Monday, March 18, 2019

Pureed Carrots And Parsnips

One of the things that make our vacations so much fun, especially when we are in a foreign country, is trying the local cuisine.  We definitely had a great time sampling delicious Irish meals on our recent trip to Ireland.  We ate our first and last meals at Gus O'Connor's Pub in Doolin, the town we stayed in for the week.  Both meals, plus breakfast a second time there, were authentic Irish cuisine, and absolutely wonderful.  It was when we ate there for dinner that we were served something I couldn't stop thinking about when I got home and had to try to replicate.

All I knew from the menu, when I ordered my dinner, was that I would be getting a vegetable.  My side dish of vegetables actually was in it's own little side dish.  I recognized the green beans but didn't know what was beside them.  I knew they tasted amazing though.  I asked the waitress what I was eating and she said it was carrot and parsnips seasoned with salt, pepper and honey.

I have to say, my first attempt at copying this recipe was surprisingly very good!  So, I would love to share it with you so you can enjoy it as much as I did!


Pureed Carrots And Parsnips
(serves 4)


1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Steam peeled and sliced carrots and parsnips for 8 minutes.

Put steamed vegetables in a food processor or blender.  Add 1/2 cup of water and blend to desired consistency.  (Add more water if you want a smoother texture or less for a chunkier one.)

Transfer pureed vegetables into a medium saucepan and stir in honey, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium heat until warm.


Monday, March 4, 2019

Florence, Italy With A Side Trip To Pisa

We loved Spain and France, the first two countries we visited on our Mediterranean cruise vacation.  Now it was time for our ship to take us to Italy.  This was the country we were going to spend the most time in and our first port in Italy was Livorno.  As was the case for most of the cruise, our ship docked in a smaller city leaving us to research our options for getting to where we wanted to go from there.  For this leg of the trip, we booked an excursion through the cruise line because we wanted to see both Florence and Pisa and it was just easier to get to both with a tour.

What we really didn't want to miss out on seeing, while we were in this area, was Michaelangelo's David at the Accademia.  We were happy to know that we would be able to obtain our tickets in advance, online, and, thereby, would not have to wait in a 2 hour line.  We only had 4 hours  in Florence so we didn't have 2 hours to spare.

When you order tickets online, you have to reserve the date and time that you would like to visit the Accademia.  According to the itinerary of the excursion we booked, it said we would have 4 hours in Florence and have one hour in Pisa.  We were being picked up at our cruise ship at 8:00 am so we ordered our tickets for 10:00 am giving us time to travel to Florence and then find our way to the museum.

We couldn't believe it when the tour guide announced that we would be going to Pisa first then to Florence!  I assumed that we would go to Florence first since it was listed first and we found out that that is usually the case, but not today.  Well, it was only 8:00 am and we would only be spending 1 hour in Pisa.  We had some hope that we would make it to Florence in time to see David.

So off we went to Pisa where we had to take the very cheesy, but must-do, picture of us holding up the tower.  This is not an easy picture to take we found out.  I took several of Soko and he took a bunch of me.  It was really hard to find a place to stand near the tower, first of all, because there are so many people trying to do the same thing, and then we could not find the right angle.  The picture below is the only picture that came kind of close (but not really) to what we were hoping for.  I am now very impressed when I see a great picture of someone holding up the tower!

I would have loved to round up our tour group, after taking our picture, to get them into the bus and on to Florence, but that wasn't happening so we checked out the two other buildings in this small area which is called the Field of Miracles square.

The Pisa Cathedral was gorgeous but the main attraction on this building was the amazing bronze doors that tell the story of the life of Jesus.

The Baptistery here is the biggest in Italy and was another beautifully detailed building.

It was finally time to meet our group to get back on the bus and off to Florence.  It was not quite 10:00 am yet.  We had no idea how long it would take us to get to Florence but there was still a chance that we would not be there too much after 10:00.  But, no, one of our tour passengers did not show up at our meeting place.  We were waiting so long for the latecomer that another one of our fellow passengers got so tired of waiting that he decided to head back to the bus and offered to lead the way for anyone who wanted to join him.  Everyone decided to follow him back.  You could hear our tour guide calling out "Is no one going to wait with me?"  She eventually left the Field of Miracles without our fellow cruiser and he had to find his own way back to the ship.

