Agra Fort

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

On our second full day in India, we traveled from Delhi to Agra by car.  Once we were settled in at our hotel (the incomparable Oberoi Amarvilas) and had eaten some lunch, it was time to begin exploring the city.  Later that day, we would get to see the Taj Mahal for the first time, at sunset.  But our first destination for the afternoon was the famous Agra Fort.

Agra Fort is a walled city whose outer shell was restored in brick and red sandstone by the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (1542-1605) after conquering Agra.  Agra became Akbar’s capital, and he and his family lived there before moving on to Fatehpur Sikri in 1571.  Here are some of the sections of the fort ostensibly completed during Akbar’s time there.

It’s got a real lived-in look to it, doesn’t it?  Seriously, the parrot ornaments are no accident.  Parrots rule this part of India, and you can see them all over the fort.  Not the big parrots that talk that are so beloved – these are small green screechy ones, similar to the nanday conure though most of them do not have the black head characteristic of the nanday.  See for example, this tree just outside the fort that was covered in parrots.

Tree Full of Parrots Outside the Agra Fort

Tree Full of Parrots Outside the Agra Fort

After passing by a number of red sandstone buildings, the look of the fort changed as we encountered the innermost parts, composed of white marble and built during the time of Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan (1594-1666).  Shah Jahan is famous for being the one who had the Taj Mahal built as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  This younger section of the Agra Fort is made in a similar style to the Taj Mahal, with the white marble inlaid with stones.

Our guide shared with us some interesting inforrmation, part history and part legend, regarding Shah Jahan and the Agra Fort.  It is reputed that Shah Jahan, after the Taj Mahal was built, wanted to build another mausoleum for himself, but all in black, across the Yamuna River from the Taj (i.e., to the east of the Agra Fort).  His son, Aurangzeb, who became emperor after him, did not want his father to spend so much money building another mausoleum, and so he imprisoned his father in the Agra Fort for the last eight years of his life.  Whether you believe this story or not, it is true that Shah Jahan lived out his days in the Agra Fort.  But don’t feel too badly for him.  He was attended during that time by his favorite daughter.  Since the emperor’s daughters were not allowed to marry, there were bedchambers built for them in the fort, and his favorite daughter got the most impressive one.

Bedroom and Salon of Shah Jahan's Favorite Daughter, at Agra Fort

Bedroom and Salon of Shah Jahan’s Favorite Daughter, at Agra Fort

And we can’t know whether it was a greater solace to him, or more torture, but in those last days he had an enviable view of his wife’s resting place (which was to become his resting place as well) across the river from the Agra Fort.

Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort

Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort

It was exciting for us to see the Taj Mahal looming so tantalizingly close, knowing that we would soon see it up close.

Taj Mahal Through the Haze, from the Agra Fort

Taj Mahal Through the Haze, from the Agra Fort

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Overview of Dairy Free Traveler India Trip 2015

I know I am a bit overdue in doing this, but I wanted to provide an overview of our trip to India back in February of this year.  Those who have been reading along know that I have already posted several times on the details of this trip.  But I am far from done with that!  Keep checking back on this post to get updates and links to all the posts – if you like reading posts in order, to get the narrative sweep of it, this is the place that will enable you to do that.

(1/31 – 2/1/15) Travel from New York to Delhi: Virgin NY to London; British Airways London to Delhi

Delhi Oberoi Hotel
(2/2) Day One: Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb

Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel
(2/3) Day Two, Part One: Agra Fort
Day Two, Part Two: Taj Mahal
(2/4) Day Three: Taj at Sunrise, Fatehpur Sikri

(2/5) Day Four: Travel to Jaipur
Oberoi Rajvilas Hotel
(2/6) Day Five: Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur City Palace
(2/7) Day Six: Amber Fort, Jal Mahal

(2/8) Day Seven: Travel to Udaipur
Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel
(2/9) Day Eight: City Palace Museum, Saheliyon Ki Bari, Folk Arts Museum, Hindu Temple
(2/10) Day Nine: Saas Bahu, Eklingji, Boat Ride on Lake Pichola
(2/11) Day Ten: Udaipur Old City/Market, Monsoon Palace
(2/12) Day Eleven: Travel to Delhi

(2/13) Day Twelve: President’s Palace, Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid
(2/14) Day Thirteen: National Museum, Lodhi Gardens
(2/15) Day Fourteen: Returning to New York City

So stay tuned, and thanks for reading.  If you have any India experiences you’d like to share, I would be happy to hear from you.  Thanks, everybody!

