Whole Foods Dairy Free Care Package

Whole Foods Dairy Free Care Package

Whole Foods Dairy Free Care Package

Therese and I were getting ready to leave for another visit to our new favorite city, Charleston.  I knew that the hotel we would be staying in this time, the Embassy Suites Historic Charleston, would have a refrigerator, and that there might be some cooking going on while we were there (at least of the microwave variety).  So I stopped in at the Chelsea Whole Foods and picked us up a care package of dairy free products, the kinds of products I might want that I probably won’t be able to find in downtown Charleston (Charleston has a couple of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s markets, but they are at least a bus-ride away from the downtown).

I’ve spoken previously about the essential dairy free products – my care package starts there.  Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds, Blue Diamond Vanilla Almond Breeze, Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese – check, check, check, check.  I thought some So Delicious Chocolate Coconut Milk would be fun (obviously, their ice cream, a favorite of mine, wouldn’t do so well in my carry-on luggage).  It makes me feel like a school kid again, having chocolate milk around in single serving containers with small straws glued to them.  But I know there will times, in Charleston’s heat, that a nice cold chocolate milk will be a wonderful thing to have.

I supplemented this bunch of essentials with some products I have not previously tried.  The selection of dairy free baked goods at the Whole Foods Chelsea is very impressive, and the thing that really caught my eye more than any others was the Mom’s Munchies Skinny Mint Cookie.  I can tell you that I munched on one on my way home from the market (I just couldn’t wait to try it!), and they are just awesome.  Just the sort of thing that can be nicely washed down with some of that Almond Breeze!

The other new product I bought was the Field Roast Vegan Chao Slices.  I have eaten some of Field Roast’s other products in the past, namely their Sausage Links, and thought them to have nice flavor and great “sausage-y” texture.  So I look forward to trying this tofu-based cheese.  I am thinking I will get some nice bread and cured meats from Artisan Meat Share (an excellent deli here in Charleston) and make myself a killer sandwich for lunch one of these days in Charleston.  Stay tuned for a report on that!

Field Roast Vegan Chao Slices

Field Roast Vegan Chao Slices

Posted in Charleston, Chelsea, Dairy Free, Food, New York, Products, South Carolina, Supermarkets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amber Fort and Jal Mahal – Jaipur Day Two

Amber Fort and Jal Mahal - Jaipur Day Two

Amber Fort and Jal Mahal – Jaipur Day Two

On our second day in Jaipur, we in effect visited the city’s pre-history.  Which is to say, we went to Amber, the city where this particular Rajasthan court made its capital first (some time after 1037 A.D.).  It was only when Amber grew to its fullest extent and essentially ran out of room that they left Amber and moved to Jaipur in the 18th century.  Anyway, the noteworthy monument of Amber is the Amber Fort.

Amber Fort

Amber Fort

And just to be clear, the photo at the top of this post is also Amber Fort – specifically, that was a shot from above of the main courtyard outside the fort, with the hills surrounding Amber in the background.  Our trip to the Amber Fort was the centerpiece of our second day in Jaipur, but to be honest, the best part of the fort was getting there.  You see, our car dropped us off at the bottom of the hill upon which the fort rests, and from there, we had to – yes, take the Elephant Ride to the top of the hill and the entrance to Amber Fort.

Elephant Ride

Elephant Ride

I had been told beforehand that the most important thing about the elephant ride was that I get a proper turban.  And sure enough, before we got on the elephant, there was a turban shop.  The usual aggressive negotiations ensued, and I found one big enough to fit on my head, and we were on our way.

Me Wearing My Maharaja's Turban

Me Wearing My Maharaja’s Turban

The hilarity of buying the turban distracted me a bit from my nervousness about riding the elephant, but I tell you, it was completely safe.  I have heard that the most crucial thing about the elephant ride is getting there early enough in the day, because there are a limited number of elephants and each one can do only so many rides – I think the maximum number of tourists that can be transported each day is only 800.  It was not an issue for us, though, since we were visiting during the winter when there are not that many tourists.

So yes, it was tremendous fun to ride the elephant.  Otherwise, the fort was cool, for sure.  There are a number of layers, each with their own courtyards and buildings.  But keep in mind that the name “fort” is a misnomer.  The Amber Fort is really the palace where the royalty lived.  The defensive fortress built on the hills surrounding it is known as Jaigarh Fort, and is mighty impressive in its own right.

So yes, there is the first courtyard where it all begins, and then the second courtyard is a little more fascinating than that (in my opinion).

