Road trips to dream about…

November 4th, 2010

Dream drives was my working title for National Geographic Society’s latest book, the fifth illustrated tome in their 500 series. The vagabond has been commissioned to write destinations for them all, and it is true:  Drives of a Lifetime, 500 of the World’s Most Spectacular Trips packs in far-flung dream circuits for motoring in all corners of the globe.  Recently released, this comprehensive book covers a dizzying selection of dream trips in eight chapters.  Some cover the world’s back roads and popular local circuits, while others illustrate well known highways.  Australia’s Great Ocean Road, a twelve hour loop tour, is one of the “Ultimate Road Trip” features – a longer text found in each chapter.  Mountain lovers will be thrilled with diverse destinations, from Alaska’s Yukon Golden Circle to a Madrid Mountain Drive.

The vagabond's favorite trail through the Barolo & Barbaresco vineyards

A map illustrates every destination, as sea and shore, river and canyon, village byways, and urban excursions themes all fuel the reader’s wanderlust. The Driving Through History chapter includes a stunning range of trips, from a pre-Columbian trail in Mexico to Puglia’s olive groves on the heel  of Italy’s boot.  Although most trips are for four wheels, some could be adapted to two (or even to a dune buggy in Peru!).  And at last, ramble from Kentucky’s Boubon Trail and on through the Langhe valley’s vineyards in the Piedmont as the Gourmet Road Trips chapter wraps up this tantalyzing collection of road trip adventures.  Don’t miss the vagabond’s favorite 10 European Food Drives, as well as the U.S.  10 Wayside Bounty drives to enjoy regional specialties in season, from blueberries in Rhode Island, pumpkins and chocolate in Pennsylvania to late winter citrus harvest in Arizona’s roadside stalls.  It all leaves the reader hungry for more luscious images and succinct, spirited text…maybe the next in the series will be 600 journeys!

Gifting idea for active or armchair travelers on you list: order through the National Geographic Society site, or at your local independent book store.

A book for the beach bag

August 19th, 2010

A vicarious tour of Majorca....

Whether you stretch out on a dock, a deck or a beach in a secluded cove, pull a good book about faraway places out of your beach bag.  The vagabond’s choice is a small tome packed with details about a Mediterranean cuisine that doesn’t get much attention:  Majorca. Life-long resident, Tomas Graves surveys this culture and its food traditions, introducing its prime ingredients and those who use them.  Pa am oli, the humble Catalan country bread rubbed with garlic and tomato ties his narrative together and links past and present.  In-depth descriptions of bread making and the island’s fine olive oil traditions vie with forays into Andalusian cured ham/jamon, relatively recent arrivals on Majorcan plates.  But don’t let me spoil the story, or get ahead of myself before thoroughly rereading:  Bread & Oil, Majorcan culture’s last stand, published by Grub Street UK in 1998 & 2006.

Midummer Dreaming

June 26th, 2009

Vagabond Gourmand

The lure of the open road is so magnetic now:  back lanes and distant horizons spin into  summer’s dream destinations.  And as with all dreams – some are possible, even probable – while others must rest on the dreams shelf for later realization.  Maybe you also have a dreams shelf, where books bring to life far away places that one can only imagine exploring. When the travel itch bites and I know that a chair under the maple tree is as far as I can go,  I reach for one of the 500 Journeys series by National Geographic Books.  Journeys of a Lifetime was their first, and this summer I am lapping up all of the pages in the  “In Gourmet Heaven” chapter.  “A Wine Route through Hungary” takes me back to the Putza plains , “A Bedouin Feast” piques my curiosity about Jordan’s cardamom in coffee, and I even reread my own entry on  Sicilian Food and Wine. The destinations that the vagabondgourmand wrote number five in this book of dream journeys, and eleven for their next book, a stunning collection of Sacred Places of a Lifetime. Soon I will be curious to read what other travel writers reveal in the next up, Food Journeys – to be released in the autumn.

As cookbooks go, many in my collection serve to take me there….to northern Italy or Spain, the Greek Islands or southern Sweden. Thanks to a new title on my dreams shelf, I’ve been introduced to Swedish pastries, and the idea of rambling through Gothenburg’s historic old town grows more appealing. Vicarious travel begins with baking, steaming or stewing from the desired destination – a taste of what may lie ahead.  When I opened A Taste of Haga to Apple & Almond buns, Nougatine biscuits, a Victoria Torte covered with a delicate layer of marzipan, then Almond Horseshoes, the cobblestone streets and cozy cafés of the Haga quarter of Gothenburg became almost palpable.  My antenae are always up for almond details:  Haga’s bakeries come in loud and clear.  After a reality check on timing for the months ahead,  southern Sweden may be off my travel map, but in the meantime, there are recipes to sample…and one can always dream.

Dream shelf details:   Journeys of a Lifetime, 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips, published by National Geographic Books.  See site:  A Taste of Haga, by Eija Niskakari, was published in 2008 by Ic Bokförlag, Forma Publishing Group AB.

