Tag Archives: travel

My #tbt post on my trip to Paris 2013

31 Jul

OMG!!!  I can’t believe that I’ve been so busy lately that I never got to post about my experience last year of returning to Paris for the third time…  this time, I went by myself in my first ever international vacation on my own.  I will not lie… I was scared out of my mind.  With as much travel that I do, I surprised myself I was so anxious about being by myself in Paris.

Paris Trip Collage

I went to Paris for one week, right after being in Spain with my friend Walter walking the Camino de Santiago.  It was cheaper to travel back home from Paris/CDG than from Madrid.  So the Universe conspired for me to return to the City of Lights, this time by myself.  Traveling alone is something you need to do at least once in your life.  I definitely prefer to travel with someone, but the experience of renting a small studio apt, doing exactly what I want, whenever I wanted was particularly liberating.

Paris 2013 3 Collage

And to be honest… you’re never alone.  Really!!  I met people everywhere I went… a group of 6 Argentinean guys while I was taking a few selfies at the Louvre; a Singaporean woman while waiting in line at the St. Chappelle; a British professor who told us all about the St. Chapelle windows history; an aunt and a niece from San Francisco while I was tasting some desserts at Angelina,  a couple from the US when I was tasting champagne in Epernay.   And I even met up a few times with friends from Puerto Rico… with my dear friend Jesiel, who is now living in Paris and, with whom I had a lovely picnic by the Seine.  Also,  with a former classmate of mine from the L ‘Alliance Française in Puerto Rico, Arturo, who was working for the Summer at the US Embassy and took me to eat falafels and to ride vélos to visit Roland Garros, for all you tennis fans out there.  All that in a week!!!!  When I tell you I was rarely alone, I don’t lie…

Which brings me to what I ate while I was in Paris…

Thanks to Arturo, I got to return to L’As du Falafel.  I tried to eat there on my last trip in 2009, but I went on a Saturday and the owners being Jewish, they observe Sabbath and were closed.  This time, I got the experience the best falafel in Paris.  And they are goooooood.  I had a falafel sandwich and I took me back to that first falafel sandwich I had in Israel more than a decade ago.  They’re worth waiting in line for… really!!!!

LAs du Falafel Collage

I went, finally, to Poilane Bakery… the bakery Giada Di Laurentiis and Ina Garten talk so much about in their shows.  It’s super small!!!!  If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it.  I bought myself a pain au chocolat, which was glorious.  But I also bought some buckwheat buns.  Delicious when you first buy them, but they turn very hard by the next day.  Because they weren’t stale, I just opened them, schmeared some chevre cheese and that was my snack while I was champagne tasting in Epernay and Reims.

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I also got to go for the first time to La Grande Epicerie… Ina Garten’s favorite market in Paris, next to Le Bon Marché department store.  It’s like a Whole Foods and a Zabar’s in Paris.  I had so much fun. I touched everything and even bought a few things for my picnic with Jesiel by the Seine.  I bought berries, sparkling water, an artichoke spread and breadsticks which were divine!  Jesiel even kept the label to buy it again for herself and her boyfriend, now husband, Romain.  I can’t believe I was so excited to see Jesiel again that we never took one picture together… and we saw each other twice!!!

La Grande Epicerie Collage

And of course… I had the obligatory crepe in Montmartre, the simple and satisfying tartine et salade lunch in St. Germaine, the eating a croissant while looking at the Tour Eiffel and a picnic to finish all the stuff I still had in my little fridge at the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Even the chai tea latte in a Starbucks to take advantage of the air conditioner and the wi-fi. So gringa of me, right???

Paris 2013 2 Collage

 

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But as always… a week in Paris is never enough to taste and experience everything you want.  I was left wanting to eat at L’Atelier de Joel Rebouchon… because my friend Nayda and a little girl I met in Paris told me that I have not yet tasted mashed potatoes until I taste Chef Rebouchon’s mashed potatoes.  I was going to meet the little girl and her aunt for lunch one day, but time betrayed me and I arrived just past 3PM, when they close lunch service.

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Also, because I went in August, the month when Parisians take most of their vacation time, the market at Rue Raspail was pretty dim.  It looked nothing like the scenes I have seen Ina Garten shopping amongst the fresh fruits and vegetables.  I must go again to experience this street market in all its glory.