Posted in Agra, Countries, India, Jaipur, Lists, New Delhi, Udaipur | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri?  What’s that?  I thought we were going to hear more about the Taj Mahal!

Yes, it’s true.  The last time I wrote about our India trip, I promised more Taj Mahal photos.  And you will get them, my friends!  But since I know that you have never heard of Fatehpur Sikri, and that is in my view a place nearly as extraordinary as the Taj Mahal, I am going to share some information, and photos, about that as well.

To get the ball rolling, we need a bit of a history lesson.  For these two places are concerned with the Mughal Empire, which ruled northern India for several centuries.  And two of the most auspicious figures of that empire were instrumental in having these two places built.  Since the Taj Mahal is what we know, let’s start with that.  Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor (1594-1666), had the Taj built for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal (1593-1631) (yes, all the Mughal emperors had multiple wives – that will become important in our discussion momentarily), after she died in childbirth.  Since the Taj would take 22 years to build, Mumtaz was originally buried in a smaller tomb on the grounds of the future funerary palace.

Original Resting Place of the Empress

Original Resting Place of the Empress

There is a legend that, after building the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan intended to build a second mausoleum, a black one to match this white one, on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River.  However, this building was never built.  Shah Jahan’s son and successor as emperor, Aurangzeb (1618-1707), did not wish for his father to spend the money building this second mausoleum (so the story goes), wanting to use the money instead to wage wars (which Aurangzeb did).  To keep his father from wasting the money, Aurangzeb imprisoned his father at the Agra Fort for the final eight years of his life.

OK, that’s enough of a history lesson for now.   There will be more later.  Let’s look at photos of the Taj Mahal.  So yes, we had seen it the previous evening.  Our second day at Agra, we got up before dawn, met our guide and went to see it at sunrise.  Here is what it looked like then.

Too bad Agra has so much haze!  But like much of northern India, there is so much pollution and so much dust, that there aren’t too many points in the day when the sky is blue.  In spite of that, I am sure you agree, the Taj Mahal was pretty incredible at sunrise.

So, about this black Taj that Shah Jahan planned to build.  Did it really exist?  There is no evidence of it, only legend.  Or is there evidence?  You see, there is a tantalizing ornament painted above the archway of the Taj Mahal mosque.

Above Entrance to Taj Mahal Mosque

Above Entrance to Taj Mahal Mosque

Can you see it?  Wait, let’s get a little closer.

Close up of Decoration Above Taj Mahal Mosque

Close up of Decoration Above Taj Mahal Mosque

Just in the center?  OK, let’s get a little closer still.

The Two Taj's

The Two Taj’s

Aha, there you see it.  Two buildings side by side that look just like two Taj’s.  And with Shah Jahan’s love of symmetry – every building in the Taj Mahal complex has an opposite to balance it out – it is easy to believe that he had the intention of building a mausoleum for himself across the river to mirror the Taj Mahal.  As it is, that second building never happened, and Aurangzeb had his father buried in the Taj Mahal, thus throwing off the symmetry there (Mumtaz’s tomb is in the center, with Shah Jahan’s larger one off to the side).

So after getting up so early to see the Taj, we took a long break, and joined up with our guide Davesh and our driver Chotu for the drive out to Fatehpur Sikri, which is about 40 minutes outside of Agra.  OK, next history lesson.  So Shah Jahan’s grandfather, Akbar the Great (1542-1605), the third Mughal Emperor, was a ruler of great vision.  He had Fatehpur Sikri built to be his capital, although he only stayed there for a little more than 10 years (1573-85).

