I Hit the Jackpot in Torrevieja

Life-size bronze statues of a director and five musicians pay tribute to the rich musical legacy of Torrevieja.

Life-size bronze statues of a director and five musicians stand on the Paseo Vista Alegre in tribute to the rich musical legacy of Torrevieja.

This was the final week of the Tapas Crawl, the 10th Annual Ruta de Las Tapas. We set out for the town center to check out the annual Book Fair on the downtown waterfront. Florence and I are avid readers, and we were interested to see if there were many books in English available at reasonable prices. Granted, the local library has a decent English language section, mostly fiction. A range of restaurants would be serving their best tapas for whenever the hunger bug hit, but first a little shopping was in order.

The annual book fair consists of six large book kiosks on the seafront pedestrian walkway.

The annual book fair consists of six large book kiosks on the seafront pedestrian walkway.

We were surprised to learn that Suzy and Rob, purveyors of the Bargain Books shop downtown, were the only outlet for English language books in town. I would have thought there would be demand for more given the large English expat population in Torrevieja. According to Suzy, that used to be the case. However, the other businesses folded, and now she and her husband have the last remaining English language bookstore.

Tomato and cheese pizza - 7€ ($10), and plenty left over for later

Tomato and cheese pizza – 7€ ($10), and plenty left over for later

We had eaten light that morning. Then it was time to ‘tapa off’ our appetites. I was already salivating in anticipation of our return visit to La Mila-Grossa, the Argentine restaurant we had discovered the previous weekend. We made a stop at La Bella Lola, which offered an excellent toasted tomato and cheese tapa. Next stop – La Mila-Grossa Restaurant.

Empañadas with Salsa de la Abuela - As soon as the aroma hit my nostrils I knew I was in for a treat.

Empañadas with Salsa de la Abuela – The aroma told me I was in for a treat.

We started with some fine appetizers. However, we had the main courses in mind. Florence longed for a vegetarian pizza, and I planned to make a meal of the house specialty empañadas. I had sampled them the weekend before, and the anticipation was killing me. When the empañadas arrived, I inquired if they had hot sauce thinking I had spied some on a side counter. Our server, Mariano, asked if I wanted ‘picante’ – the hot stuff. Oh, yeah!

Let me interject here that I love hot, spicy food. I have not tasted a decent hot sauce since we left Mexico over a year ago. Suddenly, a plain bottle with a generic skull ‘n’ crossbones sticker appeared on our table. I was as nervous as a teenager on a first date. Could this be the moment I had been waiting for? I put a taste on my fork and licked it off. A tense moment passed, and then a small fire started on the tip of my tongue. The juices that formed in my mouth were as sensuous as my first French kiss! I thought I heard angels singing. My heart beat and breathing sped up. It was delicious!

The handsome, young Mariano made me a gift of his grandmothers salsa.

The handsome, young Mariano made me a gift of his grandmothers salsa.

I had a pleasant conversation with Mariano after we had eaten. He told me he was from a town near Mar del Plata, Argentina, where his mother lives. He now lives here in Torrevieja where his father’s family originates. As we were preparing to go, I asked if the picante sauce served with lunch could be purchased. ‘Le gusta?’ he asked, pleasantly surprised. (You like it?) Then he told me his grandmother makes it for the restaurant, and yes, I could have some.

Mariano brought a generous container of the heavenly elixir from the kitchen. I asked him how much. He handed it to me and said, ‘Esto es un regalo para usted.’ (This is a gift for you.) Mariano had given me a gift of liquid gold which I now call Salsa de la Abuela, grandmother’s salsa. I had hit the jackpot! Muchas gracias mi amigo.

Note: All photos are the copyrighted property of Florence Lince.

It is Time for Tapas

Torrevieja is a resort town full of parks, plazas and an array of restaurants and shops... and beaches.

Our home town of Torrevieja is a resort town full of parks, plazas and an array of restaurants and shops… and beaches.

Spring in Torrevieja is a delightful time of year. The crisp breezes blowing off the continent and the brisk on-shore winds have given way to the bright sunshine and warmer days that demand we leave our jackets behind when we take a walk. People are heading to the beaches with their folding chairs and beach towels ahead of the crowds still to come when people seek refuge from the blazing heat of summer. The seasonal shops and restaurants are opening all over town. It is a time to celebrate spring. It is time for tapas.

Our first stop was Las Salinas, a favorite stop for families.  Their Magra de Ibérica was like a delicious stew.

First stop – Las Salinas, an open air favorite spot for families. Their Magra de Ibérica was a delicious stew made with veal.