In the second courtyard is the Diwan-i-Aam, or Hall of Public Audience, where the prince would’ve received members of the public.  It is basically just a large covered platform, but the archways overhead are ornate and quite beautiful.

Ornate Arches Above Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Aam} at Amber Fort

Ornate Arches Above Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Aam} at Amber Fort

One of my favorite parts of the fort is the gate that takes you from the second to the third courtyard, named the Ganesh Pol because an illustration of the elephant-headed god Ganesh adorns it.

The third courtyard is without a doubt the most beautiful.  When you enter it, to the right side is a sumptuous garden.

Courtyard Garden within Amber Fort

Courtyard Garden within Amber Fort

To the left is the highlight of the entire fort, the palace of mirrors or Sheesh Mahal.

As I recall, the story with Sheesh Mahal is that that is where the ladies of the court hung out in the hot summer months.  There would be some sort of natural air conditioner set up, and the walls are open to the air but the interior is well-shaded.  It is just behind this courtyard, surrounding the fourth and final courtyard, that the housing for these ladies can be found.

The first thing you notice when you enter this last courtyard is how dirty all the buildings look.  It is true that this part of the fort has not yet been renovated.  But this is also the oldest part of the fort, and is therefore not as ornate as the other parts.  Nevertheless, there is some decoration – for example, you will see a doorway in one of my photos that has some lovely flower motifs painted around it.

To finish our time at the fort, our guide bought us coffees at a little coffee bar which is actually inside the fort.  It was nice to sit down and chat and relax after all our elephant riding and walking.

On our way back to Jaipur and our hotel, we stopped off for a photo shoot of the beautiful and mystical Jal Mahal or water palace.  Sitting in the center of a man-made lake, apparently it is now possible to visit it.  We just got a good look at it from the shore of the lake.

Jal Mahal

Jal Mahal

After our photo-op, we dropped off our guide.  But our day was not over.  It was now time for us to have a special adventure all on our own.

Jaipur Bus

Jaipur Bus

Therese had learned that a distant relative of hers is married to a man who lives in Jaipur.  What are the odds of that, right?  Anyway, she made inquiries and got in touch with this man, who we knew only as Mr. Joo.  He met us for lunch at a hotel restaurant, and then he took us to his textile factory.  Wow.  We thought, from all the shopping we had already done, that we had seen it all.  Mr. Joo’s factory was full of every manner of textile: rugs, scarves, etc., etc.  We spent a couple of hours shopping there, and could’ve been there for a lot longer, but we had to get back to the hotel.  This was the afternoon, as I told you in a previous post, where we got transferred to a tent at the Oberoi Rajvilas.

It was wonderful meeting Mr. Joo, and seeing his extraordinary factory.  We treasure the items we bought from him, and look forward to meeting up with him again (he mentioned re-connecting with his wife here sometime in the spring, if all went well visa-wise).

Therese and Karl with Mr. Joo at his Factory

Therese and Karl with Mr. Joo at his Factory

Posted in Countries, India, Jaipur, Monuments | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Charleston Weekend

Charleston Weekend

Charleston Weekend

The last weekend in May found Therese and I back in one of our favorite cities, Charleston, South Carolina.  Among the various things we did to fill our time that weekend, we ate at a variety of Charleston’s restaurants, from some of the best to some that are more, well, mediocre.  I wanted to share our experiences with you, focusing especially on how I did finding dairy free foods of all kinds.

Our flight from New York City was late getting in, and so by the time we arrived, it was well into lunch time.  Therese and I were also in kind of a hurry, so we decided to get sandwiches from the Market Street Deli, which was nearby our hotel, the Charleston Historic District Doubletree.

Market Street Deli & Salads

Market Street Deli & Salads

I don’t have too much to say about Market St. Deli.  Therese said the sauce on her cole slaw tasted like it came from a can.  My turkey sandwich on marble rye bread was not bad, but nothing to scream about.

After a busy afternoon, we headed back to the Doubletree to relax before dinner.  Therese was able to snack on the warm chocolate chip cookies that Doubletree gives out; however, since they are made with butter, there was no such snack for me!  So I had to go back out into the hot afternoon to find some dairy free snack.  Luckily, I didn’t have to search for too long.  Bakehouse Bakery Cafe on East Bay Street serves up really good iced chai lattes with almond milk, and they also were offering a really good fruit nut bar the day I was there – made with bananas and dates, and rich but not too heavy.

