sheet.  Prick the pastry all over with a fork.  Spread the tapenade evenly on the pastry leaving a ¾-inch border all around.  Top with the onions, chopped olives, Italian parsley and dollops of the cheese.  Bake until golden and light brown on the bottom – about 20 – 25 minutes.  Transfer to a rack and let cool slightly.  Slice.
MAKES:  6 – 8 servings

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Burma – February, 2014
Forty years ago I visited Burma and have been wanting to go back ever since.  It seemed safe enough so I booked a trip with G Adventures, got my Burma visa for $20, used my United plus mileage for the flight and off I went!!!

Shuttle to LAX and my Air China flight left on time at 12:40 A.M. arriving in Beijing about 6 A.M. and finally into Yangon about 2:30 P.M.  After very cold weather in Beijing it was quite a shock to be so warm in Burma!!!  Checked into MK Hotel ( , changed some money and set out for the Bogyoke Aung San market.  I wandered around this 70 year old sprawling market housing more than 2000 handicraft, gem, etc. shops for about a half hour and then turned down Sule Paya Road to visit Sule Pagoda located in the heart of downtown.  According to legend it was built more than 2,500 years ago before the Shwedagon Pagoda during the time of Buddha and is believed to enshrine a strand of hair of the Buddha.  It has been rebuilt and repaired many times. 

I stopped by the lovely Maha Bandoola Garden to take a break and watch the lovely “dancing fountains”.  There are peaceful green lawns and the independence monument, an obelisk, built in commemoration of Burmese independence from the British in 1948.  Afterwards I stopped by the famous old colonial Strand Hotel opened in 1901 and in its early years hosted Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell among others.  A lot of people stop by to have a drink in the bar but I just wandered around and then started my “long” search for Linkage where I wanted to have dinner that night as Trip Advisor highly recommend it!!!  I had looked on their website to find their location and there were many comments about it being very hard to find which it truly was.  Fortunately for me, I met a wonderful Burmese lady who was determined to help me find it which we did!!

It was upstairs so the sign was not particularly visible from the street but it was well worth the trouble!  There were only about 6 tables and one table was full of French people just getting ready to leave.  I asked them what I should order and sat down at my little table overlooking the street.  As they were leaving they passed me a few of their platters with remaining pieces of uneaten dishes which I so enjoyed along with what I had ordered!!!  I had some spicy shrimp, spinach like the morning glory in viet nam, eggplant salad and ginger fish compliments of the French – truly a feast!!!  Cost:  $6.50!!!  I was so exhausted after dinner that I took a taxi back to the hotel, used the free internet to let my family know I had arrived safely, took a very hot shower and collapsed into bed!!!

After a very nice breakfast of toast and eggs and many tiny little oranges all stacked up in a pyramid, I walked to the Botataung Pagoda on Strand Street built 2500 years ago during the time the Shwedagon temple was built.  Unlike most stupas this one is hollow inside and you can walk through it.  Afterwards I took a taxi to the National Museum which was terrific.  There was an enormous throne returned to Myanmar after independence, musical instruments, puppets, etc.  A short walk away was Free Myanmar where I chose three little dishes for lunch, i.e. stir fry noodles with peppers, fish in a red sauce and a strange salad!!!  For dessert there was a wonderful array of gelato and pastries.  From there I walked to the Shwedagon Pagoda but as we would be visiting it the next day with our group I decided to head to the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda instead to see the enormous beautifully painted and bejeweled sitting Buddha which was very impressive.  I crossed the street to the Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda to visit the very large reclining Buddha which is not the original but still quite stunning.  There is a crown of diamonds on his head and his feet are not aligned which means he is alive.  He is also facing East which means he is alive – sometimes it’s hard to tell.   It was dark and rather late by the time I finished my little self tour so I took a taxi to the Governor’s Residence which I had read had excellent food and was an elegant place to dine.  It is an impressive wooden building with tables outside near the pond and in the garden.  I sat near the pond and ordered one dish as it was veryyyy expensive, i.e. my one dish was $25!!!  However, my one dish was delicious, i.e. sea bass with turmeric rice on a bed of watercress stir fry with cashews and strips of fresh cucumber in yogurt sauce.  I savored every $$ bite!!!

Before breakfast I walked to the morning market filled with people selling fruits, vegetables, fish, etc.  A woman was even using a mussel shell to filet a fish!!!  Took a taxi to the Panorama Hotel where my G Adventure tour would begin later that evening and checked in.  With my lonely planet guide in hand I took their walking tour of downtown which covered all the historic buildings, customs house, synagogue, hindu temple, etc.  Had lunch at Aung Thukha restaurant which was really fun.  Quite a local hangout with little dishes of delicious food to try.  I had morning glory, fish curry and a plate of lettuce, cucumber, greens and crunchy nuts on the side.