As soon as we got off the bus in Florence, me and Soko started running toward the Accademia .  It was on the opposite side of the town.  By the time we got to the building we were almost 2 hours late.  Out of breath and totally stressed, we ran to a gentlemen who was directing the many people who were waiting on a mile long line to get in to see David.  I showed him our tickets and explained what happened.  He was so kind and told us not to worry.  He told us to go across the street to a small storefront to exchange our receipt for a ticket then come back to the shorter line and we would be in in 10 minutes.  The person at the storefront was not so kind at all and was very annoyed that we were so late.  She told us she would issue our tickets, which had 10:00 as our entrance time, but really didn't think we would get in.   We ran back to the fast pass ticket line but the nice gentlemen was gone!  We got on line anyway and got past someone who barely looked at our tickets as we entered the building.  Just when we thought we were home free, we noticed a ticket taker at a booth.  We were thinking, this is where we finally will be told our tickets were no good and we would have to wait on the 2 hour line.  But then, we couldn't believe it, we recognized the person at the ticket booth.  It was the kind gentleman that we met outside.  He recognized us and gave us a huge knowing smile and told us to enjoy our time.

So the moral of this story is, buy your ticket in advance, if you are pressed for time, even if you don't know exactly what time to order them for.

Not too far from the Accademia was a food court, Mercato Centrale, that we wanted to have lunch at.  We read about the tremendous food market on the lower floor with restaurants on the upper.  We had really good pizza here and the best, (freshly made), cannoli I have ever tasted in my entire life!

After lunch, we had a very small amount of time to see the rest of the sights on our list before we had to get back to where our bus dropped us off.  We pretty much had to run to each sight, take a quick picture, then run to the next one.  The first place we ran to was the Plaza di San Giovanni, where we saw the magnificent Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiori, and the adjacent Campanile and Baptistery.

From here, we skipped a few sights we had planned to check out because we were running out of time and I didn't want to miss seeing the Piazza della Signoria where a replica of David stands in place of the original that once stood there.  If you look closely, you can see it next to the doorway of the building on the left.

Also in this plaza is an open-air sculpture gallery, Loggia de Lanzi.  We read that there were many statues here and we especially wanted to see the one of Perseus holding Medusa's decapitated head.  Hey, it's not everyday you see something like that!

We spent a good amount of time at the plaza but it was time to start heading back.  I didn't want us to get left behind like the person who got left in Pisa so we skipped a couple of more sights and rushed back to our meeting place, the Piazza di Santa Croce where the beautiful Church of Santa Croce stands.

We got back with time to spare and were even able to enjoy a gelato as we waited for our tour guide to come pick us up to bring us back to the ship.  We took one last picture of the beautiful city of Florence as we drove away on our tour bus.

There were a few sights we had planned to see that we didn't even get close to and many buildings we wanted to go inside but didn't get a chance to.  I guess we have just have to plan another vacation to Florence, Italy!

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Making Futomaki To Celebrate Setsubun

My mom was Japanese.  That meant that half of our family lived in Japan.  And lucky for me and my sisters, we spent entire summers living in Japan.  Because of that, I get so homesick for my second home, when summer arrives each year.  I miss our family and friends, the lifestyle, the celebrations and the food that we eat as we celebrate.  Although, we can't travel to Japan for every holiday, we can celebrate and keep the traditions alive in our homes here in the US.  One of our favorite holidays is Setsubun because we can eat one of favorite foods, futomaki.

Setsubun is celebrated one day before the start of spring, which in Japan is February 3.  One custom that is practiced during this holiday is throwing roasted soybeans.  You throw beans inside the home, usually at a family member who is wearing a demon mask and running around the house, to chase away any demons.  After the bean throwing, you have the bean eating.  Everyone eats the amount of beans that corresponds with their age.  Without revealing my age, I can tell you that if I had to eat that many beans, I would never be able to eat the delicious futomaki after!  So, needless to say, we skip , this part of the celebration.

After the bean throwing fun, comes the eating!  I would like to share our recipe for futomaki.  It is called ehomaki when made to eat for Setsubun and should contain 7 fillings.  The 7 fillings represent the Seven Deities of Good Fortune.  They can be any filling you choose.  Our recipe has only 5 but you can add shrimp, imitation crab meat or a number of other ingredients if you want your roll to be officially Setsubun ready.

