A Walk Down Sandy Lane

Oxfordshire Footpath

Oxfordshire Way Footpath

I recently stayed at a lovely conference center not too far from Oxford, and I’m told that it has a nice gym.  But who needs a treadmill with beautiful countryside just outside the door?  Each day I’d choose a destination and trek the nearby country lane to the bus stop about a mile away.  The sun was shining, the weather was fair, and during that walk I saw families of pheasants, old barns, ripe pumpkins, grazing sheep, bright red berries and boughs of ivy.

Take a walk with me in the English countryside on a beautiful autumn day.

The Path

Stairway

Granary

Wabisabi Gate

Shady Lane Farm

Travel by Design

The journey is about more than the trip

Experience Time Span (iversity.org)

I recently took an online class called “Design Thinking” through iversity.org, a platform for Massive Open Online Courses based in Germany.  One lecture sparked an interest in designing user experience and made me think about travel.

The simple visual above perfectly describes my travel experience.

Stage 1 is The Vision.  When I know that I will be taking a trip, I begin to imagine the experience as I plan activities.  Anticipating the journey, I am already experiencing it in my mind.  I can almost feel the cobblestones under my feet, smell the sea breeze or hear the animated chatter in the marketplace.

The next phase is The Experience.  While I’m traveling, I tune into the moment with intensity.  Unfamiliarity sharpens my senses, as I notice every detail around me.  Colors seem brighter, tastes more memorable and sounds that might go unnoticed at home form a cacophonous symphony.  I feel awake and alive.

The 3rd stage is Reflection.  When the journey is over, I return home and reflect.  Instead of being just a checklist of tourist attractions, each experience becomes embedded in my psyche and changes my perspective.

The final phase, which may last a lifetime, is The Story.  This is the memory that becomes a piece of well-worn quilt that I wrap around my shoulders.  Over time, the memories may lose intensity, but they are still colorful tiles in life’s mosaic.

Thinking about the entire process makes me realize how wonderful it is to incorporate design thinking into the trip.  When I become the creator, each journey is unique and the experience is entirely mine.  Instead of standing behind the crowd that glances at the Mona Lisa and heads to the next destination, I turn around and discover a joyful masterpiece on another wall.  Walking the streets of a German town, we happen upon a tiny printing museum and are treated to a leisurely private tour with a knowledgeable master.  On our way to the Alamo, we take a detour and find the peaceful garden at the Spanish Governor’s Palace.  Allowing time to get lost and time to explore, we discover forgotten paths and hidden treasures.

Experience design means paying attention to the details and thinking about the entire process – before, during and after.  When it comes to travel, it means creating a loose plan and allowing plenty of time and opportunity for exploration and serendipity.  Planning means that I know the address to plug into the GPS, the names of cities I’ll visit and the place I might sleep.  But the time in between unfolds as it unfolds.  I design the experience, do my research and plan the “ingredients,” but how it all comes together is something totally unexpected and memorable.

 

Beyond Ramen: Students Abroad Seeking Inspiration!

Ramen

You’re far from home, renting a room and dealing with limited resources and unfamiliar ingredients.  It’s the middle of winter and the schedule is busy but you’ve got to eat and stay healthy.  You can’t eat out every day but don’t want to eat leftovers all week.  What’s a student to do?

Here’s the challenge!  Find a few recipes that are:

  • quick and fairly easy – prep shortcuts welcome
  • nutritious, including several food groups and some variety
  • inexpensive, with limited ingredients and waste
  • made with readily-available ingredients (anywhere in the world)
  • vegetarian or fish
  • made on the stove (no oven available)

I’ve been cooking for the multitudes since I was 15 and have a walk-in pantry and more than enough gear – so cooking for one on a hotplate is a distant memory.  Daughter and I are both doing some research, but I know that all of you are a great resource!  Please comment with your best tips.

Around the World #7: Moroccan-Inspired Vegetable Stew & Couscous

Moroccan Market

Creative Commons: Adam Greig

I dream of someday exploring the markets or souks of Marrakesh.  I see a clash of colors, with slippers of every hue piled high, stacks of pottery, piles of beads and textiles draped across the ceilings.  The sounds of music playing, vendors shouting and people talking are overwhelming and spicy scents fill the air…

Wait – that is just the lingering aroma of our Moroccan-inspired dinner!

