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Flip Burger @ Bloomingdales 59th Street NYC

5 Feb

It was the first snow storm of 2014… We wanted to get out of the house, but did not want to manage the snow and cold outside. I suggested: “Let’s just take the subway and it can take us right underneath the belly of one of my favorite department stores in NYC – Bloomingdale’s. Deal??“ They all agreed…

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The day BEFORE the storm… but the same cast of characters.

When we arrived it was already 3PM and we were HUNGRY!!! Who can shop while hungry?? I sure can’t. So we looked at the store directory but there were many options to choose from. Let’s just go checking them out floor by floor as we encounter them and we’ll decide what works best, OK?

Flip was the first option available… right up the stairs from the level where the 4-5-6 subway leaves you. When we discovered it was a burger joint, Tere and my mom were discouraged as, more often than not, burgers means meat burgers only. But we were in NYC after all and I said to myself… “Madelyn, read thru all the burger options before dismissing this restaurant”. And there they were!!!! VARIOUS, not just one, various vegetarian options!!!!

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I wish I had taken a picture of the menu for you… I was sure I was going to find it online, but unfortunately that is not the case. The menu presented a veggie burger and a Portobello Mushroom burger option, my favorite. We sat down and ordered… You could have your pic of bread, burger, and toppings. The vegetarian options come with 2 toppings included beyond the lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. My burger was a Portobello mushroom burger on a whole wheat/multigrain roll with goat cheese and avocados. YUM!!!

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They also have fries to accompany your burger… we went for the thin crispy fries and the sweet potato fries. They were both superb… But I should warn you, those thin fries don’t seem to ever end. The more you eat, the more they seem to be in your plate. I ate and ate and we still brought the leftovers back home with us.

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Even though Flip @ Bloomingdale’s is not a vegetarian place… in true NYC fashion they have meat-free options for us vegetarian gals. Who wants to go shopping on an empty stomach?? Not me for sure… and the next time I visit Bloomie’s, I know I’ll have a craving for a burger.

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What we ate in Spain… on the Way of St. James

18 Nov

Last July my friend Walter and I embarked on a great journey… to follow the steps of many pilgrims that came before us to reach on foot where the remains of the apostle St. James lie in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Our interest in completing the Camino de Santiago, as it is called in Spanish, started back during our last trip to the north of Spain in 2007. We saw in almost every city the markers for the pilgrims, the pilgrims themselves carrying their belongings… and we were enthralled. We knew some day we would do it.

But as working professionals, we can’t take off a whole month for just walking across Spain from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. So we decided to just do what was critically asked of us, walk 114Kms from Sarria to Santiago in 5 days. We walked on average 20kms per day the equivalent of a ½ marathon 5 days back to back. We trained for the trek ahead, walking about 14kms from my house to El Morro and back, carrying backpacks, water bottles, snacks, etc. under the Puerto Rican Summer sun. If we could manage that, we would certainly manage the sun and potential heat in the north of Spain.

España Trip Collage 2

The experience was wonderful… there are certainly spiritual, religious and physical aspects to this pilgrimage. And it’s certainly something that it’s difficult to put into words. You are amongst company and by yourself all at the same time. You start alone yet by the time you arrive in Santiago you have developed so many wonderful friendships. We’re all in this experience together and the love and support you feel is incredibly special. We are so fascinated with the experience, we vouched to do it all over again, but try to start as close to Roncesvalles as we can… and if we can manage it, heck start at the beginning of the trail in Saint Jean Pied de Port in France, the reason why this most traveled route is called the French Way or Camino Francés.

Amigos Collage

My love for Spain is no secret to you who read me frequently… and I could not pass up the opportunity to document all the great things we ate in Galicia and experienced on the Camino.

This was my first time in Galicia… so I had to try some of the local delicacies to see if they’re as good as they say or as good as I remember. I remember my dad eating Caldo Gallego from El Ebro when I was growing up. Caldo Gallego is a hearty soup/stew made with beans, chorizo, vegetables. Growing up was never too find of it, and as an adult vegetarian I have not had it for the obvious reasons described just now. When we arrived in Melide for lunch we were told we needed to go to a Pulpería which are the most typical restaurants/taverns in Melide. Yes… Pulpería as in Octopus. We decided on Pulpería Ezequiel… where we later learned was visited just the day before by renowned Spanish chef Jose Andrés. He was walking the Camino just one day ahead of us!!!!! Of course I wasn’t going to eat octopus, I was pleasantly surprised to know the Caldo Gallego in Ezequiel is vegetarian – potatoes, cabbage, beans in a vegetable broth. It may have been simple… but it was perfect for the rainy day we were having.

Ezequiel Collage

Another Galician favorite are Pimientos de Padrón… Some of my foodie friends swear by these so I had to stop and try them to see if I loved them just the same. These are peppers grown in the town of Padrón in Galicia. They’re served fried and their peculiarity is that they’re mostly sweet, but there are several that are spicy and to eat them is like playing Pepper Russian Roulette… you never know when the spicy one will appear. Well, for me… it was the 4th pepper. It was sooooo spicy that it was enough for me not to want to eat anything else that night.