While the Mughals were Muslims, Akbar was tolerant of all religions.  Among his wives, he had Muslims, Hindus and at least one Christian wife (the Portuguese brought Catholicism to India, and Akbar’s Christian wife was one of these Portuguese).  In fact, his favorite Hindu wife, Jodha Bai, was the mother of his successor, Jahangir, and lived in the most impressive of the palaces in Fatehpur Sikri.  Furthermore, Akbar established his own religion which was a combination of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Jainism and other religions.  He had about 28 converts to his new religion, but unfortunately, it died when he died.

OK, on to some pictures of Fatehpur Sikri.  It is a preserved abandoned city, as you will see, with a number of the buildings from the 16th century still surviving.  So let’s start out with the palaces.  Here is the palace that Jodha Bai shared with her fellow Hindu wives, and her individual bedchamber.

As with the entire city, here there are many large gaping windows and open archways.  This begs the question of what they did to protect themselves from the weather.  Apparently, they used large heavy carpets to cover doorways and other large openings in the winter, and in the summer they were very clever about using screens and water sources to provide cooling.  It is also important to remember that no men were allowed to see Akbar’s wives except for him – thus the screens provided protection, where the wives could keep cool and be connected to what was happening in the city (say, musical performance) without being seen.

Next, I have just one photo the Christian wife’s palace.

Home of Maryam, Akbar's Christian Wife, Fatehpur Sikri

Home of Maryam, Akbar’s Christian Wife, Fatehpur Sikri

Third, here are some photos of the Muslim wife’s home.

There is some question as to whether this was actually the Muslim wife’s home.  After all, it is one of the smaller homes in the city, much smaller than those of the other two principal wives.  However, there are two things that may confirm that this was indeed her home.  First of all, while many other palaces in Fatehpur Sikri are decorated with a mix of Muslim, Hindu and Jain architectural ornaments, this home is only decorated with Islamic ornaments.  Second, as our guide suggested, it didn’t matter that she had a small house, since she was the favorite wife of Akbar, and spent most of her nights in his palace.

Speaking of Akbar’s palace, here it is.

Kwabgah, Akbar's Royal Residence at Fatehpur Sikri

Kwabgah, Akbar’s Royal Residence at Fatehpur Sikri

Directly across from Akbar’s palace was a lake with a raised platform in the middle of it, where musicians might gather to perform for the emperor.

Anup Talao, Ornamental Pool Opposite Akbar's Residence, Fatehpur Sikri

Anup Talao, Ornamental Pool Opposite Akbar’s Residence, Fatehpur Sikri

While many of the most impressive buildings in the city were built for members of the royal family, there was one exception to that.  Akbar had built for his most important minister, Birbal, an incredible house, as recognition of Birbal’s importance to him.

Two of the most important buildings in the city were the Hall of Public Audience, or Diwan-i-Aam, where people could come and address the emperor, and the Hall of Private Audience, or Diwan-i-Khas, where Akbar would consult with his closest advisers.  It was in the latter hall that meetings of Akbar’s new ecumenical religion took place – the central pillar is reputedly an amalgam of Hindu, Muslim, Western and Jain design.

One last building to consider – the Panch Mahal, a five-story building which housed the town’s girl’s school.  It was reputed that the top story, which held space for just one person, is where Akbar could sit and observe things going on in the city.

Panch Mahal at Fatehpur Sikri

Panch Mahal at Fatehpur Sikri

To finish up, let me show you some of the ornamental details from the various buildings, lest you should think that these were plain buildings unbecoming of a royal capital.

In my next posting about our India trip, I will finish up Agra by showing you the Agra Fort.

Posted in Agra, Countries, India, Monuments, Travel | 1 Comment

Charleston Insiders Weekend Part Two

Charleston Insiders Weekend Part Two

Charleston Insiders Weekend Part Two

So after doing some Saturday morning shopping at Charleston’s Le Creuset Boutique, it was time to head to the first Charleston Insiders Weekend event of the day.  Another Travel & Leisure event was taking place both Saturday and Sunday called “Eat and Drihnk Like a Local.”  The idea was that you would be able to sample food from 10 different restaurants in Charleston, focusing on the up-and-coming Upper King area.  King Street is the main street of the downtown Charleston peninsula, filled with restaurants and other businesses, and it is split into two halves – southern or lower King is the more established half, packed with lots of high end shops and restaurants, and Upper King is in the process of being developed, and thus the neighborhoods are full of college students and the restaurants cater more to a college crowd.