This year Torrevieja, Spain, is celebrating its 10th Rutas de Las Tapas, or what we English-speakers would call a ‘Tapas Crawl.’ What are tapas? Tapas can be practically anything from a chunk of tuna, cocktail onion and an olive skewered on a long toothpick to a hot meat with sauce served in a miniature clay dish – or anything in between. Tapas are served day in and day out in every bar and café in Spain. They are so much a part of the culture and social scene that the Spanish people invented the verb tapear which means to go eat tapas!¹

Tu Aroma offered a piece of fried cod served over a zucchini wrap of peppers and onions; also a grilled meat in a chocolate mole sauce.

Tu Aroma offered a piece of fried cod served over a zucchini wrap of peppers and onions, plus a grilled meat in a chocolate mole sauce.

Fifty-six restaurants are each offering two tapas from which to choose during weekend one and two different tapas during weekend two. The weekends run from Thursday through Sunday and are available at either lunch or dinner time. The tapas are offered in addition to regular menu items and are advertised as standard or gourmet as determined by the restaurant. Standard tapas sell for 2€ and gourmet items sell for 2.5€, equal to $2.80 and $3.50, and include a choice of beverage. I ordered beer. Florence chose bottled water.

The Mediterranean Café offer this baked dish made with chicken and potatoes.  The second tapa was skewered 'sepia' which is Spanish for cuttlefish - similar to squid.

The Mediterranean Café offer this baked dish made with chicken and potatoes. The second tapa was skewered ‘sepia’ which is Spanish for cuttlefish – similar to squid.

No one has to pay an entry fee. All that is required to participate in the Tapas Crawl is a few Euros, a good appetite and good walking shoes. Even though there are participating restaurants are all over town, most are concentrated downtown near the ocean shore. People are allowed to vote for their favorite tapas once they have sampled at least ten options at no fewer than five restaurants.

Taj Mahal offered tapas Indian-style - deep fried vegetable mix that put onion rings to shame, and a shrimp roll made with sweet potato that was our favorite so far.

Taj Mahal offered tapas Indian-style – deep fried vegetable mix that put onion rings to shame, and a shrimp roll made with sweet potato that was our favorite so far.

We visited four restaurants on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and we ordered both of the tapas offered at each stop, so that was about 5€ times four, a total of 20€ for the two of us to sample eight varieties of Spanish cuisine including tips and beverages. That was a pretty good deal. We are already thinking ahead to weekend number two, and one stop we passed on our way home is already at the top of our list. We were too full to sit at La Mila-Grossa, an Argentine restaurant. However, we ordered some of their empañadas to take home for dinner, and that was a fantastic gastronomic conclusion to our first Tapas Crawl.

¹From ‘What are tapas?’ by Lisa and Tony Sierra on About.com
Note: All photos are the copyrighted property of Florence Lince.

The Top 10 Best Things About Croatia

The Neretva River Delta grows enough citrus to serve several countries.

The Neretva River Delta grows enough citrus to serve several countries.

Counting down, these items make my list of the ten best things I discovered about Croatia.

10. Fresh fruits and vegetables

There is a great choice of fruits and vegetables during the harvest season.

The fresh markets offer a great choice of fruits and vegetables during the harvest season.

Everything grows fresh in Croatia.  We were fortunate to be living in Croatia during harvest season.  There were melons, pomegranates, figs, plums, grapes and apples.  And there was citrus.  Almost the entire Neretva River Delta is planted with citrus – mandarins, lemons and several varieties of oranges and they are quite affordable.  Other fruits like bananas and tropical fruits are imported.  The variety seems endless and prices are quite good. 

9.   Coffee

Every place we have visited has a coffee bar (or two or three) on every block, or so it seems.  I am not saying that the coffee is as good as what we could purchase at every market in Panama or Costa Rica where it was grown and picked and roasted within walking distance of our house.  But every café, bar and coffee shop in Croatia has an espresso machine, and it is a custom in Croatia to ‘take coffee’ for almost any occasion.

8.   Olive oil and wine

There are countless vineyards and olive tree groves throughout Croatia.

There are countless vineyards and olive tree groves throughout Croatia.

I think everyone in Croatia either has their own olive trees or is related to someone who does.  The same goes for vineyards.  They make a lot of olive oil in Croatia, and they also make a lot of wine.  Production numbers seem small compared to wine growing regions in other parts of the world, but Croatia’s population is only about 4.5 million, and they consume most of what they produce.  However, wine lovers who get a taste of the finer Croatian wines will likely wish to add some bottles to their collections.

7.   Cheese

Farm fresh is not just a saying in Croatia.  Yes, this was my first time milking a cow.

Farm fresh is not just a saying in Croatia. Yes, this was my first time milking a cow.