I tried to walk around Inle lake but it seemed impossible.  You could only walk for 20 minutes and then had to turn back so I finally gave it up and returned to the hotel.  Our meeting started at 6 p.m. with 14 of us in the group.  Our guide was a little Burmese lady with a lot of enthusiasm!  Afterwards we walked to Monsoon Restaurant and I had nasi goring which was delicious.

Early breakfast and then off to the Shwedagon Pagoda also known as the golden pagoda.  It stands 325 feet tall and is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese as enshrined within are relics of the past four buddhas.  The gold seen on the stupa is made of genuine gold plates, covering the brick structure and attached by traditional rivets.

After a few hours there we left for Mount Kyaiktiya and the golden rock which is another major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists.  We stopped for a curry lunch along the way and arrived about 3 p.m.  First we took a truck halfway up the mountain and then walked a very steep path to our hotel which had a great view.  After checking in and removing our shoes we walked up to the balancing boulder stupa which legend says it maintains its balance due to a precisely placed Buddha hair in the stupa.  In the evening one of the travelers and I walked back up to the golden rock to see it at night and had some coconut crepes along the way for dinner…

After breakfast and a quick lunch near the airport we caught a 3:00 p.m. flight to Mandalay, arriving about 5:00 p.m.  After checking into the hotel, a few of us walked to Ko’s Kitchen for some spicy Thai food which was a nice change.  Breakfast in the morning was great – whole wheat toast and scrambled eggs and lots of pineapple, papaya and watermelon!!!  Took a ferry to Mingun and rode on an ox cart to the Mingun bell, a gigantic bronze bell weighing 90 tons.  On to the Hsinbyume Pagoda built in 1816, painted white and modeled on the physical description of the Buddhist mythological mountain, Mount Meru.  The seven concentric terraces represent the seven mountain ranges going up to Mount Meru, according to Buddhist mythology.  Took a ferry back and drove to Sagaing to visit a nunnery and then stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant. The fried fish with lemon sauce and some vegetables with toasted cashews were both delicious.

The day ended while watching the sunset from the U Bein bridge, which spans the Taungthaman lake and is believed to be the world’s longest and oldest teakwood bridge – about 1300 yards across.  The bridge was built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa.  Dinner was a lovely platter of fresh fruit!!!  The pineapple is especially good here.

In the morning I took a lovely walk around the palace “moot” and to an open air market.  After breakfast we visited the world’s largest book which stands upright, set in stone, on the grounds of the Kuthodaw Pagoda.   There are 730 text inscribed marble slabs, each housed in a casket like structure arranged around the central golden pagoda.  On to the Mahamuni Buddhist temple, a major pilgrimage site.  Ancient tradition refers to only five likenesses of the Buddha, made during his lifetime; two were in India, two in paradise and the fifth is the Mahamuni Buddha.  As a result of the application of gold leaves over the years, the coating of gold (thickness 5.9 inches) has given a shapeless contour to the image.

We also visited the Shwe in Bin teak monastery which has beautiful carvings and is rather Thai in appearance.  The monks only study here but live nearby.   We stopped by the gold pounders’ workshop where gold is hammered for hours between sheets of bamboo paper until very thin (gold leaf).  Delicious buffet lunch at a local restaurant – lots of unusual but excellent dishes.

I decided to stay in town and follow a lonely planet walking tour starting at the crocodile bridge, to the Khin Makantaik monastery and nearby Chanthaya Pagoda.  I crossed a canal and walked along a lovely wooden bridge to the flower market – really pleasant.  That evening we had a quick tea leaf salad before attending the marionette show where the musicians played the instruments I had seen in the museum in Yangon!!   It was great fun, especially for me as I really love puppets!!

Up early to board the boat sailing down the Ayarwaddy River to Bagan.  It is the country’s largest river and most important waterway.  Breakfast on the board.  It was a lovely trip seeing the little villages, pagodas, etc. along the way took the whole day!!!  Dinner at a nearby restaurant in Bagan…

In the morning I took a leisurely walk through the villages, watching them prepare breakfast, setting up their fruit and vegetable stalls, etc.  Stopped by the big market selling all sorts of produce and alive with people in colorful cottons.  On to the caves of Kyanzittha Umin housing the oldest murals in Myanmar showing the invasion of Kubla Khan, etc.  Visited MANY temples, i.e. Gubyaukgyi with its hundreds of frescoes, Htinlominlo, with its four buddhas facing each direction, the Nanpaya hindu temple and the manuha Buddhist temple considered to be one of the oldest in Bagan.  It contains three images of seated buddhas and an image of Buddha entering nirvana. Lunch was a delicious papaya salad with roasted peanuts.

Stopped to see how the lacquerware was made and they painted little elephants on our cameras!!  In the afternoon I took a walk to Lawkananda pagoda and the river.  Later, we visited Thatbyinyu, Bagan’s highest temple and Dhammayazika, the massive 12th century temple with it’s bad karma and the Ananda Pahto with its four wooden standing buddhas.  It was hard to keep them all separate…  Dinner at a Chinese-Burmese restaurant – pumpkin curry was quite nice.