To start off, we had to go to the Charleston Visitors Center and get our “passports” – to receive samples at the various restaurants, we needed to be wearing a little book on a tether around our necks, that was filled with information about each of the restaurants.  Also, as you went to each new restaurant, they would stamp their page in the book, and the idea was that you would try to fill up your book with stamps.

Some of the restaurants involved opened only for dinner, so we looked for a couple that might be open for lunch.  We found two, and conveniently, they were not far from each other.  The first was Artisan Meat Share, on Spring Street just off of King.

Artisan Meet Share

Artisan Meat Share

Their offering was a local beer and a chunk of a classic Italian sub sandwich.  It came with provolone cheese on it, which I took off and gave to Therese (she loves being able to have double cheese on occasion because of my allergy!).

Beer and Italian Sub at Italian Meat Share

Beer and Italian Sub at Italian Meat Share

This was a great sandwich, with salami and ham and Italian seasonings.  I talked with one of the guys who was overseeing the Eat Like a Local cart in the restaurant, and he told me how meats are cured in the restaurant.  I walked to the back of the restaurant, and saw the many salamis and hams and such, which looked beautiful.  A counterman asked me if I wanted to try one of the salamis or hams, so I picked one out, and shared the slice with Therese.  If you are into meat, you will love Artisan Meat Share.

Next we walked further up King Street to Butcher & Bee.

This Way to Butcher & Bee!

This Way to Butcher & Bee!

Butcher & Bee is in a quirky setting.  It is a building at the far end of a parking lot, beyond two other industrial-looking buildings.  Actually, it reminded me a lot of New York City’s hip neighborhood, Williamsburg, which similarly features lots of industrial buildings that have been re-purposed into restaurants and bars.  Therese and I walked up and got ourselves some drinks, and I went inside to order our food.

Butcher & Bee

Butcher & Bee

At Butcher & Bee, you had a choice of two salads and two entrees, so we decided to get one of each.  And that was lucky, because as it turned out, just one salad and one entree was dairy free.  Namely, I had a kale salad and a mushroom Banh Mi sandwich (while Therese ate a strawberry salad with cheese on it, and a Cuban sandwich – also with cheese).

Kale Salad and Mushroom Banh Mi Sandwich at Butcher & Bee

Kale Salad and Mushroom Banh Mi Sandwich at Butcher & Bee

I am not usually a fan of kale, but this salad was really good.  And the portobello Banh Mi was wonderful.

There were a couple of other restaurants we could’ve visited not far from Butcher & Bee; but I was feeling a little tired.  We had been walking a lot the last two days, and the previous night there had been tons of wine with dinner.  So it being my birthday, I elected to go back to the hotel and chill for a while, and then go back out again for dinner in the evening.  And that’s what we did.

Now I should say that originally, our plan for that night was to attend a Pig Roast in a park in the Mount Pleasant area (which is to the east of the Charleston peninsula, accessible over the Ravenel Bridge).  But I wanted to go back to a restaurant where we had eaten during our previous Charleston visit during Christmastime of 2013 – namely, a Vietnamese restaurant called Co.  That way instead of having to go for a car ride in each direction, we could simply walk.

Co Banh Mi and Ramen Restaurant

Co Banh Mi and Ramen Restaurant

On this night, Co was not as good as we had remembered it from our first visit.  Apparently, the manager was working the bar, which probably meant that the regular bartender had called in sick at the last minute.  Without the manager on the floor of the restaurant, the wait staff seemed a little at loose ends.  Therese ordered Vietnamese coffee, only when it came it didn’t seem to have any condensed milk in it.  She sent it back, and when the waiter returned, it still didn’t have any condensed milk in it.  Finally, after she made a fuss, she got it with milk.

The food wasn’t bad, but it honestly was not worthy of a birthday dinner, either.  I started with fried wontons.