There are a couple of things you need to know first though before you make and eat your own futomaki, if you are making it to celebrate Setsubun.   You must keep the roll whole and not sliced like you would see it in your favorite sushi restaurant.  If you slice your roll, you will be slicing away good luck.  Next you will have to face the lucky direction which this year was east northeast.  (You can find the direction of the year and more information about Setsubun here.)  Then you will eat your futomaki in silence as you contemplate the events of the past year and look forward to enjoying the new year.  If you eat your futomaki correctly, you will have good fortune.


(makes 4 rolls)


Yaki sushi nori - roasted seaweed 

Prepare the following ingredients:

1 cup uncooked rice (I use genmai but short-grain Japanese white rice would make a better roll) - makes 3 cups cooked
Cool rice.  Mix 2 Tbs. sugar, 1/3 cup rice vinegar and a dash of salt in a medium bowl.  Add and gently mix in cooled rice and set aside.

8 dried shiitake mushrooms
Soak mushrooms in 1 1/4 cup water.  Do not discard water.  After mushrooms soften (about 30 minutes) squeeze out excess water from the mushroom into the water they were soaking in.  You should have about 1 cup of water.  Add 2 Tbs. sugar, 1 Tbs. mirin and 1 Tbs. soy sauce to the water.  Pour the flavored water into a frying pan.  Slice the mushrooms (discard the stems) and add them to the frying pan.  Cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally and watching carefully, until there is no more water left in the pan.  Set cooked mushrooms aside.

Break 4 eggs into a bowl and mix together with 1/2 Tbs. mirin, 1 tsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. kosher or sea salt.  Spray frying pan with Pam or use a small amount of oil if you prefer.  When pan is heated, add a thin layer of egg, rotating pan to spread egg over entire bottom of pan.   When egg is almost cooked, but still wet, fold one edge of the egg over about an inch or two and and keep folding until the egg ends up on the opposite side of the pan.  Add another thin layer of egg and when egg is cooked as before, fold the folded egg over the new layer of egg.  Continue cooking the egg in this manner with the remaining egg.

Allow tomagoyaki to cool, then slice into approximately 1/2 inch wide and the length of the seaweed sheet.

One 2.1 oz package of prepared kampyo.  You can find this in the freezer or fridge of your favorite Japanese supermarket.  If you find dried kampyo, or prefer to use it dried, follow the same cooking directions for the mushrooms to prepare the kampyo for your roll.

Slice the pickled radish to about 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch thickness and the length of your sushi nori (seaweed sheet).

Slice the same as the takuwan.

Place the sushi nori on a bamboo mat made for sushi rolling.  Spread rice over your seaweed sheet to about an inch from the edge of the top and bottom of the seaweed.  Place the prepared ingredients side by side on top of the rice.

Now you are ready to roll your futomaki.  It is very hard to describe how to roll sushi and I haven't made a video to demonstrate this technique.  I would like to direct you to where I was directed by DIL Nicole.  Yuko and Noriko from Japanese Cooking 101 helped me roll my first futomaki!  Go here for their tutorial.

Enjoy and Happy Setsubun!

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Monday, January 28, 2019

Nice, France - A Walk On The Beachfront And Nice's Old Town

We boarded our cruise ship in Barcelona, Spain.  Barcelona was amazing, by the way!  (Read about our visit here.)  We were happy we decided to spend two days there while we waited for the ship that would take us on a vacation we have been looking forward to for many years, a cruise around Europe.  Now, it was time to get on the ship and get excited for our first stop, Nice, France.

The first port, on our cruise itinerary, was actually described as Nice (Villefranche) France.  Villefrance was actually our port but it is a very small town so I guess since Nice was so easy to get to, and more well-known, the port was listed as Nice.  Our ship couldn't dock near land in Villefranche, though, so we started off our adventure in France with a tender ride to the shore.  

Monaco was also pretty easy to get to from Villefrance but since Nice is the largest city in the French Riviera and the closest major city to Villefrance, we decided that's where we would spend our day.  We walked 10 minutes through the cute town of Villefrance to get to the train station.  If we would have decided to go to Monaco, mostly to see the famous Monte Carlo Casino, we would have wound up at this same train station going east instead of west.

We found out that finding your way around a foreign country without knowing the language and not being able to figure out how to use Google Maps (yet!) was not an easy task.  Somehow, we did make it to Old Town though.  