What a great snack!  Just the thing to hold me over to our dinner that night, at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

I have visited many cities that have Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses in them, but nevertheless I have never been to one previously.  I was curious to see what it would be like, especially to see how many dairy free choices I might have on their menu.  I had made a dinner reservation on Open Table, and indicated my allergy in the special comments section of the reservation form.  So the server knew all about my allergy, and while he admitted that there were whole sections of the menu that would be off-limits to me, he also was ready to tell me what things I COULD have.

And I think I did pretty well.  I started off with a crab stack with avocado and mango sriracha mayonnaise.

Crab Stack with Mango Sriracha Mayonnaise

Crab Stack with Mango Sriracha Mayonnaise

The huge chunks of succulent crab meat and the soft sweet avocado thrilled me, but the real star of this crab stack was the pickled cucumbers mixed into them.  As you will see, this weekend in Charleston gave me renewed appreciation for the pickle, and this was the first experience that had me thinking more highly of pickles.  The combination of crunch and sweet and sour in that pickle made this dish just a little more special.

My main course, steak and shrimp, was really good.

Steak Medallions and Grilled Shrimp Entree

Steak Medallions and Grilled Shrimp Entree

Ruth’s Chris has this patented method for making their steaks, which involves searing them in a 1500-degree oven and serving them on a plate that is still 500 degrees hot that locks on the flavor, etc.  This method certainly gave me a steak and shrimp that were perfectly cooked.  The one thing missing was a sauce of some kind.  Normally, they would finish a steak with butter, but they obviously weren’t going to do that for me.  So my steak was a little plain.  I wouldn’t have minded a tablespoon of mayonnaise or horseradish sauce or even (heaven forfend!) ketchup to dip an occasional forkful of steak into.  But I was hesitant to request some dipping sauce because I didn’t want to insult the perfectly cooked proteins that had been placed before me.  And as it was, I enjoyed the steak and shrimp a lot.

Our server (whose name escapes me) had asked if we were celebrating any special occasion that night.  Even though we weren’t really, nevertheless he brought us a complimentary dessert of a very nice raspberry sorbet to share, a very nice gesture indeed.

Raspberry Sorbet Dessert

Raspberry Sorbet Dessert

I had heard good things about Saturday’s lunch restaurant, Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar.

Amen Street Sign

Amen Street Sign

With tables outside on East Bay Street, it has the look of a real hip hang-out.  But as we were led through the dining room to a table near the back, I felt like it was a really mellow, totally family environment – the kind of place that would be equally inviting to Charleston’s considerable university student population and the parents of those students visiting their sons and daughters (a photo of that dining room is at the top of this post).

We began with a half-dozen oysters.  Good stuff my friends, and any time I get to drizzle cocktail sauce on something, I am happy.

Amen Street Half Dozen Oysters

Amen Street Half Dozen Oysters

My first choice for a main course, the grilled crab and shrimp cake sandwich, was a no-go – apparently, they bind the seafood together using cream.  The server suggested tuna tacos, leaving off the chipotle crema, but that sounded like it would be bland, so I went with a shrimp po’boy.

Shrimp Po'Boy with Fries and Pickles

Shrimp Po’Boy with Fries and Pickles

This was, I believe, my first po’boy, and I liked it, but didn’t quite love it.  The breaded shrimp were lovely, and the remoulade was cool, but there was too much roll, and it was kind of a soft potato roll, when what would’ve been better would’ve been a baguette or a similar chewy roll.  What saved the dish was the pickles!  There they are again.  These were once again, crunchy, sweet and sour.

The previous day, when I had been researching dairy free desserts in Charleston, I had found out about Black Bean Co, so when we found ourselves in the vicinity, I suggested we go there.

Black Bean Co

Black Bean Co

Therese had a coffee (does that qualify as energy food?) and I purchased both a chocolate chip cookie (for then) and a blueberry muffin/cake for later.  Oh joy!  baked goods! dairy free!

Vegan Blueberry Cake

Vegan Blueberry Cake

For dinner that night, we did a walk-in at Slightly North of Broad, another great restaurant on East Bay Street.  I instantly loved this place, and sitting at the bar as we did, it was fun to be part of the witty banter with the bartender.

And then my dinner came, and I was thrilled all over again.

Lamb Rack with Green Beans, Pearl Onions and Red Pepper Relish

Lamb Rack with Green Beans, Pearl Onions and Red Pepper Relish

It was the red pepper relish that did it.  Dipping my bites of juicy lamb into the pickled-flavored relish (ok, not exactly a pickle, but pretty close) was pure happiness.  I was gnawing the bones, so good was that lamb.  And the pearl onions were not chewy, and the green beans were not soggy.  A nice deft hand was applied to that dinner.