I confess I love cheese.  And I have come to learn that not every country has great cheeses.  Croatia got it right!  There is probably as much cheese-making tradition in Croatia as there is making olive oil and wine.  Lucky for me!

6.   Bakery breads and other goodies

You should not expect to find a bread aisle in the supermarket.  All breads, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods are made fresh daily in a bakery.  There are in-store bakeries and independent bakery shops on nearly every block in the commercial areas.  Many Croatians still bake their own items if they have time.

5.   Natural beauty

The waters of the Lika River are scenic and pure.

The waters of the Lika River are scenic and pure.

Where do I begin?  The Dalmatian Coast, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Skradinski Falls in Krka National Park, the Neretva River Delta, Lake Vrana, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the natural springs.  Croatia is so diverse that the list of scenic spots seems never ending. 

4.   Clean air

To me there are two key items that define ‘quality of life.’  Being able to breathe clean air is one of those things, and it is not a given everywhere.  It is in Croatia, especially on the Dalmatian Coast with its steady breezes.

3.   Clean water

These springs in Lika County have provided fresh water to the area for two thousand years.

These springs in Lika County have provided fresh water to the area for two thousand years.

This is the second key ‘quality of life’ item, and Croatia has abundant resources of clear, clean water.  Many of their rivers are spring-fed at their sources.  You can dip your cup or water bottle into most streams and expect to get pure water better than the bottled water for sale at the market.  Wherever I travel I compare the water with what I experienced in my youth hiking past creeks and streams in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.  Clean water is not a given everywhere.  It is in Croatia.

2.   History and Culture

The medieval fortress near Samobar reminds of the civilization that existed here long ago.

The medieval fortress near Samobor reminds us of the civilization that existed here long ago.

Croatia may have finally appeared as a country on geography maps in the last twenty years.  However, as a region with a distinct culture, Croatia has a history of its own dating back over 1,500 years.  Many of the traditional foods, dress, music and dances are still common today.  They have their own language, their own art, their great legends and their heroes.  All of these traditions are woven into the fabric of everyday life.  One of the great things about traveling in Croatia is the people are eager to tell their stories and share their culture.

1.   The people

The friends we made in Croatia will be our most lasting memories.

The friends we made in Croatia will be our most treasured memories.

I have said this before and it bears repeating.  The people of Croatia have been among the most welcoming, most hospitable and most caring of any we have met in any country we have visited.  They care how you feel about their country and about them.  They want you to appreciate the beauty, the history and culture, the food, the wine, and their hospitality.  And I do!

One more thing, the women in Croatia are quite style-conscious.  In the cities and towns women seldom go out in public without putting on makeup and nice clothes.  At first I thought there was simply a high percentage of striking-looking women.  Then I realized that women of all ages take great care to look their best in public.  The men, not so much.  They may be ruggedly handsome, but they do not dress up unless they are hoping to impress the women.  That however, is a whole new story.

 

The Perfect Weekend Croatian Style

Babić grapes grow in a grid work of plots separated by rocks pulled one-by-one from the soil.

Babić grapes grow in a grid work of plots separated by rocks pulled one-by-one from the soil.

You need three elements to come together for a perfect weekend.  First is good weather.  It is not the most important thing, as any Puget Sounder will tell you.  However, it does make ‘good’ even better.  Second is a fun and interesting activity to do.  Third, and perhaps most important, is sharing the time with good people. 

When green olives turn dark in mid-November it is harvest time.

When green olives turn dark in mid-November it is harvest time.

I was invited to go olive picking with a couple of buddies.  I love spending time and going places with Florence.  Nonetheless, there is something to be said for male bonding time.  I soon learned that ‘olive picking’ is a euphemism for a picnic.  After a couple of beers and exploring our surroundings, we picked several kilos of dark olives.  Then we enjoyed a small feast of fish grilled over an open fire and some Babić (BOB ich), a local varietal wine.

Karmela gave me the seat of honor at the head of the table.

Karmela gave me the seat of honor at the head of the table.

After picking olives we returned to town where I met Karmela, my friend’s mother.  She showed me into her kitchen and pointed to the chair at the head of the table where her husband always sat, and she invited me to sit there where soon we enjoyed more food and drink.  Although she spoke not a word of English, we communicated well enough for her to announce proudly that she was 82 years old, something she apparently wanted me to know.  There is no stigma to asking someone’s age in Croatia, and if you do not ask they will usually tell you anyway.  I was dropped off at my apartment after as much food, drink and male bonding as I could manage in a single day.

Tina and Biljana teamed up to show us a great time in Primošten.

Tina and Biljana teamed up to show us a great time in Primošten.