Got up early to see the sunrise on top of one of the temples and then we rented bikes and rode through the countryside stopping at local villages where they made cotton and silver jewelry.  I kept my bike and took a break to have a delicious papaya salad at the Green Elephant for lunch and then headed back out to revisit some of the temples we had seen yesterday but this time at my leisure – really pleasant.  Dinner at A Thai restaurant was pad thai, one of my favorites.

Early breakfast and a very long drive to Mount Pope and up 777 steps to the top and a beautiful view.  A Buddhist statue and a lot of other junk was also there but the climb was nice as was the view.  Stopped at a village where they made toddy and a type of maple sugar and then for lunch at a local restaurant where I chose a few dishes that were nice, i.e. pumpkin curry and a cabbage salad.  We arrived in Kalau, a cute little town surrounded by mountains.  Visited the local market and wandered around town a bit before dinner at the Everest Nepali food Center.  Had a nice potato and vegetable curry and some lentils, rice and chapati – rather bland but nice for a change.

Delicious crepes for breakfast and then took tuk tuks to the starting point of our 4 – 5 hour trek through villages, up and down hills, etc.  Saw women weaving cotton and going about their daily lives.  Stopped in a small village for lunch and watched the “chef” prepare our noodles and vegetables on a little wok in the back – it took him awhile as there were 14 of us eating!!!  Tuk tuk’s back to town.  Walked back to the open market and it was really lively.  Dinner of fish in banana leaves at a nice local restaurant.

After breakfast we drove to Pindaya to visit the Shwe Oo Min natural cave pagoda set high on a limestone ridge.  It is a worship place for the Burmese people and contains more than 8700 buddhas in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, i.e. alabaster, teak, lacquer, marble, etc. One tall teak wood carving is filled with tiny carved buddhas.  Nice lunch on our way to Inya lake.  After checking into our hotel I took a walk around the corner to the cultural museum.  The exhibits weren’t particularly interesting but it was set in an old house which was quite unique.  Went out for pizza in the evening which wasn’t all that bad!!!

In the morning we walked to the jetty and boarded three motor boats.  First stop the 5 day market filled with people selling food, handicrafts, vegetables, etc. etc. Further along up a covered stairwell flanked by more stalls there is the nyaung ohak with its weather beaten stupas, some leaning at crazy angles.  On farther is the Shwe Inn Thein Pagoda with its many stupas surrounding it, some have been reconstructed and others have been left to disintegrate…Next stop, the silver factory and the weavings, where they get the thread from the lotus plant!!!  Lunch at a beautiful monastery which also houses some 80 Burmese cats who have their own little sanctuary!!!  The cigar factory was our last stop and then a nice one hour boat ride back to our hotel – a really nice outing.  Later in the afternoon I walked along the Inya lake and as I headed back to town there was a local festival going on with little boys riding on very decorated elephants, some playing ancient instruments, etc.  Dinner nearby was uneventful…

We flew back to Yangon in the morning and I walked to Monsoon for lunch.  Had some delicious summer rolls and then took the ferry across the lake.  A rickshaw driver took me around some of the old bamboo villages so I could see some local life and then I took the ferry back.  As it was getting late I took a taxi to Schwedagon Pagoda to see the sunset and it was lovely…

In the morning I walked around town before having an early lunch at Monsoon – the delicious summer rolls again and then flew to

Seoul, South Korea where I had a whole day layover.  After finding a little coffee shop in the airport for breakfast, I signed up for a 5 hour transit tour which included stops at some temples and a palace complex and ended with a typical Korean lunch, i.e. vegetable bowl which consisted of noodles, vegetables, mushrooms and an egg to be mixed together with broth and some chile sauce – quite nice!!!  We had a little time left over to walk around a shopping street and get familiar with local people and shops before returning to the airport.  Certainly a great way to spend an afternoon!!!  After some free internet usage and a baskin-robbins ice cream, I boarded the plane to Kota Kinabalu and my next adventure in Borneo!!!! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Roasted corn and tomato salad with queso fresco
2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
2 yellow peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
2 ears corn, kernels removed
1 tsp. Cajun seasonings
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 large vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
1C baby heirloom tomatoes, halved
1C arugula leaves
1/4C basil leaves
1/2C queso fresco, crumbled

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

Shake the vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar and set aside.  Preheat oven to 400F.  Toss the corn with spices and olive oil and spread in a shallow dish.  Bake until golden – about 10 minutes.  Let cool.

Toss the arugula and basil with vinaigrette to coat and divide among plates.  Arrange tomato slices, pepper strips and baby tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the corn and cheese.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.

MAKES:  6 – 8 servings