Our final meal in Charleston that weekend, Sunday lunch, was once again not far from our hotel, this time at the Charleston Crab House.

Once again, I tried ordering a crab cake, and was told it was made with cream.  It must be a Charleston thing!  So after consulting the menu, I opted for a grilled chicken sandwich – not exactly what I had in mind, but pretty good.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Tartar Sauce and Collard Greens

Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Tartar Sauce and Collard Greens

So what did I learn on my Charleston weekend?  Crab cakes: bad.  Pickles: good.  Ask for sauce, even if it’s only ketchup, to go with your steak.  Order anything that comes with red pepper relish.  And ask them to put any sandwich on a baguette when that is available.  But otherwise, I continue to be impressed with the good food of Charleston, and look forward to exploring this even more!

Posted in Charleston, Cookies, Dairy Free, Dessert, Dinner, Food, Lowcountry Cuisine, Lunch, Sorbet, South Carolina, United States | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar and Jaipur City Palace

Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar and Jaipur City Palace

Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar and Jaipur City Palace

On our first day in Jaipur, India, our guide Hussein took us to the most popular sights in the city: the Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar astronomy instrument collection and Jaipur’s City Palace.

He was very up-front with us about the Hawa Mahal (pictured above) – that it is really just a photo op.  The building is just a facade with pretty much nothing behind it – it was made so that women could sit in the windows and get fresh breezes without being seen (thus the name, which means “palace of winds”).  Nevertheless, we wanted to check some boxes, so we found a good spot across the street and took a picture or two.  Hawa Mahal really is very beautiful.  And its bright sandstone pink introduced us to the classical look of the entire city – known as the pink city, Jaipur was painted that color for the visit of one of England’s royals, and they’ve kept it that color ever since.

Jaipur is a planned city.  It was built to take the place of Amber, the previous home of the regional Rajasthani princes.  Amber is between mountains, so once the city had grown to the mountains, there was no area to expand into.  So they moved to Jaipur, and built the new city in the 18th century in a fairly orderly rectilinear fashion, with large open squares at many of the traffic intersections.

Open Square in Jaipur

Open Square in Jaipur

For our next sight, we visited the Jantar Mantar, an 18th century collection of astronomical instruments.  The great prince Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743), after whom Jaipur is named (it means “Jai’s City”), was a great aficionado of astronomy.  Jai Singh had this and several other Jantar Mantar’s built in the 1730s.  But this is the largest and most well-preserved of these astronomical collections.

There are several large sun dials there, along with various other instruments.  Hussein explained to us when we entered the sight that it would be easy for him to try to give us all the details of some of the more complicated instruments on display there, and we could spend all our time staring at them and puzzling over their meaning.  Better, he thought, to approach some things that would be easier to grasp.

So he told us about one of the sun dials.

We located the line of shade created by the angle of the sun, consulted the key, calculated, and by golly, it told correct time within a few seconds!  Not bad for a nearly 300 year old sun dial!

There is a section of the complex of instruments filled with smaller sun dials that correspond to the signs of the horoscope.  I found my own sign, Taurus.

Jaipur’s City Palace is right next to the Jantar Mantar area, and it was there that we went next.

The architectural beauty of the palace buildings, and the treasures contained within them, testifies to the wealth and station of the princes of Jaipur.  There is a dance hall with paintings of the princes of Jaipur on its walls that was one of my favorite parts of the city palace.  I also particularly enjoyed the puppet show that took place outside not far from the exit from the palace grounds.  The acts put on with the marionettes included one with a Michael Jackson puppet, which was hilarious, just great fun.

As we walked through the grounds, we learned of some of the quirks of the princes.  For example, there was one who had two humongous urns created so that, upon a trip to the United Kingdom, he could bring his own water with him from the Ganges.

It was now time for lunch, and Hussein directed our driver to bring us to the Raj Palace, a beautiful heritage hotel that has a restaurant with outside seating.  A man played Indian folk music on an Indian folk violin, and we enjoyed cold beverages and a light lunch.  It was such a nice respite from our busy day.

To finish up our day, Hussein took us to Paliwal Carpets & Textiles to learn a bit about the local fine hand-made textiles and do some shopping.  Therese and I looked at many different things – pashmina scarves and table cloths and various other brightly colored beautiful cloth items – and selected a couple to bring home with us.  The man in charge, a patient and very nice fellow who had forearms larger than Popeye, was very informative and Therese did a good job negotiating with him so that we got a good price for our purchases.