The next day Florence and I met our friend, Tina, who helped us locate our wonderful apartment.  She contacted her tour guide friend, Biljana, who prepared a daylong tour to nearby Primošten (pree mosh TEN), a twenty minute drive south of our hometown of Šibenik (SHE beh nik).  It was the perfect mid-November day with cloudless skies and no jacket needed.  We had the picturesque Old Town almost completely to ourselves as we strolled to the graveyard and 15th century hilltop church of St. George.

View from the hilltop cemetery at the 15th century church of St. George

View from the hilltop cemetery at the 15th century church of St. George

On our drive a bit farther down the coast, Biljana pointed out the hillside vineyards overlooking a local marina.  The vines are planted in a patchwork grid marked by stone borders.  The locals are proud that a photo of the area once hung in the United Nations Building in New York City to portray the beautiful results of human labor.  These vineyards, famous for their Babić grapes, are now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Zaron greeted us with rakija and a smile.

Zoran greeted us with rakija and a smile.

Our route took us to an agro-tourism site called Šarićevi Dvori (shar ee SHEH vee  di VOR ee) named in honor of the Šarić family who have lived here for 350 years.  Zoran Šarić welcomed us in traditional Croatian style with rakija (RAH kee yah), a Croatian brandy, and we drank to one another’s health.  After a tour of the courtyard and house, we sat to eat a traditional dinner from our outdoor dining area perched overlooking the coast.

Tina told us, 'Now we are like family.'

Tina told us, ‘Now we are like family.’

All the food and drink is prepared by hand using traditional methods.  Zoran even revealed his callused hands from pressing grapes for wine and pressing olives for olive oil.  Our main course was cooked in a peka, a lidded iron pan that is buried in the coals of a fire to stew for an hour or more and then brought directly from the coals to the table where the food still sizzles as it is served.

Primošten, Croatia - a place that time forgot.

Primošten, Croatia – a place that time forgot.

Since meals are not rushed in Croatia, we sat with our wine glasses and watched the sun go down, which is early at this time of year.  We then gathered around the indoor fireplace to crack open fresh almonds and sip brandy while we sang songs and enjoyed new friendships in the hills overlooking Primošten, a place that time forgot.

Market Day in Šibenik, Croatia

Overlooking the first fruit vendor booth at the fresh market

Overlooking the first fruit vendor booth at the fresh market

The fresh market in Šibenik, Croatia, is open every day.  However, Saturday morning is when shoppers turn up in large numbers and the most vendors are set up to serve them.  This is one occasion where I make no effort to avoid the crowds. 

I embarrassed the bread lady when I asked for a photo.

I embarrassed the bread lady when I asked for a photo.

Surrounding the open air market is an array of meat and cheese shops and my favorite bakery kiosk where my preferred baguette of whole grain bread costs $1.20.  I have returned so often that the lady no longer needs to ask me what I want. 

There is a fish market and several butcher shops.  However, I am eating mostly vegetarian these days, so I peruse these shops mostly out of curiosity.   I will say it is a good thing I no longer have a barbecue grill, because I cannot envision this vegetarian lifestyle if there were a grill on my deck.

The vine ripened tomatoes look awesome.

The vine ripened tomatoes look awesome.

I love the hum of the crowd and the animated vendors encouraging shoppers to take advantage of their great deals.  And most of the fruits and vegetables are great deals.  I bought a pomegranate for 60 cents.  We mix and match a variety of apples for about 40 cents/pound, and we get pears for about 65 cents/pound.  Carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are about the same.  Potatoes and onions are quite inexpensive.  Bananas are over 90 cents/pound because they come from Ecuador or Costa Rica.  However, we save so much on other produce that we do not mind paying extra for bananas.  The eggplants, which are not my favorite vegetable, look amazing.  They are thin and firm with few seeds, perfect for the way Florence cooks them and the way I most enjoy them (recipe below).

Fish and meat, cheese, honey and condiments - there is much more than produce available at the market.

Fish and meat, cheese, honey and condiments – there is much more than produce available at the market.

Florence’s Recipe for Baked Eggplant Wafers

Mike has never been a fan of eggplant, especially when it is cooked in thick slices that become mushy when baked.  However, when I bake thin wafers of eggplant so that they come out of the oven with the texture of a cookie, there are seldom leftovers.  He even requests them if we have gone a long time without having had some.

Ingredients: 

2 or 3 small to medium-sized eggplants
Approximately 1 cup of bread crumbs
¼ cup olive oil
1 egg or egg substitute

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spread a layer of olive oil across the sheet.

Peel eggplants and slice into thin wafers no more than ¼” thick.  Bathe in whipped egg and then coat both sides of eggplant wafers in bread crumbs. 