Pimientos de Padron

To cool off the spicy pepper sensation in my mouth… the Galician thing to do is to have a Clara de Limón, which is a combination of beer and lemon lime soda. It is refreshing and delicious… and when you make it with a non-alcoholic beer, perfect for someone that does not drink much and is planning to walk for 4 more days 4 half marathons. This is not the time to get a hangover.

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The Camino is a trustworthy place to be… we are all walking, with our own obstacles and tribulations towards the same goal, reaching Santiago de Compostela. People are very accommodating to pilgrims. They know we’re walking under the sun sometimes, so they offer water, and sometimes food. Along the way on our 4th day of walking I believe in between Arzúa and Amenal we found this cute fruit stand. No one tended it… there was just a money box where you would deposit the money of whatever you took. Everything was 1 Euro. We decided to eat raspberries and to leave our message of appreciation. I love a place where people are decent, where people are trusting and believe the same of others. We should instill some of those feelings in our own daily lives I think…

Camino Collage

I have told you about Empanadas Gallegas or Galician Empanadas… I have made a vegetarian version using tuno. We ran across a Galician Empanada and we had to try it… Walter ate most of it, but I had to take one for the team and give it a bite to compare with my own version. And for all of you who may have doubted if my tuno version was authentic… My tuno version tastes JUST like the originals made in Galicia. The dough is different, but the filling is just as delicious. The predominant flavor is the caramelized onions which gives it a creamy unctuous flavor. Feel free to make my vegetarian version… you will not be disappointed.

Empanada Gallega Collage

And to finish off our great pilgrimage… we enjoyed some of Spain’s most delicious contributions to the culinary world – CROQUETAS. We ate the most wonderful Spinach and Goat Cheese croquetas. It gave me the inspiration to tweak my spinach croquetas recipe and add some goat cheese to them to make an updated version.

Croquetas de Espinaca y Queso de Cabra

Completing the pilgrimage from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela was an experience we will never forget. Arriving in Santiago under the rain, attending the Pilgrim’s Mass, joining all the other pilgrims who had completed the same journey as us… was an emotional experience. One that I am sure has changed us in more ways than we can express. I encourage you to embark on your own personal journey… the journey to physically and mentally getting to know yourself more. The journey where we find our true essence and where we can live every day those qualities we love most about ourselves.

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Be it on the Camino de Santiago or in your own neighborhood… go out and inside all at the same time and find what you have always wanted that is right there inside your heart.

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What to buy when traveling to Peru…

31 Jul

As you know, to me the best kind of souvenirs are edible souvenirs… something to eat and reminisce about the place I am traveling in.

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In Peru, these are my recommendations on what to bring home to remember your trip by:

Perurisimas Lays

Lay’s Perurísimas Potato Chips  – Peru prides itself for having 1,000+ potato varieties. We had the chance to taste some of them during our dinners. But for munchies, the best potato chips I’ve had in a while are Lay’s Perurísimas. These are similar to a Terra chip, but made with several varieties of Peruvian potatoes. With a very light sea salt touch. De-li-cious!!! I wanted to bring back several bags of these… I will be campaigning for Lay’s to distribute these in the US and Puerto Rico.

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Maras Salt, the Peruvian Pink Salt – Near Cusco there’s a place called Salineras, where Sal de Maras is harvested. Sal de Maras is a pink, very flavorful salt only available in Peru. You can buy it in any supermarket in the area. And I suggest you do so, because if you decide at the airport, you’ll be paying a hefty premium for forgetting it while you were buying your Perurísimas chips.

Sal de Maras Airport

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Maca – Lately, I’ve been hearing about all these add-ons you can add to your morning smoothies to make them more nutritious. Among these add-ons is maca powder. Maca is a Peruvian root, similar to a radish, which has been cultivated for many, many years. It is many times eaten as a cooked vegetable but for us outside of Peru, is more convenient to have it as a powder. Maca is said to help with anemia, boost energy, improve athletic performance and memory and even help with the symptoms of menopause. It’s also used for weak bones, depression, boost the immune system, erectile dysfunction and even to arouse sexual desire.

When I went to buy this at Whole Foods and saw it was a Peruvian thing… I waited to purchase it during our trip. I was lucky enough to find organic maca. I tried it first in a blended juice drink where they added maca to it. The taste is a tad bitter, but that may be a factor of the amount of maca they added to the drink. I only plan to add a tablespoon to my morning smoothie. Will report about the effects of it later on… OK??

Selva Naranja

Selva Brand Orange JuiceI have told you about my love for Orangina… so imagine this Selva Orange Juice is like Orangina, but without the fizz. It’s sweet and tart at the same time. It’s light and delicious. We bought a few bottles along the trip to have in our room to snack or to have for breakfast. I wish I could’ve brought a few bottles home with me. I would have if I had brought with me the super large Ziploc bags to make sure there wasn’t any spillage in my suitcase.

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Oatmeal Cookies from La Gran FrutaI’ve told you about La Gran Fruta… and these cookies make the best gifts for friends at home. Have them taste a little piece of Lima thru these cookies. They might crack into pieces, but no-one will care after they taste their deliciousness.