 

Posted in Countries, Dairy Free, Food, India, Jaipur, Lunch, Monuments | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Chocolate Swirl Pancakes with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream

Chocolate Swirl Pancakes with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream

Chocolate Swirl Pancakes with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream

I was so excited when I heard about Enjoy Life‘s new Enjoy Life baking mixes.  You may remember that I first heard this brand last September when I attended the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Las Vegas.  I love their products, although honestly many of them are hard to find in stores in New York City (Whole Foods, what is up with that?).  But when you order on-line, it usually just takes a few days for things to arrive.

To celebrate this new line of baking products, Enjoy Life is having a sort of contest which they are calling “To the Fullest,” which is their motto (you know, “enjoy life to the fullest…”).  Anyway, I ordered their Pancake-Waffle Mix and their Brownie Mix, and this last weekend, I made some pancakes for brunch.  And you know what?  They were really, really good (read below to hear more).  None of that grittiness that plagues gluten free flour mixes (which a baker friend of mine tells me comes from using brown rice in the mixes).  Good texture and good flavor.  Way to go, Enjoy Life!

Anyway, here are the details on what I created (along with some photos to further whet your appetite).

Chocolate Swirl Pancakes with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream
(makes about 12 pancakes, with lots of extra whipped cream)

2 cups Enjoy Life Pancake Mix
2 cups water
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 pint strawberries, sliced
2-3 tbsp. powdered sugar
1 can Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream (or your favorite coconut milk), refrigerated at least overnight
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. granulated sugar

I did this recipe in three sections: the strawberries, the coconut whipped cream and the pancakes.  I started with the strawberries.  Pretty simple: I took a pint that I got from the Union Square Greenmarket (oh man, is it strawberry season right now or what?) and just sliced them, put them in a bowl with the powdered sugar and stirred.  This is called “macerating” the strawberries, and is a great way to serve them – the sugar mixes with the berry juice and makes a wonderful sauce.  You can get fancy with macerating, adding liqueurs and things, but I like to keep it simple and just add powdered sugar.

Ok, so set the strawberries aside – if you like, cover them with cling wrap and refrigerate them.

Now let’s focus on the pancake mix.  Get two mixing bowls, one small and one rather large. We are going to do the base of the pancake batter in the large bowl, and the chocolate batter for the swirl in the small bowl.  Let’s start with the chocolate.  Add 1/2 cup of pancake mix to the bowl, 1/2 cup of water and one tablespoon of oil, and the cocoa powder.  Mix it all together pretty thoroughly.  Now add the sugar and mix again.  Set aside.

Cocoa Swirl for Pancakes

Cocoa Swirl for Pancakes

Now to the big bowl and the pancake batter base.  Add 1-1/2 cups of pancake mix, 1-1/2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of oil.  Mix thoroughly with a spoon, and set that one aside as well.  (I came back to it later and noticed lots of bubbles forming on the surface – a good omen for making pancakes!)

Enjoy Life Pancake Mix

Enjoy Life Pancake Mix

Before we start making the pancakes, let’s get the third part of the meal, the whipped coconut cream, taken care of.  Now, in reading all over the internet, I see a lot of people saying that no matter how long they refrigerate their coconut milk, they have trouble getting it to froth up like dairy whipped cream.  My solution for this is three part:

1. Use Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream.  To me, it is no sweat to separate the cream from the coconut water after refrigerating a can of coconut milk overnight.  But that seems to prove difficult for some.  So I suggest just using the Trader Joe’s.  It is all cream, there’s really no water to separate from it, and it is really thick, even at room temperature.  And that’s good, because – in making this dish, I forgot to refrigerate my coconut cream!

2. Give Your Mixing Bowl an Ice Bath.  People talk about putting their mixing bowl in the freezer.  Dude, I don’t have enough free space to put a measuring spoon in there, much less an entire mixing bowl!  So what I do is put 2 to 3 cups of ice in my measuring bowl, pour cold water over that, and leave it for 15 to 30 minutes to get my mixing bowl nice and cold.

Mixing Bowl with Ice Water Batch

Mixing Bowl with Ice Water Batch

When it is cold, discard all the ice and make sure to completely dry out your mixing bowl before you add any coconut cream to it – you don’t want to make your coconut cream all watery!