Lay bread crumb-coated eggplant wafers on oiled cookie sheet and bake about 20 minutes on one side or until they begin to brown.  Remove cookie sheet from oven and flip eggplant over to bake on second side also until lightly browned.  They will come out of the oven with the texture of a cookie that is crispy on the outside and still slightly moist inside.  Serve hot. This recipe will yield two or three sheets of baked eggplant wafers depending on the size of the eggplants.

Save leftovers to snack on either cold or reheated.  Try using some leftovers in a sandwich.

If you try this recipe, let me know if you like it or any variations you may have tried.

The Perth Saturday Market

Vendors set up awning covered booths for the Saturday Market.  Hundreds of people flock to King Edward Street to create a fair-like atmosphere.

Vendors set up awning covered booths for the Saturday Market. Hundreds of people flock to King Edward Street to contribute to a fair-like atmosphere.

Vendors from around the region set up booths just off High Street in Perth from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month (and twice in December).  So we grabbed our re-usable grocery bags (which are needed here) and set out to beat the midday rush.  There are about 30 canopies along King Edward Street, few enough that we can stroll by each one and then go back to our favorites.  And that is just what we did.

Seafood

The seafood table had cooked lobster, crab, and fresh salmon. Haddock and sole were the top sellers. The was the busiest booth at the Market.

Jellies

This fellow’s apron reads ‘I Love Hot Pepper Jelly.’ As it turns out, so do I, so I got some. The back label reads ‘After opening store near your plate.’ I love that!

Beer

Paul, the beer guy from St. Andrews told us his company was owned by an American who came to St. Andrews to play golf.  When he asked what the local beer was, he was told there wasn’t any.  So he funded a brewery.  His name is Peter Coors.  After sampling a few I bought some to take home.

Breads

These breads were amazing.  We bought loaves of whole grain sourdough and hazelnut bran. We also got some scones and some of that cake you see in front.

Cheeses

Let’s see, we bought ginger cheddar, cranberry cheddar, grilled onion cheddar and cheddar with chives.  Do you see a pattern here?  She got us with the samples!

Berries

Fresh berries are still in season, so we got some raspberries.

Candyman

Homemade candies – what do you think?

Food Booth1

We could have eaten at the Market, but we had already purchased enough.  We saw much more, too.  The people were open and friendly.  They even seemed to like our “American accents.”  Hmm – I never knew I had an accent. 

There is Nothing Like Home Cooking

The historic Perth Theatre is just down the street from our flat.

The historic Perth Theatre is just down the street from our flat.

A look up the spiral staircase three stories to our apartment

A look up the spiral staircase three stories to our apartment entry

Now that we have our own kitchen, I have begun preparing meals at home. Celeste, if you read this, I want you to know that I am working on a plant-based diet, although I have not given up eggs and cheese. That may come as I find more sources where I can purchase the ingredients I need. I will also be reading the vegetarian and vegan blogs for more ideas. There are mouth watering recipes posted daily, and I look forward to trying lots of them.

A mixture of fresh vegetables served over a bed of basmati rice

A mixture of fresh vegetables served over a bed of basmati rice

Last night’s dinner was a stir fry. We found green, yellow and red bell peppers which added appealing color to the dish. I added zucchini, onion and snap peas plus a fresh mix that included bean sprouts. Stir-fry has to be the easiest veggie dish in the world, and it cooks quickly. The only thing missing was some cashews or sliced almonds to add some texture and flavor. You should not be surprised to learn I added some jalapeño peppers to my serving to spice it up.

Window Shopping

We good shoppers put together our own little library for under $20.

We good shoppers put together our own little library for under $20.

Our casual walks through Perth have revealed some treasures we overlooked previously. We found a frozen food store, Farm Foods, which also offers fresh foods during the growing season. We also found some used books bookstores. This is important to us since we do not have a television. We visited Thornton’s, a UK-based chocolatier, and we picked up a couple of handmade chocolate creams for 50 cents apiece. We checked out the Perth Theatre just down the block from us, the perfect venue for some live entertainment in the weeks ahead. We have a bit more exploring to do. There is supposedly a branch library within a couple of blocks of our apartment, and there is still the Performance Center and cinema to check out.

The historic steam train through Scotland's West Highlands Photo credit: visitscotland.com

The historic steam train through Scotland’s West Highlands
Photo credit: visitscotland.com

I am currently looking over the train schedules to plan our trip along the west coast aboard the historic steam train that goes over a picturesque bridge featured in the Harry Potter movies. Like everything in Perth, the train and bus stations are about six blocks away, and where the trains do not go, the buses do.  There is much yet to see and do.