How to eat a magazine

April 30th, 2009

When the mailman’s vespa pulled up to our library window this morning, I swung open the shutters with a hearty Bonjour! No time to chat about the weather – I spotted a  familiar packet,  immediately recognized as something “edible”.  On the spine, I read… Travel Issue: The World on a plate…. Bonanza!  Opening to “Last Touch”, the way I’ve always approached a fresh-out-of-the-packet issue of Gourmet magazine,  I began to nibble.  Tasting the last page first may seem an odd habit – but this creature of habit’s ways are well jelled.  So, savory and sweet dumplings were today’s page 134, first taste.  Flipping forward for just a procrastinatory glance, like putting the Previews of Coming Attrations on fast forward  – past Chinese dining in East L.A., I  paused in the centerfold recipes for a Tuscany al fresco feast to mark Basil-lime Granita with a post-it sticker.  This simple gesture has marked decades of Gourmet issues, bringing me back to sample later. A few more pages flashed past, but rich colors, gorgeous platters of hot and sweet Peruvian food brought me to a full stop. A feast for the eye, but rather shopper-challenging to find ingredients such as aji amarillo or naranjilla fruit in (still) provincial France.

Southern Turkey’s pepper fields, the subject of a fascinating visit to Yaylak for – new words for this pepper lover  – Urfa and Maras, inspire chewing on  a good article, and another post-it tag on the Turkish lamb stew recipe.  Then, closing in on a first glimpse of the cover, I was waylaid by the monthly book review, with a recipe for Finnish meatballs…and cloudberries.  Having just returned from cloudberry land, it struck a resonant chord of northern flavors.  Even an occasional ad in this issue piqued my interest, such as an ice cream maker’s campaign to help the bees, suggesting…”plant your own bee-friendly wildflower garden” – we’re on the same wave length, to be sure.  When I turned to wine advice, comforted to find Gerald Asher’s savvy and polished critiques still at hand, it almost felt like these decades of nipping on Gourmet’s informative wine columns was coming full circle. The Contents listing  alerted me to a page – how could I miss it – about night markets in the Dordogne, In the Night Kitchen. Uncanny, I admitted, perfect timing for using graisse de canard from last week’s confit to stir up Pommes de Terre Sarladais…something to really sink our teeth into.  Oh, and the frites on the cover tempt me  to open the May issue and come at it from another angle, à chacun son goût, à chacun ses habitudes.

Do the Chandeleur “flip”

February 2nd, 2009

Making pancakes is good exercise, look at it this way.  When I watched women making crèpes at a foire in Brittany, they stirred, they flipped, they rolled or folded the golden pancake envelope around a sweet filling- and so deftly it took but a minute.  Practice makes perfect (as we all know, the first pancake is always ratée - a mess!) and these crèpe flipping experts have been at it since they were about six years old. But why, I wondered, is the crèpe always eaten on February second, Chandeleur ? Thank the pagans, whose sun-worshipping traditions were reinterpreted as Christianity took hold around the Mediterranean.  Roman revelers worshiping Pan carried torches on their noisy processions to chase away the last traces of winter and celebrate the longer days of early spring.  Forty days after Christmas, when the Greeks carried candles to the mass for Hypapante (the meeting) in the fifth century, they marked the day Mary and Joseph presented Jesus for consecration at the temple.  This follows – torches, candles for Chandeleur - but what about pancakes? The round, quickly-made blini symbolized the sun for Russians, who saluted the return of spring during “butter week” before their forty meatless days of Lent began. Blinis bathed in butter answered the need for street food as they invoked the nature’s spirits for an upcoming season of abundance.  So, the round crèpe is still flipped across Europe, certainly in France, during February’s days of Carnaval that run from Chandeleur to Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday.

For a far better description of the crèpe and all its cousins around the world, I dipped into a tidy little volume: Pancake, A Global History, by food historian Ken Albala.  Pancake is one of a delicious series called Edibles by Reaktion Books, a UK publisher.  Not only does Albala’s book answer many questions about this universal favorite, he amusingly covers such traditions as pancake races (what was I saying about the pancake as exercise?!). The last pages are devoted to recipes for everything from Berry Explosion Pancakes to Provençal Socca and Brittany’s Galettes.  Oh, and do try the blini – with or without caviar – to celebrate the sun’s return.

Crèpe flippers take note: London’s pancakealympics are set for February 22nd at Blackheath Market, and the flip-finals to be run at Islington Green Farmers’ Market on February 24th at 12:20.  For directions and further details about the pancake races, visit: Bonne chance!

And Shrove Tuesday is Pannukakku Päivä in Finland, where the vagabondgourmand learned to eat split pea soup on this day – always followed by a pancake with strawberry jam.  Bring on the pannukakku!