Now you’re ready to whip your cream.  I put mine into my bowl and used my KitchenAid Pro Stand Mixer to whip it up until it was looking nice and frothy, adding the vanilla extract and sugar along the way (about 3 or 4 minutes total).  That brings me to tip number 3:

3. Put Your Whipped Coconut Cream in the Refrigerator Until You’re Ready to Use It.  After I whipped my coconut cream, it didn’t quite look ready for prime time.  But I knew that if it just got chilled a bit, it would set up nicely, and make the perfect topping for my pancakes.  And sure enough, I was super happy with the results.  And yes, a can of coconut cream makes a ton of whipped cream.  But it tastes so good, and you can use it one lots of desserts and other things.  For example, I put some in my chai tea, and that tasted really good.

Chai Tea with Spoonfuls of Coconut Whipped Cream

Chai Tea with Spoonfuls of Coconut Whipped Cream

So now the strawberries and whipped cream are ready, so it’s time to make pancakes!  I heated up my non-stick skillet and added a bit of Earth Balance to it (why do I put margarine in a non-stick pan?  I know, I’m a little perverse that way – but I like the crispy surface that the margarine gives the pancakes).  Using a quarter cup measuring cup, I pour out batter for my first pancake.  Then I take a spoon, dip it in the chocolate swirl batter, and drizzle that over the pancake.  When I turned the pancake over and let it cook completely (about 2 minutes on each side maximum), this is what I got:

First Cocoa Swirled Pancake

First Cocoa Swirled Pancake

Talk about abstract art, huh?  Brancusi might have loved this one.  After that, I made the rest of the pancakes, some with chocolate swirl, some without.  Here are a couple of my other chocolate swirl attempts.

That second one was my best effort, I think.  So for my breakfast, I took that one, stacked it on top of another, and got it ready for toppings.

Chocolate Swirled Pancake Ready for Strawberries and Coconut Cream

Chocolate Swirled Pancake Ready for Strawberries and Coconut Cream

I got my whipped cream from the fridge and laid a huge dollop on top of my pancake.  Then I got a similarly large spoonful of strawberries, and nestled them in the vessel of cream (kind of like the way you put gravy on top of mashed potatoes).  Voila!

My Chocolate Swirled Pancakes with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream

My Chocolate Swirled Pancakes with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream

You may think: hey, that is a lot of pancake for not much topping!  But actually, trust me, that was plenty – a strawberry and some cream for each bite.  Still don’t believe me?  Well, here is what the last bite looked like (no fooling!):

The Last Bite of the Pancakes with Srawberries and Coconut Cream

The Last Bite of the Pancakes with Srawberries and Coconut Cream

As I said at the outset, I was thrilled to eat these pancakes.  My wife’s take on it was, well, they’re not as good as your usual pancakes (that batter has eggs and wheat flour in it), but they were still pretty good.  My opinion: very good pancakes.  Nice balanced flavor, a little sweet but not too much so, good texture as I said earlier, substantial but not too heavy.

Well done, Enjoy Life!  Now I have to try out those brownies…

Posted in Baking, Breakfast, Brunch, Dairy Free, Food, Products, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Casa Nonna

Casa Nonna

Casa Nonna

In our new neighborhood of Midtown West (North of Chelsea, Southern Hell’s Kitchen, whatever you want to call it), Casa Nonna has become a go-to restaurant for us.

It didn’t hurt that the first night we walked in there was a Monday, the night when they  just happen to have half off on all their bottles of wine.  And an eclectic wine list is theirs, all Italian, but including some surprises like the bottle of Gewurtztraminer that we enjoyed on that first night (“Hey, wait a minute” – I can hear you saying – “that’s a German varietal.”  Well, this was an Italian Gewurtztraminer.  I kid you not.).

With it being our first night there, and both of us being really hungry, we went all out.  I got an octopus salad for my appetizer that was quite wonderful (I’ve been eating a lot of octopus lately, and this one was very nicely cooked – not chewy, but still with tooth to it).

Polipo Salad with Umbrian Chick Peas

Polipo Salad with Umbrian Chick Peas

Now of course the first words out of my mouth to the server were about my allergy.  I will tell you that they have accommodated my dairy allergy very nicely every time we have been there.  They bring me bread toasted with olive oil, and advise me on menu items that can be more successfully adapted.  On this first occasion, I asked about a squid-ink pasta with clams, and was told that it would be no problem to make it with oil instead of butter.

Farfalle Nero with Poached Egg

Farfalle Nero with Poached Egg

I don’t know what it is about squid-ink pasta, but whenever I see it on a menu, I will invariably order it when I can.  This one, in rough farfalle shapes, was excellent.  I chopped up the poached egg, and the yolk mixing with the dish’s clam broth made an extraordinary coating for the pasta.  To get a little more vegetables into the meal, I ordered a side of sauteed spinach, which they prepared for me with oil.