Ají Amarillo – My friend Mara is from Peru… and she urged me to bring home some ají amarillo, the one used to make salsa huancaína to serve with potatoes or sweet potatoes. I did not get a lot of time at the supermarket right before returning home, so I bought a packet of Ají Mirasol. I hope I bought the right thing. But in the near future I will ask my other Peruvian friend, Lucy, to share with me her papas a la huancaína recipe. We had a chance to have it at her Lima home and it was THE BEST papas a la huancaína we had the whole trip.

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And in a completely unrelated to food topic… I also bought myself a nice little knitted hat made from alpaca wool. It’s the Peruvian wool of choice. I bought it in a little town called Chincheros from the nicest and funniest Peruvian lady ever. She should have her own stand-up comedy show… so I do sometimes buy stuff that is not edible. Just so you know…  ;)

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Have you been to Peru also?? What did you bring as a souvenir?

Coca Tea to avoid altitude sickness…

18 Jul

It’s tradition… it’s what people tell you immediately after you say you’re traveling to see Machu Picchu… so, will you be having coca tea??

As the word says… coca leaves are the raw material to make cocaine. Yep… cocaine, the drug. But coca leaves are also the natural remedy of choice to acclimate to the 11,000 feet above sea level altitude where Cusco resides. For centuries, Peruvians have chewed on coca leaves to help them deal with the side-effects of being so high up in the sky, no pun intended.

Altitude sickness can be very debilitating – headaches, difficulty breathing, disorientation, dizziness, among others. For perspective, you only reach 10,000 when traveling on an airplane. When you’re traveling to Cusco, you need to incorporate some down and easy time to get used to the altitude and not allow it to get the best of you and your trip.

I was not sure if I would have coca tea or not… I’ve never been in the presence of the drug and have no interest in ever trying it. But because of the novelty, and because I did not want to bring down my group my feeling sick on a trip, I gave it a try. This will be the closest I’ll ever be to getting a hit in my life… so let’s enjoy the experience, no??

Coca Tea 2 Collage

 

Coca tea tastes very similar to linden tea. I sweetened it with brown sugar and it was a very enjoyable experience… one that I could certainly get somewhat addicted to. ;) I only had it twice… as our Guruji told us it really has a substance that hinders your spiritual growth. After we had the experience and acclimated well to the altitude there was really no real need for it anymore.

Coca remedies for altitude sickness come in various presentations – the raw leaves, in traditional tea bags and even in candy form. These are only to be enjoyed in Peru. I do not believe any of these are permitted to bring into the US, for obvious reasons. So this is something that can only be experienced when you visit these parts of the world.

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After a few days, we also learned there is yet another remedy for altitude sickness which is sometimes even more effective, but not as notorious as coca tea… it’s Muña Tea. Muña is an Andean mint leave, very pretty and very fragrant. Cusqueños offer muña tea as a welcome drink to visitors. I had the chance to taste muña tea a few times and it’s a delicious, caffeine-free way to deal with altitude sickness and the cold up in the Cusco mountains.

Te de muña Collage

Have you ever visited Cusco? Have you ever had coca tea? What was your experience?

 

La Gran Fruta – Great fruit franchise in Lima, Peru

15 Jul

I love finding hidden gems… and in Lima, Peru I think there is one.

If you love fruits salads, natural juices and smoothies look no further than La Gran Fruta. They are a fruit based establishment that offer great alternatives for vegetarians. It’s not a vegetarian place, but we had some wonderful breakfasts thanks to them.

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La Gran Fruta offers various sizes of fruit salads, all accompanied by yogurt, granola and honey.

La Gran Fruta - Fruit Salad

Some of us were more adventurous than others. I ordered the largest salad only because I wanted to try a few new fruits I was not familiar with (and hey, I shared with my mom and a few others who also wanted to try):

  • Granadilla – very similar to a passion fruit in texture, but the taste is sweet and not tart like a passion fruit.
  • Chirimoya – very similar to a soursop but much creamier and sweeter. My friends went bonkers for cherimoyas and were seeking them out everywhere we went.
  • Lúcuma – this fruit is very similar in taste and texture to a mamey or sapote. It’s dense in texture and a tad bit grainy. Makes a wonderful juice but I think it would make an even better milkshake or smoothie.

Lucuma Juice

New fruits to me

In this plate you also see soursop… this one I was familiar with, but this one was super tart… in my opinion, it needed a few extra days to fully ripen.

At La Gran Fruta, they not only make awesome fruit salads and juices… they also have these awesome cookies made with only a few ingredients – oatmeal, sugar and fruit pulp. My favorites were the ones made with passion fruit. Imagine a tart and sweet cookie?? I am telling you it’s something to taste to believe… They also have them with apples, figs, mango, strawberry and a combination of several fruits. These cookies are gluten-free and egg-free… perfectly vegetarian!!!!

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Because we went in wintertime, we did not get to try something everyone was recommending – Raspadillas. I am sure this is something very similar to our piraguas, shaved ice doused in pureed fruit pulp. Yum… something definitely to look forward to in the Summer, no?

La Gran Fruta has several locations throughout Lima… check them out if you’re ever in Perú.

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