Fried Wontons at Co

Fried Wontons at Co

For my main course, I had a Banh Mi (I know, my second one of the day), with pulled pork.  Again, it was not bad.

The most interesting part of our time at Co was negotiating the bathrooms.  Instead of saying “Men” and “Women” the doors have the traditional symbols for the two genders.

The Bathrooms at Co

The Bathrooms at Co

I couldn’t remember which one was which – thankfully a waiter walked by and told me.  Do you know which one is which?

On Sunday midday was the last event of the weekend, the Gospel Brunch at Halls Chophouse.  Halls is an institution in Charleston, and you can see why.  Mr. and Mrs. Hall and their son all greeted us as if we were their best friends.  And the food was good, and in pretty huge portions.  I had the blackened salmon salad.

Blackened Salmon Salad at Halls Chophouse

Blackened Salmon Salad at Halls Chophouse

As we were eating, we were entertained by the Plantation Singers, a group in traditional dress that sang old Gospel tunes (like “Old-time Religion”).  A photo of the group’s performance is at the top of this post.  The center of the group is three women who are grandmother, mother and daughter.  The grandmother and mother have deep rich contralto voices and form the core of the group’s sound, while the daughter sings back-up and plays the drum.  Then there is a singer who provides a descant to the melody, and one male singer who doubles the melody.  They were wonderful to hear – I especially loved the improvisatory style of the descant singer.

And that was it.  What a weekend!  And what a town.  No wonder that Charleston is listed by Conde Nast as number one city in the U.S., and number two city in the world, as a tourism destination.  We can’t wait to go back, and I’m sure we will be back there very soon.

Posted in Asian fusion, Brunch, Charleston, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Lowcountry Cuisine, Lunch, South Carolina, United States | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Starbucks Iced Chai with Coconut Milk

Starbucks Iced Chai with Coconut Milk

Starbucks Iced Chai with Coconut Milk

Finally, after waiting for years, us dairy free folks have an alternative to soy milk at Starbucks!  So it was that with great excitement, I stopped in at my local coffee spot and ordered my first Starbucks Iced Chai with Coconut Milk.  What this new alternative really is, and how well Starbucks has done in providing a second dairy free option, we will get to in a moment.  But I will say that from a taste perspective, it is not bad – no nasty soy aftertaste or soy bloating, and creamy and rather light.  Does it taste coconut-y?  Mmmm, I would say no.

So yes, as reported by Rebooted Body, Starbucks is not really offering coconut milk – it’s more of a coconut beverage, with the richness (fat) removed and sweetener and water added.  Also carageenan, which disagrees with lots of people.  They make it sound artisanal by calling it “Single Origin Sumatra Coconut Milk,” but don’t be fooled.  I am sure that it contains enough coconut in it for them to legally call it coconut milk, but I don’t think anyone will mistake this for the lovely rich creamy stuff that comes in cans at the grocery store.

Should we be irate?  Should we boycott Starbucks to get them to come up with a better coconut beverage?  Mmmm, I would say don’t hold your breath.  First of all, anyone who equates chains like Starbucks with healthy food and beverages should think twice.  I mean, how many calories are in one of their frappuccinos?  Not to be too cynical about it, but on the occasion that I am looking for an iced chai latte, at Starbucks or elsewhere, I am not thinking healthy, I am thinking snack/enjoyment.

So in the final analysis, I will say a qualified “yay for us!”  Now when people want to go to Starbucks, I will have an alternative to ordering soy milk.  When is the next time that will happen?  Hopefully not for a long time.

Posted in Beverages, coconut milk, Coffee, Dairy Free, Food, Tea | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Charleston Insiders Weekend

Charleston Insiders Weekend

Charleston Insiders Weekend

Therese and I were overjoyed to spend my recent birthday weekend in one of our favorite U.S. cities, at the Charleston Insiders Weekend.  It seems that nowadays every serious traveler wants to go beyond just visiting the popular sights and eating at the best restaurants.  We all want to experience the places we visit with the finesse of a local, doing the things that the average traveler couldn’t hope to know about.