Sauteed Spinach

Sauteed Spinach

Made with garlic, hazelnuts and raisins, I loved it (I will be putting nuts and raisins into my spinach with garlic at home from now on!).

The second time we visited, a week or two later, we were told that the restaurant had switched over to its spring menu, and therefore there were some new menu items.  The farfalle nero was gone (no!), but luckily there were some new pastas that sounded well worth trying.  The one I went for that night was the pappardelle with wild boar ragu, porcini mushrooms and dried cranberries.

Papperdelle al Porcini

Papperdelle al Porcini

It sounds like a weird idea to put dried cranberries in a tomato-y sauce, but honestly, it works incredibly well.  With my love of Moroccan tagines, I am used to the idea of balancing out rich savory meaty sauces with the sweetness of dried fruits.  So this dish was a big winner for me.  In fact, it is my favorite Casa Nonna dish to date.

Most recently, when we were back at Casa Nonna, I tried the new squid-ink pasta dish – Tagliatelle Nero with bay scallops.

Tagliatelle Nero with Bay Scallops

Tagliatelle Nero with Bay Scallops

This was good, once again with a nice seafood-y broth/sauce to accompany the pasta and nice bite-sized scallops.  It wasn’t quite as good as the previous black pasta, though – I think I was missing the poached egg, but I guess that is a winter-y touch in their minds.  Once again, I paired it with some sauteed spinach, for a very satisfying dinner.

Casa Nonna is part of a group of restaurants called E-Squared Hospitality that has a loyalty rewards program.  We signed up the first time we were there, and it took a while for me to get my loyalty card; but now that I have it, we get a dollar off every item on the menu when we eat there, and occasionally I gather we will get other sweet deals (percentages off the bill, that kind of thing).  We look forward to being back again at Casa Nonna very soon!  Maybe next time we will splurge for another half-priced bottle of Italian wine on a Monday…

Posted in Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Italian food, Midtown West, New York, New York City | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Oberoi Rajvilas

Oberoi Rajvilas

Oberoi Rajvilas

The third city we visited on our recent Oberoi tour of India was Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan (and also, along with the cities of Delhi and Agra, part of the Golden Triangle, popular with tourists).  While there, we stay at the beyond extraordinary Oberoi Rajvilas.  As I mentioned in my post about the Oberoi Amarvilas, the hotel we had stayed in the days previous to our time in Jaipur, I don’t normally write just about hotels, but these hotels are so extraordinary that they compel me to do so.  That was definitely the case once again with the Oberoi Rajvilas.  As much as we were visiting Jaipur to go on guided tours of the city’s most amazing sights, staying in this hotel all on its own was enough to guarantee us an extraordinary experience with the utmost in comfort.

Our previous two Oberoi hotels, the Amarvilas which I have already mentioned and the New Delhi Oberoi, were fairly conventional in their general construction (especially the latter), in that they were composed of a large building full of hotel rooms and other amenities.  This hotel is very different from that.  It is built in the style of a medieval Indian fort.  Surrounding the property is a red clay wall.  Within the property, the grounds are covered with grass and trees, and home to something like 50 varieties of wild birds, including a number of peacocks (more on that later).  There is a main building through which you enter that houses the main restaurant, offices, gift shop, and so forth.

Then the rooms are contained within a number of bungalows – each bungalow contains four of five guest rooms around a central courtyard.

Courtyard of our Oberoi Rajvilas Bungalow

Courtyard of our Oberoi Rajvilas Bungalow

There are also a number of tents which serve as the even-more-luxurious rooms (more on that later as well).

You can walk to get around the grounds, but since some things are maybe a half mile away from each other, it is better to take a golf cart to get there, and those are always available – we would just call the main desk and in less than a minute, someone would arrive with a cart to take us wherever we wanted to go.

Staff Member in Gold Cart

Staff Member in Gold Cart

So upon arrival, we took a cart to our room (our luggage was sent on its own golf cart, and incidentally, we never had to even touch our luggage at any Oberoi hotel – it was always removed from taxis and brought to our rooms and back again by hotel staff), in one of the aforementioned bungalows.  Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what we are talking about.  First, the bedroom:

Next, the bathroom:

You’ve already seen the courtyard (above) – the next morning, when I poked my head out, who should I see there but one of the majestic peacocks?

Peacock Out For His Morning Stroll at the Oberoi Rajvilas

Peacock Out For His Morning Stroll at the Oberoi Rajvilas

And to round things out, here is a bit of the grounds to give you an idea of how green it was.