Make a menu, follow David Tanis….in harmony with the seasons

January 4th, 2009

Those handsome parsnips from the market could be simmered in soup, but I’d rather roast them. So, how to roast them for maximum flavor and minimum scorched edges? I reach for a new cookbook, a beaming guide to seasonal fare and menu ideas by David Tanis, A platter of figs and other recipes. Open to page 45, Parsnips Epiphany-style, for the simplest solution.  Then spend the morning devouring pages of irresistibly straight-forward recipes with a common theme: it all begins at the market. This is the vagabond’s dream book, not only a tutorial in menu composition but a liberation to improvise with each season’s textures, colors and flavors. The tone of the seasons is heightened by Christopher Hirsheimer’s naturally lit photographs; more inspiration. Characters and a variety of settings bring meals and menus to life, from the goat keeper who roasts parsnips to a Catalan evening at the ballet followed by cava and anchovies on toast. Next time I’m sleuthing Paris markets, the “Bird man of Place Maubert” will be the show to catch – for drama as well as magret de canard. In keeping with the season for a “Bean Soup Lunch”, this week I will stir up a soup, bake almond biscotti, and thank David Tanis for refreshing my culinary imagination!

A platter of figs and other recipes by David Tanis was published by Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Company, N.Y., in 2008.

Five journeys, among five hundred

November 4th, 2007

Journeys of a Lifetime, 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips is National Geographic’s recently published lush and colorful temptation to travelers. Even sitting in a cozy armchair, one can almost smell the aromas of ripe melons emanating from a market photo which introduces the ‘In Gourmet Heaven’ section. True to their high standards, the National Geographic books team has orchestrated words and images evoking places, people, flavors and discoveries. Organized in sections, such as Across Water, By Road, In Search of Culture, this round-the-world whirl takes the reader to distant mountains and market places with the flip of a page. It was a pleasure write five of the destinations for this comprehensive travel book, and the VagabondGourmand is busily preparing more chapters for another in the series, to be published in 2008. Add Journeys of a Lifetime to your Christmas list – for giving, or drop a hint to Santa.

The New York Times listed Journeys of a Lifetime  on it “best sellers” list for three weeks in January 2008.

Fresh spring flavors & cook-it ideas

March 31st, 2007

Cook-it is a fat file, an ever-expanding collection of new variations on old themes – both in my laptop and, well, as paper clippings.  Our office/library will never win prizes in a paperless office competition.  Nor will the shelves hold any more cookbooks, but here we are with another little stack for the groaning boards.  On a theme of Chill-it, this time I popped for fresh ideas on sorbets and ice creams in a tidy volume by Shona Crawford Poole, simply:

ice cream, published by Conran Octopus in a revised edition, 2001. This indispensible guide to simple ices, frozen yogurt and fruit gelatos also includes basic sauces and crisp tuiles to serve on the side.  I found this treasure while browsing in a Volos bookstore, and keep it close at hand.

Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, a rich collection of Mediterranean recipes by Diana Henry, is another recent addition to the shelf – though it is more often on the kitchen counter. Published by Mitchel Beazley in 2002, this well organized tour of Mediterranean specialties offers a fresh look at culinary traditions surrounding the “Middle Earth Sea”. Seemingly complex dishes become approachable, quotations enrich recipe pages, and Jason Lowe’s photos seem to call out: bon appétit!

eggs by the master chef, Michel Roux, is an elegantly photographed and practical book that inspires one to whip up an eggy Easter soufflé of cheddar, tangy spring sorrel and savory anchovies.  The range of recipes doesn’t stop at the brunch menu, but takes you right through to cinnamon ice cream for dessert.

The Illustrated Greek Wine Book by Nico Manessis, second edition, deserves a place in the wine-lover’s collection of references.  Published by Olive Press Publications (in Corfu), it is a compact, stiff paperback book to update travelers on progress in Greek wine making.  In fact, use it as a guide to Greek geography: the terrain, products and people in profile – to read on the way, or on the way back to Greece.

Reviews of travel and cookbook releases

May 23rd, 2006

…will appear in this space through upcoming seasons in Europe’s colorful markets. Meanwhile, vagabondgourmand recommends:

Paris in a Basket –Markets, The Food and the People
By Nicolle A.Meyer and Amanda Pilar Smith
Published in 2000 by Könneman in Cologne, Germany

A masterpiece on the markets of Paris, this comprehensive tome takes the reader through all of the arrondissements into corners (and to metro stops, la vagabonde says from recent experience) one would never otherwise discover. As a travel book it is a bit heavy, but as a cookbook it entices one out to the market before stirring up a chicken in Riesling or quince poached in cassis.

Barefoot in Paris
By Ina Garten
Published in 2004 by Clarkson Potter, New York

With her flair and instincts for synthesizing the spirit and flavors of Paris, Ina Garten sets forth into the markets and cafés of the city of light. What she brings back is not only the ambiance, but the essence of French dishes, en toute simplicité. A book to devour at any hour –when in the mood for a very French treat: a croque-monsieur perhaps?

Italy Sea to Sky
By Ursula Ferrigno
Published in 2003 by Mitchell Beazley, London

This gorgeous, delectable book skims the coasts and rivers, valleys and plains of Italy for the most authentic flavours. Bring her oven-baked sole with olives to the table –it prompts one to consider checking on flights to Apulia, or other tempting coasts and corners of Italy.