I look forward to our daily walks.  I look forward to finishing another book and starting a new one.  And I look forward to writing whatever my next story will be.

Cheers from Scotland!

Another Sunny Day in Glasgow

We found a health food store with a great selection of vegetarian fare.

We found a health food store with a great selection of vegetarian fare.

With some time on our hands, we purchased all-day bus passes and headed downtown. I know Florence wanted me to have me model a kilt, and we did go into a clothier to look at kilts. These custom made all-wool garments start at about $450 US, and that does not include the jacket, tartan sash, shirt and tie, socks or matching socks. These formal Scottish outfits can be rented for around $100 just like renting a tuxedo. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to dress up in full Scottish regalia.

Scottish with an Italian flair

Scottish with an Italian flair

The fun part of the shopping experience was meeting Jessica, an energetic young lady working at Slanj, a men’s clothing store. We talked about her experience living in Colorado for a number of years and the contrast between the United States and Scotland. We hit it off with her, and like many people we have met, she provided us with her email and told us to contact her if we had any questions during our time in Glasgow.

Spicy chicken tikka and vegetarian rolls at Café India

Spicy chicken tikka and vegetarian rolls at Café India

We went in search of an Indian restaurant in the nearby district known as Merchant City. We strolled through a few blocks of restaurants and businesses and discovered Café India. I was able to satisfy my desire for spicy food and Florence found the vegetarian fare quite delicious. It was the cook who served us. He came out to check on how we liked our meal as a special courtesy. Our high praise for the food delighted him, especially when I told him how much I enjoyed the hot spices. He showed me an item on the menu and said, “If you come back I would love to cook this for you. It is the hottest dish we make.” Whether or not we return is not important. The important thing is how appreciated we felt.

Inside the Kelvingrove Museum is even more impression than the outside.

Inside the Kelvingrove Museum is even more impression than the outside.

We rounded out the day with a walk through the Kelvingrove Museum, a legacy of the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition. The art galleries are impressive. I was able to view works by Rembrandt, Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh. The highlight for me was Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross. Unlike Dali’s surreal paintings, this image of the crucifixion is quite vivid. It lacks the crown of thorns, nails through flesh or any depiction of blood. The body of Christ forms a triangle suspended in the sky that points like an arrow to a fishing boat on the Earth below.

Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali Photo credit: www.europefortourism.com

Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali
Photo credit: europefortourism.com

The exhibits covered much and in no discernible order. The Old West was displayed next to antiquities from Egypt. Medieval armor was roomed next to Scottish wildlife. A World War II RAF Spitfire fighter plane was suspended over an evolution of life on earth exhibit. Perhaps that was what a guide meant when she announced the museum had something for everyone. And generally, that is our impression of Glasgow. It is an unpretentious city with something for everyone. Perhaps we will make a return trip during our stay in Scotland.

A Walk in the Park

The Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh has magnificent trees and plants for the public to enjoy.

The Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh has magnificent plants and lawns for the public to enjoy.

We took a day of leisure in Edinburgh to see some of the local scene. With a day pass for the incredibly convenient local buses, we headed to the waterfront community of Leith. The shopping mall was strategically located on the pier where the HMS Britannica is moored.

The HMS Britannia is open for the public to tour.

The HMS Britannia is open for the public to tour.

We did not pay admission to go aboard because we just are not into paying admission to see really expensive furniture. It certainly looks comfy, and I am sure the Royal Family made do with the finest luxuries when they wished to go for a cruise. The Britannica is a fine ship, and she served her purpose in her time. However, after having seen some of the opulent yachts of the super-wealthy, I believe that now the Britannia is not in that class.

The Palm House maintains exotic tropical plants. In front lies the largest tree fossil in the UK.

The Palm House maintains exotic tropical plants. In front lies the largest tree fossil in the UK.

A short bus ride through town brought us to the Royal Botanical Garden. This has to be the most tranquil setting in the city. While we did not see many flowers in bloom, it reminded me of the Arboretum in Seattle or the Huntington Garden in Pasadena with its spacious grounds and great variety of plants and trees. Here people can take a book or sit on a park bench amid a thousand shades of green.

The gardens include glasshouses for the tropical palms collection. There are additional greenhouses for maintaining plants year round as well as botanical studies. For example, the Chinese Hillside garden symbolizes the mountain habitats where plants with medicinal properties are harvested in China. These ancient remedies are now being harvested 20% faster than they can regenerate. Due to increasing global demand, many of these medically beneficial plants will inevitably disappear without some effort to replenish them.

Sweet Potato Burger with mango salsa gets rave review.