On the first two mornings of our stay, we had breakfast in the communal area in the hotel’s main restaurant, the Surya Mahal, which is part of the main building.  The first day, I had cereal with bananas, nothing too exciting, except for the fact that, once again, they had soy milk on the bar along with the dairy milk options (yay!).

Cereal with Bananas and Soy Milk

Cereal with Bananas and Soy Milk

The next morning I was feeling a little more adventurous, so I chose a more eclectic mix of foods for breakfast: hard-boiled egg, turkey roll, hash browns, hummus and pita.  When a waitress saw me cutting my own pita bread that I had picked up from the breakfast bar, she insisted on bringing me some toasted pita.  I thought, sure, why not?  And wouldn’t you know, not only did she toast and slice up the pita, but she put it in its own little basket to keep it warm!  Another great example of how incredible the service is at Oberoi hotels!

Our second evening in Jaipur, we elected to have dinner in the Surya Mahal as well.  They have an outdoor terrace where they have live dancing and music as well.  We couldn’t pass up the chance to hear more classical Indian music, and see some traditional dancing as well.  This time, there were two musicians – a zither player and a percussionist, and the zither player also sang, and sang very well to my ears.  I can’t tell you much about the dancing, other than to say that the young lady was lovely, nicely dressed and danced well (gee, I guess there isn’t too much more that I should say, huh?).

Dancer and Musicians at the Oberoi Rajvilas

Dancer and Musicians at the Oberoi Rajvilas

What did we eat?  Well, Therese ordered from the Indian section of the menu, wishing to explore the local cuisine, and I went for the non-Indian, non-spicy parts of the menu.  Without going into too many gory details, my stomach was at sixes and sevens for most of the time in India, making ordering food an adventure; but once again, the staff at the Oberois was very helpful in helping me to keep my tummy happy.  Anyway, my dinner began with an amuse bounche (sorry, I don’t remember what this was, and my flash didn’t work, so the picture is dark).

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

For my appetizer, I once again went for hummus and pita, along with other Middle Eastern staples, baba ganoush and falafel.

Hummus, Baba Ganoush and Falafel

Hummus, Baba Ganoush and Falafel

Then for my main course, I had Chinese-style noodles with shrimp, rather plain, but just the sort of thing to settle an unsteady stomach.

Shrimp with Chinese Noodles

Shrimp with Chinese Noodles

So after checking in, we had settled into our bungalow room, and were very happy at the Oberoi Rajvilas.  There was just one thing that didn’t cooperate: the shower.  The hotel is about 14 years old, and I have a feeling they haven’t upgraded the plumbing during that time.  In spite of having a couple visits from staff members, the assistant manager even, the shower just wasn’t making it.  I was able to get it to work once, but the hotel was still so apologetic and felt so bad, that they upgraded us for our last night, to one of the tents.

It was actually two tents, surrounded by a bit of grounds and a clay wall of its own.  It would take many many words to describe it to you, so let me just share some pictures of it with you, and you will see how glorious this was.  So the first of the two tents included a bedroom and bathroom, in an open plan, with a wood framework and floor-to-ceiling windows covered in wicker blinds, and the tent ceiling overhead.

Then between the two tents was a walkway with a gate in the middle of it.

Walkway and Gate Between the Tents

Walkway and Gate Between the Tents

The second tent contained a living room and dining room with a large beautiful round table.

After having an incredibly relaxing night in this bucolic setting (our only complaint being that we were only going to be spending one night there!), we decided to have breakfast before finishing our packing and heading to the main building to meet our driver for the long drive to our next destination, Udaipur.  They brought our sumptuous breakfast to us all on a golf cart, and you know what?  When it got to us, it was still hot!  They even brought a toaster with them to make us fresh toast, but when they couldn’t get that to work, they sent back to the main building for some toast, and it arrived, I swear, in about 20 seconds.  Still hot, of course.

Breakfast in for our Last Morning at the Oberoi Rajvilas

Breakfast in for our Last Morning at the Oberoi Rajvilas

I don’t know if it was the same peacock that I had seen on our first morning at the hotel, but during breakfast, we even had a visit from one of these regal birds who are such a presence around the grounds of the hotel, and whose mournful-sounding cries are heard every evening.

Oberoi Jaipur was my favorite hotel of the entire India trip, and if we go back (when we go back), we will definitely stay in a tent during our entire time there!

Posted in Breakfast, Countries, Dairy Free, Dinner, Food, Hotels, India, Jaipur | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment