Dinner with Guillermo

I’ve written before about travel karma. [1] You know, that sense of crushing inevitability when the tour bus arrives late because of the traffic, and it’s crowded, and the guy in the seat behind you won’t stop whining, and you’re about to turn around and open your mouth and give him something to really complain about. Travel karma is a bitch.

It can also be awesome. Uwe and I spent a too-short week on Gran Canaria, and we ate twice with Guillermo Ramirez. But let me back up.

Eating is a major aspect of traveling with my spousal unit. If you see us poring over the guide books, we’re probably checking out the historic, cultural, and Nature highlights of wherever we are.

Okay, kitsch sneaks into the mix sometimes too

I can guarantee you we’ve already scoped out all the good places to eat! Gran Canaria was no exception, and Uwe found a highly praised locale kitty-corner to our hotel. Hungry, on Thursday we headed over to Restaurante de Cuchara and entered a small family restaurant, probably 12 tables max. The owners greeted guests like old friends (most of them were) and only the owners’ handsome son Guillermo spoke English. He took it upon himself to serve us each course – which he was also cooking – and explained each dish with pride. The meal was great. I’ve retained a little of my high school and college Spanish (moving to Germany and having to learn Deutsch highjacked most of the foreign language area of my brain). But I could read the flier on our table that said Restaurante de Cuchara was serving a special six-course menu on Saturday.

Even before we finished dinner, we’d made a reservation for the coming Saturday. We got the last free table.

On Saturday night Guillermo again brought each course to our table and told us how he’d prepared them. Our meals cost a grand 30€ apiece.

Here are some of the dishes we ate those nights: A fermented, champagne-style gazpacho. Rabbit in a roll that you ate with your hands. Melt-in-your-mouth croquettes of suckling lamb. Grilled Canarian cheese with tomato jam. Quail stew with chickpeas. Cod fish Bras style. Canarian pork cheeks stew. Duck breasts. Pickled cucumber on edamame purée.

I was dying to ask him a question. When he came with our desserts I said, “We’ve been wondering if we might ask you, where did you train as a chef?” He smiled. “NOMA, in Copenhagen. I worked for a while in Bangkok, too.” NOMA! We knew NOMA has been repeatedly rated the best restaurant in the world. [2]

Guillermo was back on Gran Canaria for a few months, helping out in his parents’ restaurant. This particular dining experience was a way to show off what he could do with local ingredients and creativity. I told him that I blog and would be writing about him. I added, with absolute certainty, that I think he’ll be famous someday. His cooking is that good.

No, I didn’t receive a discount for saying I’d write a rave review. And yeah, travel karma. Sometimes you hit it just right.

NOTES: [1] I wrote about travel karma in a post I unimaginatively titled Travel Karma [2] NOMA was rated the Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

I have no idea if Señor Guillermo Ramirez is still in the kitchen, but here’s the contact info for this tasty restaurant. Restaurante de Cuchara, C/. Alfredo L.  Jones, 37; Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Tel: 928 26 55 09. Their website: Restaurante de Cuchara

6 October 2018 update… Note to anyone lucky enough to be heading to Gran Canaria: Guillermo informed me that he’s opened a new restaurant named Picaro. Here is the link: Restaurante Picaro If you are in Las Palmas, go!

Text © Jadi Campbell 2018. Photos © Uwe Hartmann 2018. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Tastes of Xi’an, China

While I’m posting about China and Xi’an, I want to mention the yummy traditional foods. I’ll keep this post brief, and allow Uwe’s photos from our visit to do the talking. Besides, my mouth keeps watering just looking at them.

In Xi’an’s historic Muslim quarter, vendors were baking, frying, steaming and cooking all sorts of delicious treats. These ranged from food that was deep fried in woks to marinated meats on skewers.

Care for a kebab?

I couldn’t resist the piles of beautifully plaited and stamped breads,

as well as the stacks of sesame and bean paste desserts…

NOTES: Xi’an was China’s the first city in China to be introduced to the religion of Islam and the religion has been allowed here since 651. About 50,000 Hui Muslims reside in Xi’an. ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ

NOTE: Today marks the beginning of the 5 day festival of the Vietnamese goddess Bà Chúa Xứ. In her honor I am reprinting my original post about her cult. —Jadi

To see the Mekong Delta on our own by boat proved complicated and required more time than we had. We signed on instead for a tour. We were lucky: only a young couple from Holland had signed up as well.

Travel by boat we did! We took long boats, short boats, boats powered by motors or by human arms. We visited floating markets and stumbled into a tourism promotion festival going on in Chau Doc.

For me the highlight was the festival for Bà Chúa Xứ, the Lady of the Realm on the border to Cambodia. The shrine to Bà Chúa Xứ houses the most important cult in southern Vietnam.

Temple entrance

We had the really good luck to visit Bà Chúa Xứ’s temple during the holiest period of the year. Her three-day festival starts at the beginning of the rainy season on the twenty-third day of the fourth lunar month.