Sweet Potato Burger with mango salsa gets rave review.

For our vegetarian/vegan readers, I will say that Florence has been diligent in following a plant-based diet ever since we left the states. While we were at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Center, we had lunch at a restaurant called Handmade Burger Company where Florence enjoyed a delicious vegetarian option. I have not been as good. My handmade burger was the UK version of a classic American cheeseburger, which was quite good. And I have enjoyed fish ‘n’ chips a couple of times because I just cannot imagine being in the UK and not eating fish ‘n’ chips.

Botanical research is ongoing thanks to additional greenhouse space.

Botanical research is ongoing thanks to additional greenhouse space.

We were lucky once again to have experienced perfect weather. That is not a given in Scotland. Frequently, when we have responded to local inquiries about where we are from, locals have responded with, “Thank you for bringing the nice weather with you.” It is not like we had anything to do with the weather. I think this is just one more example of the Scottish people demonstrating how friendly they are. And for that we are grateful.

When Bloggers Meet

Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena was a cool meeting place.

Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena is a cool meeting place.

My writing is mostly about travel and the uniqueness of our Six Monther lifestyle. As such, I gain much from those who have gone before us like Around the World with Steve and James and Terri Vance at Gallivance. I also enjoy blogs that are just plain fun like reocochran’s Witless Dating After Fifty.

Perhaps the most gratifying experience for a blogger is the acknowledgement that comes from knowing someone out there is actually reading. The interaction between reader and writer through comments feeds and nourishes a writer’s desire to know people actually care about one’s writing. This interaction is the greatest distinction between blogging and say writing a book, which is essentially a solo project. And many writers are also bloggers, like my friend Dawn at Tales from the Motherland.

I use words like feed and nourish because I am inexorably drawn to food blogs. I salivate at the photos of amazing dishes and I look forward to trying out recipes because I have always enjoyed cooking. I love the fun recipes my grandson and I can do together, like those shared by the 20-something mother of two at Tried & Tested Kid-friendly Recipes! And I am inspired by writers committed to losing weight who share their triumphs and challenges like Jeff at Change For A Year.

Celeste and Paul look happy and healthy.

Celeste and Paul looking happy and healthy

I am now considering a healthier life through vegetarian/vegan eating thanks to several blogs including Celeste’s Honk if You’re Vegan. I was delighted that Celeste and I were able to arrange to meet in-person at a local coffee shop recently, spouses included! We all hit it off and our time together blew by so quickly that we had little time to delve into the topic of vegan food. So we did what you always do when a meeting runs over – we scheduled a follow-up.

Celeste selected a vegan restaurant for a lunch meeting in The OC (Orange County). We all look forward to connecting again in-person, and I can envision a blog post or two following our vegan experience. Our blogosphere friendship has grown to become something special. I love it when bloggers meet!

Top 10 Things I Love About Mexico

Art and culture are on display everywhere in Mexico.

Art and culture are on display everywhere in Mexico.

Our stay in Mexico is approaching the end, and it is appropriate to reflect on our experiences. We still have another month and a half before our final departure. However, I will be on assignment in the U.S. for four weeks. So before our stay draws to a close I want to share my Top 10 list for Mexico:

Ancient civilizations left their mark.

Ancient civilizations left their mark.

1. Restaurant Food – There are fabulous restaurants in Mexico. Our host, Jim Horn, has introduced us to the finest eateries in Cuernavaca.
2. Fresh Fruit – The variety and abundance of fresh fruit is the best in the Western Hemisphere. Everything grows here.
3. Hospitality – The people are friendly and helpful. They want visitors to feel welcome, and we do!
4. Health Care – On the few occasions when we needed care, we found world class health care at reasonable prices on our “pay-as-you-go” plan.
5. Climate – While it was snowing in places in the U.S., I was getting a tan. Enough said.
6. Cheese – Before arriving in Mexico, I was craving good cheese. We found great cheeses in Mexico!
7. History – The remains of civilization in Mexico rivals the relics of the Old World dating back thousands of years.
8. Butterflies and Hummingbirds – We have never seen so many of these beautiful creatures in one place.
9. Diversity of Culture – Movies, art, theater, music, indigenous culture, it is all here.
10. Infrastructure for Tourism – There is an excellent transportation system and the roads are well maintained.

Honorable Mention

Artisans and food vendors abound.

Artisans and food vendors abound.

Safety – The bad rap Mexico gets in the American media is simply unfair. We have felt as secure in Mexico as anyplace we have been in the U.S. or any other country we have visited.
Tranquility – Our recent visit to the town square on a Sunday was typical. Families were out with their children. Young people strolled while holding hands. Elderly folks sat with friends in sidewalk cafes sipping coffee.
Shopping – We frequently stroll among shops and stalls to see what is for sale. Most recently we bought a brightly painted ceramic crucifix for 40 pesos ($3.40) and a nicely crafted carry-on backpack for 180 pesos ($16.50).