We were going to follow the walk that Rick Steves describes in his book, Mediterranean Cruise Ports.  His walk starts at Place Massena but before we even got there we got off course when I spotted a macaron bakery.  I found out that although macarons I have eaten in America are delicious, they are not as good as they are in France!  They are completely opposite of France's, as a matter of fact.  France's macaron has a much thinner cookie and double the filling.  I am dreaming about going back one day to try every flavor.  I can't believe I only tried one when we were there!

After enjoying that delicious macaroon, we found Place Massena.  We knew we were there when we saw the checkerboard pavement.  I was excited about finding men sitting on top of high pedestals here.  They were not hard to find!

In this same plaza, we were to look for Apollo holding his beach towel.  We would have to walk past him to get into Old Town or Vieux Nice.

Just past this amazing fountain, we found Rue St. Francois de Paule.  This street took us to the heart of Vieux Nice and on this street were shops that I was looking forward to shopping in.  The first shop on Rick Steves walk that we wanted to shop in was Alziari olive oil shop.  This shop has been in operation since 1868.  We knew we wanted to to try their olives but didn't know that there would be so many choices.  It took awhile to make a choice.

La Couqueto was also on this street and is where we bought our santon.  Santons are handpainted clay figurines that are usually used at Christmastime in nativities.  We found a shepherd boy here that we used to decorate our home this Christmas.

Next to find on Rick Steves walk, and still on Rue St. Francois de Paule, was Nice's opera house.  The facade was as incredible as we read it would be.

I was really excited about the building directly across the street from the opera house.  According to what we read in Steves book, Patisserie Auer's was where Queen Victoria would shop for chocolate.  I would definitely have bought plenty of chocolate here but the store was closed!

The next sight on our walking tour was Cours Saleya, Nice's main market square.  The flowers that are sold here are the flowers that are used to make perfume.  I couldn't wait to get a whiff of them.

After spending some time at the market, we looked for the next street on our tour, Rue de la Poissonerie.  We were looking for Adam and Eve on our right as we turned onto this street.  We were to look up toward the first floor of the first building here to see them.  Well...we searched and we searched and never found them.  At first we were on the wrong street, but couldn't find them when we found the right street!  But we didn't miss the small church, Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation.  This church is the most popular church in Nice as it is dedicated to St. Rita.  She is the patron saint of desperate causes and desperate people and she has a special place in the hearts of the locals here.

From here we were to look for Rue Droite.   On this street we would find Eglise St-Jacques le Majeur.  It is a Catholic church and a Baroque style building.  The definition I found for Baroque is "richly decorated with many ornaments, stucco, false marble, cherubs and medallions."  It was definitely richly decorated and beautiful.

Place Rossetti was where our walking tour ended.  Here we found the gorgeous Cathedral of St. Reparate.

One last stop before we left Old Town and headed to the beach.  Fenocchios and our first taste of gelato!  Looks like we saved the best for last!  I think half the population of Nice was here enjoying the deliciousness! 

Before starting our second Rick Steves walking tour, we made a stop at Castle Hill.  We had a choice of walking up the hill, to get to an ancient fort and great view, or taking an elevator.  We took the elevator!  We were so glad we went a out of our way to stop here.  The view we were treated to was well worth it!

Rick Steves' Promenade Des Anglais walk was next on our "must-see in Nice" list.  We didn't see most of the sights on this walking tour as we ran out of time to.  We mostly just wanted to stroll along the beach anyway.  If we had time, we might have took a peek inside the elegant Hotel Negresco and maybe checked out the Massena Museum to have a look at Josephine's cape and tiara and Napoleon's desk mask!

What we did see was a beach like we've never seen before.  We are used to seeing sandy beaches so seeing one as rocky as this one was a very unusual, but very cool sight to see.  I also couldn't believe how comfortable the sunbathers looked laying on top of these rocks on their thin beach blankets!

It took awhile, but we did find the tiny bronze Statue of Liberty that Rick Steves mentions as a sight to see on this walk.

It was time to head back to Villefranche.  On our way back to the train station, we passed this interesting monument, which I didn't know at the time, was erected in 1896 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Nice's annexation to France and...

this beautiful carousel.

We took one last picture in our port city, Villefranche, before boarding our cruise ship.  

One thing I wanted to do was to eat some French onion soup in France.  We looked all over but had no luck.  Do they eat it in France or is it like french fries that are not really French?  Well, anyway, lucky for me, the cruise ship had it on their dinner menu!

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