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.