The Lady of the Realm protects female entepreneurs (important in a country like Vietnam where women play a major role in small family businesses). Bà Chúa Xứ’s cult has a fascinating belief in both fecundity and the capacity of the goddess to multiply all that she touches — including money.

If you invoke Bà Chúa Xứ’s help, you must make a pilgrimage to thank your benefactress for her assistance. (She is remorseless to those who betray her favor!) Traditionally men need to spend 9 years making an annual pilgrimage, and 7 years are required of women.

In the courtyard before her temple, spirit money is burned in huge vats.

Spirit $2

Spirit $1

I wanted to make an offering inside the temple and decided to brave the crowds.

DS1_0517

I joined the slow moving throngs and we inched our way forward. All around me pilgrims carried tall flowers,

Pig 6

and men bore platters with decorated sacrifices of whole pigs on their shoulders.

Pig 5

Pig 4

Pig 3

Pig 2

Pig 1

People bought baskets filled with offerings of fruit,

Temple Offering

and still others carried lit sticks of incense, held high.

Entering the temple

The crowds were so thick that I was concerned someone would set my hair on fire!

Incense 1

Once I was inside the temple I managed to make my way up to Bà Chúa Xứ’s altar. Each day in progressive rituals her image is washed and cleaned. On this day, old women were changing her robes. I was unable to get close enough though, and made my offering later out in the (relatively) less-crowded courtyard.

The goddess originally resided on the top of Sam Mountain; her image is popularly thought to have grown from the stones of the landscape.

from the summit of Sam Mountain
from the summit of Sam Mountain, with the temple crowds just below

She wished to be worshipped and caused the locals to move her statue down to Vĩnh Tế village, where her temple still stands today.

I was surprised and moved to realize that her image had mass and strength rather than simple beauty. Some reports state that her statue is a female Shiva (Khmer). Other sources equate her with the queen Thien Y A Na (Cham), the goddess Tin Hau (Chinese), and the Lady Buddha (India). Bà Chúa Xứ is also named The Black Lady, and I see a likeness to Christianity’s Black Madonna.

Bà Chúa Xứ is a powerful deity protecting and bestowing prosperity on her people in the Mekong Delta. In such a fertile area it makes sense to believe in a benevolent, generous goddess.

U&J Temple Entrance

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Art of Food

Two weeks ago, I posted about crispy fried big black hairy spiders. I admit it…. I had fun thinking about grossing you out.

Believe me, when I saw the size of those buggers that day at the rest stop, I wasn’t just grossed out. I was really, really happy that they were behind glass.

I felt bad (okay, only slightly) for scaring the small children and grown men in my reading audience. So this week, I’m bringing you another food post, but in the opposite direction: Food as Art.

Uwe and I just made our first trip to two of the Baltic states. We spent a couple days each exploring Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Along with sparking a brand-new curiosity in the Hanseatic League [1], these cities introduced me to the northern European food scene.

Oh. My. God. We ate incredible meals every night. What made those meals so special is an insistence on local products and a reverence for tradition, but with a modern spin. The chefs did delicious things with grains like kasha, and groats and millet, and barley. For years I have firmly insisted that German bread is the best on the planet, closely followed by breads baked fresh in India [2]. Now there’s a new guy on the (bread) block: the pumpernickel and dark breads of the Baltics.

A starter with local smoked salmon

We ordered dishes with elk, deer, fresh and smoked fish,

A different restaurant’s smoked salmon with trout cavier, accompanied by rolled slices of cucumber
… and a third restaurant’s smoked salmon appetizer. Art on a plate
Traditional beet borscht soup, updated with yellow lentils and pieces of elk meat that melted in my mouth

local cheeses and beers. For the first time in my life I ate (and loved!) kippered herrings. Everything was decorated with edible flowers and herbs, and served up with intense purees of once uninteresting and now fascinating root vegetables. Everything was presented as a work of art. This is food to die for….

First course of wild mushrooms sauteéd and served in spinach blini purses

Without further ado, here are some of the plates from our feasts. Every night we forgot to photograph at least one course. We were too busy enjoying our food!

Lamb marinated in juniper berries served with yellow beetroot cream, cranberries and barley
Fresh fish with beet root puree and kale (out of all the meals we ate, the kale was the one item that was not perfect)
Venison stew with roasted onion halves
Beef with sweet pepper-eggplant-onion millet squares, oyster mushrooms, water cress and johnny-jump-ups

A shout out to the amazing restaurants Von Krahi Aed and Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, as well as Peter Gailis and Melna Bite in Riga. Labu apetīti and jätku leiba! [3]

Hibiscus poached pear, pumpkin seeds in apple syrup, and raspberry sorbet

NOTES: [1] The Hanseatic League controlled all shipping and commerce across the Baltic Sea and northern Europe to Russia. Riga and Tallinn (then known as Reval) were member cities. [2] Go to my earlier post My Mother-in-Law’s Cookies for more on bread. [3] Latvian and Estonian for bon appetít. As always, I receive no favors for mentioning these establishments. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann 2017. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

 

The Animal Kingdom: A Cluster

One of the exotic foods I have (NOT!) eaten is a Cambodian treat of crispy fried big black hairy spiders. Sold at a roadside stop when the bus from Phnom Penh thoughtfully stopped for a bathroom break.

Crispy Fried Big Black Hairy Spiders .. who doesn't love 'em?
Crispy Fried Big Black Hairy Spiders .. who doesn’t love ’em?

Actually, this post belongs to my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals. Here I give you: a cluster of spiders. Realize that these are (were) each about the size of my closed fist, and you will understand why I lost my appetite.

The spider in the next photo was as large as the span of my whole hand….

Really, you don’t even wanna imagine a cluster of these guys in Northern Laos
How about a cluster of these spiders – also gigantic – from Japan?

I can’t imagine eating these spiders. Or the scorpions, or larvae, or bugs fried up at various markets we’ve visited…. But they are a source of protein. “Over 1,000 species of insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world’s nations. The total number of ethnic groups recorded to practice entomophagy is around 3,000. …Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. …FAO has registered some 1900 edible insect species and estimates there were in 2005 some 2 billion insect consumers worldwide.” [1]

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s animal photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de. Fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com. Go to this Wikipedia page: /List of endangered spiders. [1] The practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy Wikipedia: Entomophagy

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books  and me.

J’aime la Vie

No, the hotel walls aren’t an optical illusion. They’re the colors of the French flag

I’m a girl who moved to the damp Pacific NW from upstate NY, where it can snow in April. When Uwe and I first fell in love, it was springtime in Europe. Flowers bloomed everywhere, the sun shone, we sat at outdoor tables in cafés holding hands… Mid-April and I’m in a t-shirt drinking wine at lunch with my sweetie ? Now this is the life!

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was falling in love with a way of life, too.

It’s twenty-five years later and I’m still here. I remain in love with the way of life. But we joke that if the weather had been different I might not have been so quick to agree to stay. Some years it snows here in April, too. On April 18 & 19, it came down hard and then melted.

Possible snow showers are in this week’s forecast.

Snow flakes and a cloud bank coming our way

But two weeks ago we were in Paris and the temperature hit 22° C (71° F). Everywhere the trees and flower beds were in bloom, and yes, we sat at outdoor cafés…

We made a day trip to Amiens’ magnificent cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in France. I was excited to discover that Amiens contains one of the few labyrinths still in existence. [1]

While I wait for the weather to decide if it really is springtime, I’m enoying the photos from the City of Lights.

Paris remains the most satisfying of cities.

It doesn’t matter if I’m in Paris for the art, the food, the shops, or the French way of life. Paris appeals to all of my senses. Whenever I’m there I fall right back in love with being alive. J’aime la vie!

I lost my head for love. I wonder what his story was

NOTES: We took the direct fast train from Stuttgart. In 3 hours, we were in Paris. [1] Go to my earlier post Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres to read about another labyrinth and the glory that is Chartres. © Jadi Campbell 2017. To see  Uwe’s pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

You Can Have Your Cake & Eat It, Too

If you grow up with the name Jadi, it will be mispronounced. Jodi. Judy. Janie. Right when a community had it figured out, we would move. One after the other, a parade of grade school and high school teachers and college professors stumbled reading roll call.  

When the second Star Wars film came out, everyone at the firm where I worked treated me to (insert uproarious laughter here) “Hey! It’s The Return of the Jadi!”

Perhaps it was inevitable that I married a German named Uwe.

Uwe is a common name in Germanic countries, but just about impossible to pronounce correctly for anyone else. “Ova?” my mother suggested. “Ewe-y,” grinned Dad; I know he did it on purpose.

We had a quiet wedding in Germany and a party Stateside a few months later. A restaurant catered the reception and a local bakery made the wedding cake(s).  

I’ve written elsewhere about the awesomeness of German bakeries [1]. For our party, rather than do a tiered and tired yum-where’d-you-get-this-cake-that-tastes-like-sugar-covered-cardboard, I wanted to honor the country I was marrying along with meinen Mann. I went to the best bakery in town and made a proposal:

I ordered six sheet cakes, all different. Yellow cake. Coconut cake. Carrot cake. Chocolate cake. Spice cake. And, yes, one white cake. Turns out I’m a sucker for tradition after all. The bakery manager dutifully wrote everything down.

“And,” I continued with the order, “I want you to write our names on all of the cakes. Wrong. Except for one of them. Here’s a list of names for each cake,” I said, and handed him a page of phonetics.

When we went to pick up those cakes before the party, the bakery let us know how much fun they’d had filling the order!  

Twenty-three years later I recall those cakes with a smile – and wonder where the time went.  

JayDee and Oyvay 4Ever!

Hochzeit1 Hochzeit2

NOTES: [1]  Go to My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies for more about the tradition of yummy German cakes. [2] New Morning Bakery in Corvallis, Oregon still prepares their own baked goods and meals.