Traveler & Leisure understands that desire, and it was with that in mind that, together with other sponsors like Coastal Living magazine, they put together this “insiders’ weekend.”  From Friday evening through Sunday brunch, there were ticketed events to guide us to places that we might not otherwise think of, and do things that might not normally be available to us.

We love Charleston, and so we wanted to do more than just attend the events.  We wanted to wander the neighborhoods, do some shopping, and generally drink in everything that makes Charleston so special.  So we left New York fairly early on Friday.  And we started off the day, even though we were still in NYC, in what I felt was true Charleston fashion, by eating a great breakfast at LaGuardia Airport.  I stopped at Biergarten at LaGuardia Airport and had their duck hash (and a nice glass of cranberry juice).

Our Delta Airlines flight was late getting off the ground, which set us back a bit.  Luckily, they did offer us my favorite airline snack, Speculoos Cookies!

Spekuloos Cookies and Cranberry Juice Aboard Delta Flight to Charleston

Speculoos Cookies and Cranberry Juice Aboard Delta Flight to Charleston

When we landed in Charleston, plenty of the afternoon still lay ahead of us, so we taxied to our hotel, the Embassy Suites Historic Charleston, right on Meeting Street and not far from lots of great downtown spots.  We checked in, freshened up, and then went right back out into the sunny warm afternoon.  After spending the afternoon getting reacquainted with the city, we found that we were incredibly hungry (the Speculoos Cookies being by then just a pleasant memory), and our evening event was still more than an hour away.

So we took a taxi to Charleston Place, a complex of a luxury hotel and shops, and found the Charleston Grill, got a seat at the bar and ordered some drinks and appetizers to hold us over until dinner time.

This was sweet for two reasons: one, as I said, we were very hungry; and two, the waitress who helped us, passed on information about my dairy allergy to someone who was working the evening’s event, and he had already spoken with the kitchen and confirmed that it would be possible for them to make a couple small adjustments on the menu but otherwise serve me the same wonderful food that everyone else was getting.  That gave me great vibes for the evening’s proceedings!

The dinner at Charleston Grill was one of the weekend’s events that was sponsored by Coastal Living, and as a result, the magazine’s travel editor, Tracey Minkin, hosted the dinner and spoke a couple of times.  She also introduced the restaurant’s chef, Michelle Weaver, who told us a bit about the restaurant’s philosophy (the usual treating of fresh local ingredients) and gave us some idea of what the dinner ahead held for us.

Coastal LIving's Tracey Minkin and Chef Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill

Coastal Living’s Tracey Minkin and Chef Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill

And what a dinner it was!

It all started with an octopus salad that featured an ingredient new to me: petite mache.  It is a miniature green that provides a mild nutty flavor.

Octopus Salad

Octopus Salad

The second course was a repeat of the appetizer that I had eaten when we first arrived at Charleston Grill, their Charleston crab cake.  This is a little different from the usual Maryland crab cake that everyone tries to copy.  It features creek shrimp and a vinaigrette of dill and lime with grape tomatoes.

Second Course - Charleston Grill Crab Cake with Creek Shrimp

Second Course – Charleston Grill Crab Cake with Creek Shrimp

During this course, Tracey Minkin visited our table, sitting right next to me.  We talked a little about food allergies, and she told us more about her magazine and what sorts of stories she is working on for the near future.  The couple sitting directly across from us, Henry and Lexi Van de Walle (Lexi’s blog is the Lighthearted Locavore, and she is an accomplished food photographer), were also from New York City, so we all talked about New York.  It was great chatting with Tracey – it made me feel like I was at the big kid’s table – and I hope to run into her again soon!

The main course was a prime beef tenderloin with Bourguignonne sauce.  By that point, some people were hitting the wall, but I soldiered on.  I don’t eat beef that often, so I took advantage of the opportunity, and enjoyed the dish immensely.

Main Course - Prime Beef Tenderloin Bourguignon

Main Course – Prime Beef Tenderloin Bourguignonne

Dessert was, as usual, the hardest course for accommodating my allergy.  We went the sorbet and fresh berries route – coconut and raspberry sorbet, to be specific.

Coconut and Raspberry Sorbet with Fresh Berries

Coconut and Raspberry Sorbet with Fresh Berries

The fresh berries were lovely, but I think the dish needed a unifying feature, like a drizzle of simple syrup.  Or maybe if the berries had been macerated with some caster sugar before being tossed with the sorbet, that would have done it.

On Saturday, we ate breakfast at the hotel.  Then we set out, walking through the Marion Square Farmer’s Market on our way to some downtown shopping.  The day was already growing hot, so we stopped at the Cannonborough Beverage Company booth for some refreshing artisanal ginger beer.

Cannonborough Beverages Booth in Marion Square

Cannonborough Beverages Booth in Marion Square

After exploring some of the food booths at the farmer’s market, we headed downtown toward the Charleston City Market.  As part of the dinner the evening before, there was a giveaway of a Le Creuset Mini Cocotte, a small lidded pot that is the perfect size for an individual portion of macaroni and cheese, for example.  The giveaway had an additional part to it, that if you brought the accompanying coupon to Charleston’s Le Creuset store and made a purchase, you would get a second Cocotte.  Therese had been asking me what I wanted for my birthday, and it seemed like a great idea to pick up some goodies (as well as our additional two Cocottes) at Le Creuset.  And when we left Charleston Place Friday night, we wandered by the Le Creuset Boutique Charleston near the market, so that was where we returned to, to do our shopping.

Little did Therese imagine, though, that visiting the Le Creuset store would mean not only shopping, but me having a chance to talk cookware with the knowledgeable store clerks!  We talked about the new colors Le Creuset is adding to their lines of cookware, and what colors are being phased out.  And so on, and so on.  It was fun.  And I picked out some goodies that we needed: some tongs, trivets, and pot handles.  All in all, I made out like a bandit that weekend.

Le Creuset Booty

Le Creuset Booty

All this shopping was making us hungry.  Luckily, our first culinary event of the day was taking place.  With half the weekend still ahead of us, we were plenty excited!  In my next post, I will tell you all about that next event, and finish up telling you about our incredible weekend in Charleston!

Posted in Brunch, Charleston, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Lowcountry Cuisine, Restaurants, South Carolina, Tasting, United States, Walking tours | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mothers Day Weekend

Mothers Day Weekend

Mothers Day Weekend

I love my mother, and I treasure her.  She gave birth to and raised my 5 siblings and I, and was married to my father for 50-plus years until his passing in 2012.  And now that she lives with one of my brothers, and doesn’t get out too much, I visit her every week for lunch and we get to chat about anything and nothing, and I so enjoy our time together.

On Mothers Day weekend, I spent time with another mother who is even closer to me, my wife Therese.  And yes, for me it was a weekend of celebration, of reminding her how special she is to me.  It started off with dinner on Friday night at Il Punto, an Italian restaurant in our neighborhood that is turning into one of our favorite places to eat.

For my gloriously dairy free entree at Il Punto, I chose the squid ink linguine with seafood.  That is not what they called it on the menu – they stick to Italian for the titles of their menu items – but that is what it boiled down to.  And this was a wonderful dish – the pasta had a bit of tooth to it, yes, but it was silky and a nice contrast to the bite of the squid and shrimp and (removed from the shell) mussels and clams.  And the broth, wow.  I am guessing it was just olive oil with some of the seafood essence and maybe a bit of the pasta water and some seasonings.  But wow, I would love to just have some more spoonfuls of that broth.

For dessert, I ordered the mixed fruit plate.  I loved the way they creatively laid out the fruit on a cheese platter.  I went for the blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and pear and left the citrus fruits to Therese.

On Friday, Therese had heard from a work colleague/friend who was in town, so we decided to meet him on Saturday at the High Line Park, and then have dinner with him.  I looked for a restaurant near the High Line on Opentable, and got lucky – I think I got the last 7:00 reservation that night at Toro, a popular tapas restaurant on 10th (really 11th) Avenue and 15th Street.