As the self-proclaimed professional jet-setter that I am, one trip to Paris is never enough.  So after a year of being away, I am certainly itching to return.  I declared I want to return soon and run the Paris Marathon with a couple of my running friends.  I am certain that’s in my future.  I am sure it’ll happen and you’ll all be right there with me…  d’accord???

A bientôt…

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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The Vegetarian Professional Jet-Setter Strikes again…

24 Sep

I’m here!!! I’m here!!! I have not fallen off the face of the Earth!!!

The first part of 2013 has been incredible to me… I had the chance to visit so many places – India, Panama, Peru, Miami… those you already knew about. But I just got back from a trip to Spain doing the Camino de Santiago and a week in Paris. Collectively, I think in the first 8 months of 2013, I’ve only been in Puerto Rico for about 3 months total. I told ya once… be careful what you wish for, because just like the Daughtry song says, “you just might get it all… and then some you don’t want”.

Travel 2013 Collage

I have been craving some normalcy… some time at home, by myself to write and share with you all the wonderful experiences I’ve had. But doing 3 spiritual trips in less than 6 months takes a toll on you. My mind has not been in the writing mode. That’s why I’ve been kinda quiet lately. If you follow me on Facebook, at least you’ve gotten a chance to check out some of KarmaFree’s recipes from our archives… But my spiritual guru told me it would be like this for a little while. Trying to get a grasp of normalcy while all the experiences and blessings of all these spiritual trips actually sink in.  Please bear with me…

I’ve already shared with you some things about Peru – what to buy when you visit and my experience drinking Coca Tea in Cusco. I’ve also shared some of the experiences in India – about sugar-coated fennel seeds or the many ways Indians eat their lentils. But I have not had the chance to tell you about the awesome natural treatments we did in Panama, some of the great vegetarian restaurants we went in Peru or some of the delicious recipes I learned while in India. Let me tell you… I got sweets you will looooooooove!!!! You’ll hear about the experience and the recipes in the weeks to come.

Panama Collage

 

You’ll also learn about my experience of walking the Camino de Santiago or St. James Way… If you’ve seen the movie The Way with Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen, you know what I am talking about. This was my 3rd trip to Spain and I keep learning so much and discovering this country’s gastronomy has to offer. I will also try to show you how I handled walking 114kms in 5 days on a vegetarian diet!!!

España Trip Collage 2

And Paris!!!! My lovely, lovely Paris!! If I was in Spain, how could I not hop over to visit my beloved Paris?? This time around I went by myself and got to eat and experience some of my old favorites, but also got a taste of some new things I have been meaning to try… like those lovely falafels at L’As du Falafel that everyone raves so much about.

Paris Trip Collage

Thanks for sticking around… thanks for being patient with me. I promise I had all you guys on my mind wherever I was… India, Paris, Spain, Miami, Panama, Peru and even here in my lovely kitchen in Puerto Rico. I will try to make you all feel like you were all there with me…

Bon virtual voyage!!!! Bon Appetit!!!

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.

The many ways to eat lentils in India…

26 Jun

Lentils are one of the staples in Indian cooking. Dal, as it is known in India, is the definitely the pulse of choice.

The most traditional way of eating lentils are in a stew format to eat over rice, very much like we eat rice and beans in Latin countries. The difference when we cook lentils, is that you can still see the lentils in the dish.

Indians tend to cook their lentils until they become mush, where the lentils just disappear and just look like a very soft puree. I will share with you a recipe given to me by a friend in which you cook yellow/orange lentils until they become this creamy consistency. They’re delicious…

Lentil Collage

A new way I discovered having lentils is in Moong Dal. The best way I can describe this is a lentil krispy… imagine a rice krispy, but with lentils. Get it now??

Moong Dal is crispy and salty… they pop in your mouth and they’re a real treat to eat. We discovered them in a store at an airport and enjoyed them on the road as a snack often. We even got to bring some home to enjoy. But remember they’re still lentils, filled with protein, so they can be heavy on your stomach if you eat too much at a time. So be careful not to overdo them… ok??

And my favorite way to eat lentils… papadams!!!! These are crispy wafers, like a tortilla meets a chip, made usually from lentils or chickpea flour. They’re served as a snack or as an accompaniment to some main dish. I got them served to complement Yogurt Rice, a favorite in South India. More about the Yogurt Rice in an upcoming post…

These papadams are addictive… I would eat mine, my mom’s and my friend’s papadams, if they were not interested in them. They are like the best Indian chip you will ever find. This is a very delicious way to get your protein on.

 

What is YOUR favorite way to eat a lentil?? I want to know…

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