Did we miss anything?

Birds and butterflies visit me often in my "office."

Birds and butterflies visit me often in my “office.”

Mexico is a big country, and we missed seeing a lot of it. Neither of us are what you would call “beach people,” so we did not visit the coast. Nor did we make it to Puebla, Yucatan or the lush southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. There is simply too much of Mexico to take in over a short span of time. Some might say, “But you had six months! That is plenty of time to see so much of Mexico.” That may seem true. However, we are not on vacation. Vacation living is often expensive and exhausting.

Mexico is a big and scenic country.

Mexico is a big and scenic country.

We adopted our Six Monther lifestyle to take life at a normal pace. We attended some expat meetings. We saw a couple of first-run movies. We found local shops for food and services. We adopted exercise routines. We even published a book. In order to take in more of the things worth seeing, we will need to return someday and perhaps we will. However, there is much of the world yet to see.

Our home for the second half of 2013 will be Scotland. Have you visited Scotland? What do you think is a must-see destination?

living in Mexico

Jalapeño Love – A Food Story

JALAPENOS

The Scoville Chart shows jalapeño peppers on the cooler end of the heat spectrum.

Jalapeño peppers are on the cooler end of the Scoville heat spectrum.

Some might say my craving for hot spicy food is indicative of a warped personality or a self-destructive tendency, including my wife. However, I do not eat things so damn hot that I must run to the fridge for a dousing of milk, yogurt or ice cream. (Note – water and beer just spread the heat. Dairy products help put out the fire.) I am not seeking a stomach bomb with 3 million Scoville units. No, I am talking about flavor. The special tang of hot salsa on a taco or burrito that makes every bite a burst of flavor. The sensual crunch of juicy jalapeño peppers on nachos that fills my mouth with flavor. Such is my love of jalapeño peppers.

My love of food is inescapably linked to my love of spice. For example, when I go to a Thai restaurant, I look for the dishes with the most little chilies next to the item. Then I ask the waiter if the heat ratings for these dishes are “Americanized.” Would four chilies on the menu be only three if we were in Thailand? I do not want wimpy hot food. Part of the joy of eating spicy food is sweat breaking out across the bridge of my nose.

Jalapeños are your friends!Jose Jalapeño on a Stick - Jeff Dunham Productions

Jalapeños are your friends!
Jose Jalapeño on a Stick – Jeff Dunham Productions

I am not alone in my quest for spicy heat. Many shops specialize in selling great varieties of hot sauces, some with adjectives like ‘kick-ass’ in the brand name. Also, most supermarkets now have a wide variety of spicy sauces. They are usually divided between the sauce aisle and the Hispanic foods aisle. These sauces are okay to quickly liven up a bowl of chicken noodle soup or a side of baked beans. However, they are quite boring compared to the textures and flavors of a good homemade salsa or stirring a couple tablespoons of diced jalapeños into a steaming bowl of chili.

Stop avoiding hot, spicy food like it is a bee ready to sting you. Try adding a tiny bit of jalapeño pepper on your next nacho chip. Your body builds a natural tolerance to capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that makes them hot. That is why some people, like me, can eat a jalapeño like a pickle and just smile while first-timers seem wimpy as they run to put the fire out. Remember, start slow with jalapeños, and perhaps one day you will also relish the crunchy texture and flavor of a jalapeño to spice up next Mexican-style meal.

The jalapeño bean dip was a hit with all the women at the party.

The jalapeño bean dip was a hit with all the women at the party.

We recently hosted a birthday/going-away party for our Canadian friends, and I served my jalapeño bean dip with my wife’s homemade totopos (tortilla chips). Even my wife, a self-admitted spice wimp, loves this dip, and it was a hit with everyone. Try this simple recipe. You may be surprised by how big a hit it will be at your next party. Who knows? You might love it yourself.

Jalapeño Bean Dip
Ingredients:
Refried beans – 16 oz. serves 4
Grated mild cheese, i.e. – cheddar, jack or a mixture. Approx. 1 cup, not packed
Chopped jalapeños – appox. ¼ cup from a jar or can. Add more to suit your taste.

Heat the refried beans in a sauce pan. Add a little water if they are dry. Gradually stir in the grated cheese until it is completely melted and blended in. Add chopped jalapeños. Simmer for a few minutes. Scoop into a bowl. Sprinkle grated cheese on top if desired and serve with tortilla chips.