We met Therese’s friend – who I will call C – at the Terroir on the Porch, a wine bar that is actually on the High Line.  After having some refreshment there, we went for a stroll down the High Line, to give C a chance to see what it’s like.  He was enjoying his weekend in New York City, and thought the High Line was very cool.

We doubled back and searched out the entrance to Toro, our dinner restaurant.  It has a Tenth Avenue address, but mysteriously, its entrance is on Eleventh Avenue.  In any case, it is a cavernous space with an almost industrial feel.  Sure enough, it was packed.  We loved our dinner there – we started with a couple of tapas, including a decadent beyond belief and incredibly wonderful bone marrow dish.

For our main course, the three of us shared a large dish of paella de langoustines, with lobster and black truffle oil.  Man, this was heavy on the soccorat, that crust that you get on paella when you cook it right.  After dinner, we walked off our dinner, leaving C at 8th Avenue and taxi-ing it home.

After two nights in a row of eating out, I decided that Sunday dinner would be at home.  While Therese enjoyed Mother’s Day brunch with our daughter, I went to work.

First, I made some homemade dairy free ice cream.  I had been talking to Therese, and she mentioned that she liked Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia flavor.  So I looked on the Internet, and whaddayaknow, I found a recipe from Mr. Ben and Jerry themselves.  I adjusted it to be dairy free, and here’s what my ingredient list looked like:

1 can, Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream
1 cup, Almond Milk
3/4 cup, Coconut Sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup, chopped frozen cherries (too early in the season for fresh cherries in NYC, boohoo)
1/4 cup, chopped semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup, chopped pistachios

I mixed the liquid ingredients in my KitchenAid, and then transferred them to my Cuisinart ice cream maker.  I let that go for about 12 minutes, and then once the ice cream started looking set, I added the cherries, nuts and chocolate and let it go another 3 or 4 minutes.

My assessment of the recipe?  Next time I would not use the coconut sugar, because it made the ice cream much darker in color, and added a smoky flavor that masked the cherries.  I would also add double the amount of cherries (I had already doubled it from what the original recipe called for, but I still think it needs more cherries – and fresh cherries will probably work better than the frozen ones I had).

Next, I went to work on baking some brownies.  Therese had brought home a new Mountain Dew flavor, Baja Blast.  Since we are not big soda drinkers, I decided that I would bake the brownies using the soda – after all, baking using carbonated beverages is a long-time practice, and I’ve never done it, so I thought it would be fun to try it.

The problem was that the Baked brownie mix I was using is a little more complicated than some others.  It calls for 4 eggs and 2 sticks of shortening.  So I decided not to eliminate all the addings, which is what you usually do when you bake with soda.  I kept one of the sticks of shortening, and 2 of the eggs.  I melted the chocolate chips in the margarine as instructed, and then mixed the eggs and then the rest of the brownie mix into the chocolate/margarine liquid.

Now, most of the recipes you read on the Internet say “just bake the brownies as instructed on the box.”  One or two allow that you might have to add a few minutes extra baking time to get all the soda to evaporate and the brownies to set.  Well, this package recommends 35 minutes of baking time, and I baked these for 55 minutes, and they still weren’t completely set.  But they were set enough to eat.

So then came dinner time.  For our main course I went with an old favorite: roasted duck legs with potatoes, onions, yellow pepper and zucchini.

Dinner - Roasted Duck Leg with Potatoes, Onion, Yellow Pepper and Zucchini

Dinner – Roasted Duck Leg with Potatoes, Onion, Yellow Pepper and Zucchini

This was just as good and satisfying as it always is.  I baked it in the oven for a full hour at 400 degrees, and the duck was not overcooked, but the potatoes and other vegetables were perfectly cooked.

Then came time for dessert, my Mountain Dew brownies with Dairy Free Cherry Garcia on top.

Dessert - Dairy Free Cherry Garcia Ice Cream and Mountain Dew Brownie

Dessert – Dairy Free Cherry Garcia Ice Cream and Mountain Dew Brownie

After Therese had had a bite, I asked her if she liked it, and she said, “this is amazing!”  I tasted my own dessert, and saw what she meant.  It was indeed, very very good.  And a fitting ending to a wonderful weekend of celebrating mothers!

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