This post is dedicated to my father-in-law, a Spaniard born in Morocco, and my daughter, a student and explorer of North African cultures.

Moroccan Vegetables

Moroccan-Spiced Sweet Potato Medley

Serves 6

(this recipe was borrowed and adapated from Good Housekeeping’s Simply Vegan!)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped fine

3 garlic cloves, pressed

1½ teaspoons curry powder

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 can (14½ oz.) diced or crushed tomatoes

1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 large sweet potato, cut into ¾” cubes

2 small zucchini, cut into ¾” pieces

¼ cup frozen peas

1 cup couscous (prepare as directed)

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add onion and cook until tender and golden, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in garlic and spices and cook 30 seconds.

Add tomatoes, garbanzos and sweet potato; cover and heat to boiling over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in zucchini and peas, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package directions.

Serve stew over couscous.

Good with warm naan or pita bread and a salad.

Around the World #5: Chocolate con Churros in Spain

Photo Credit: Leslie Montes
Inviting fruteria on a rainy night in Madrid

It’s Thanksgiving, and I think of two of my daughters who are far away:  one in Cairo and the other in Madrid.  Although I can’t travel to Spain, I will imagine the busy streets of Madrid and take you there with a couple of recipes to make a typical Spanish breakfast.  There’s so much I could write about Spanish food, with all of its flavor and regional variety but I’ll keep it simple!

When visiting Madrid, a traditional way to start the day is to stop by a local cafeteria for chocolate con churros.  This breakfast treat is inexpensive and delicious, but not exactly a dieter’s delight!  The hot chocolate is thick, almost like pudding, and churros are sticks of fried dough meant to be dipped in the chocolate.  Churros can be sprinkled with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar (Mexican style) and come in 2 sizes:  thick (porras) or thin (churros).  Places like Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid’s center are popular and open all night long if you’re on Spanish time and prefer late night to early morning.

Photo Credit: Leslie Montes

Spanish Chocolate

Mixing the Chocolate

3 tablespoons cocoa powder (preferably Dutch or dark cocoa)

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons corn starch

1/2 cup water

2 cups milk

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate (chopped bar or chocolate chips)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix cocoa powder, sugar and corn starch together in a saucepan.  Slowly add water until mixed thoroughly.  Place on a burner, turn heat to medium high and bring to a boil, whisking constantly.  Watch very carefully as the mixture will become very thick and come to a boil quickly.  Take off the heat and whisk milk in slowly until well blended.

Turn down heat to medium and return to the burner.  Do not bring to a boil again – just heat.  Whisk in semisweet chocolate until thick and smooth.  Turn off heat and stir in vanilla.  Chocolate will be thick – almost like pudding.  If too thick, add a little milk until it’s the consistency you like.

Dough goes into the churro press

Churros

1 cup flour

1 cup water

1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon salt

(oil for frying)

Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar

Mix water, salt and oil.  Heat t0 a boil and add flour all at once, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon until a soft dough is formed.  Let cool.  When cold, spoon into a pastry bag, cookie press or churro press fitted with a star tip.  Heat oil in a deep fryer or heavy pan.

Press churro dough into long strips into the hot oil and fry.  You may need to cut with a knife or kitchen shears.  Fry until golden brown and remove to a plate lined with paper towels.  Once slightly cooled, arrange on a serving plate and sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.

Serve warm with Spanish hot chocolate.

Around the World #4: To England with Bangers and Mash

Scarsdale Tavern – Edwardes Square, London

This one is dedicated to my youngest daughter – born in London and an Anglophile through and through.

Bangers and Mash is a traditional English dish (aka sausage and mashed potatoes).  It can be served with onion gravy and I topped with fried onions.  You’ll find bangers and mash on pub menus and it’s a simple and hearty meal.  According to legend, the term “bangers” came about during WWII, when sausages were made with water and were likely to explode if not cooked carefully.  Today’s upscale chefs often create exotic variations on this simple fare, but my version is pretty plain jane.  I did use a vegetarian Tofurkey sausage in addition to fresh Italian sausages from Whole Foods and admit that my first impression of the veggie version is “just ok.”  Maybe I’ll get used to them.

Here’s to pub grub for autumn weather!

 

Bangers and Mash

Sausages:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced

4 Italian Sausages (or vegetarian sausages)

Beer (if desired – I used Guiness)

Ingredients

Mash:

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

1/4 sweet onion, diced

2-4 tablespoons half and half

1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Dash of salt

In a saute pan, heat olive oil on medium heat.  Add sliced onion and brown slowly for about 5 minutes.  Move to the side of the pan to continue cooking.  Add sausage and brown on all sides, turning at regular intervals.  Add beer to cover bottom of pan, turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil for potatoes.  Add potato cubes and diced onions, turn heat down and simmer for 20 minutes.  When cooked through (you can test with a fork), drain and put into a large mixing bowl.  Add half and half, cheese and butter and mash potatoes until smooth (a staff mixer works well, or use a potato masher).  Add parsley and mix well.

 

Serve mashed potatoes and sausages on a plate and top with onions and some sauce from the sausage pan if desired.  Bangers and mash are also good with coleslaw on the side.

 

Around the World #3: South Korea and Dolsot Bibimbap

This week’s dish is dedicated to two special family members:  my sister Lori, who was born in South Korea, and my cousin Jake, who will compete in Alpine Skiing at the 2013 World Winter Special Olympics in South Korea!

Dolsot Bibimbap is a Korean dish consisting of steamed rice, vegetables and meat (bibimbap) and served in a hot stone bowl or pot (dolsot).  We have eaten at a nice place called Seoul House, where the bowls are heated over a fire and the hot stone coated with oil gives the rice a sizzling, crispy bottom.   This is a vegetarian version, but I’ve also tried the dish with barbeque beef (bulgogi) and enjoyed it.  I don’t have a Korean “dolsot“, so I used a small cast iron skillet instead.

Dolsot Bibimbap takes some prep work, but if you can enlist a volunteer or two, it’s fun and well worth the effort!

Vegetarian Dolsot Bibimbap

serves 3-4

Dolsot Bibimbap ingredients

 3-4 cups cooked rice (jasmine is great)

1 baby cucumber, cut into matchsticks

Salt

8 oz. firm tofu

Soy sauce

Toasted sesame oil

1 carrot, or several baby carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 cup bean sprouts

3-4 cups baby spinach (fresh)

Toasted sesame seeds

Small sheet Nori seaweed, cut into thin strips (I use kitchen shears)

1 egg

Korean barbeque sauce

Sprinkle cucumber with salt, leave to drain in a colander while you prepare the remaining ingredients.  Gently squeeze to remove excess water and set aside.

Rinse and drain tofu and cut into 1/2″ slices.  Place some paper towel on a plate, arrange tofu slices, top with more paper towel and another plate, and place a skillet on top to press the tofu.  After about 15 minutes, heat 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a skillet.  Sprinkle tofu lightly with some soy sauce and then fry the tofu, turning once, until golden.  Remove from pan, let cool and cut into thick strips.

While cucumber and tofu are draining, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in skillet.  Add matchstick carrots and stir fry until tender-crisp.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Bring about 2 cups of water to boil in a pot.  Add salt and blanch sprouts briefly, just until slightly wilted.  Remove sprouts with a slotted spoon (reserving hot water) and plunge into ice water to stop cooking.  Squeeze out excess water and set aside.

Bring water to a boil again and slightly blanch fresh spinach until slightly wilted and still bright green.  Plunge into ice water, drain and squeeze gently. to remove excess water and set aside.

Now that everything is ready, it’s time to assemble the masterpiece.  Place a small cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  When hot, add 1 tablespoon sesame oil and swirl or use a paper towel to coat surface.  Add cooked rice and pack gently.  The rice will sizzle in the oil.  Arrange vegetables in sections on top of the rice.  Cook egg over easy in a separate skillet.  Place on top of vegetables and top with seaweed strips and a sprinkling of toasted sesame.  Cook for an additional 4-5 minutes until heated through.  Serve directly in skillet placed on a trivet on the table.  Each serving can be topped with a little Korean barbeque sauce (or a lot, if you like it hot!) and mixed into the rice and vegetables.

Enjoy this beautiful and healthy dish!

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