Search This Blog

Loading...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Grand Central Market, Almost a Hundred Years Old and the Hottest Destination in Downtown Los Angeles

Located on Broadway and Hill between 2nd and 3rd, The Grand Central Market reflects the changes sweeping over Downtown Los Angeles. Long before farmers markets appeared all over LA, the Grand Central Market provided the Downtown community with fresh food at affordable prices.





















The shoppers who filled the aisles, bought fresh produce, fruit, fish, meat and poultry. Freshly made tortillas traveled down a conveyer belt where they were stacked in plastic bags and sold still warm in the open-air tortilla factory that once stretched along the southern wall close to Broadway .


The Market specialized in health products, fresh fruit juices, herbal teas and homeopathic remedies from around the world.
And where there are shoppers, they will be places to eat. Dozens of stalls sold Mexican tacos, enchiladas, ceviche, whole lobsters, plates of fried fish and shrimp in the shell. Anyone who needed an old-school Chinese-American food fix could eat at China Cafe and Broadway Express.
Today, many of the vendors have been at the Market for generations. On the Broadway side next to the floor-to-ceiling Grand Central Liquor, you can't walk by Las Morelianas without being offered a taste of their delicious roast pork inside a freshly made mini-tortilla. A personal favorite, to the moist meat I add  mounds of pickled onions and carrots, chopped raw onions and cilantro and a liberal dousing of green chili sauce all freshly made.
I first visited the market when I was in college. I bought spices at Valeria's and the ready to use mole paste at the very misnamed A&B Coffee where I could also buy any one of a dozen different dried beans. I wanted to learn how to make tortillas at home. I came to the Market to buy masa and a tortilla press. The tortillas were good, but, I had to confess,  the ones I bought at the Market were better so I kept coming.
In the late 1970's I photographed the Market to use for a TV pilot I was producing for KCOP. I took a hundred photographs of the vendors and customers. I loved the community feeling of the Market. Families with babies in tow shopped for the basics and stopped to have snacks or lunch.
Today the market still has families doing their daily shopping but they have been joined by a new population, eager to explore the newly arrived vendors who have set up shop and added new flavors and culinary experiences.
To keep that new population updated, LA food blogs track the latest the developments at the Market. Upscale purveyors like DTLA Cheese and Belcampo Meat Co. have opened stalls with counter seating, selling high quality products previously only available in specialty stores in Beverly Hills or Hancock Park. Customers wait patiently in line for their turn to order at McConnell's Ice Cream, Sticky Rice - Thai Street Food, Egg Slut and Wexler's Deli. Compared to the original vendors, the new comers are definitely more upscale and more expensive.

I have my favorites and they are a mix of the old and the new:  the mole at A&B Coffee (ask for a taste and find the one you like), pork ramen at Bento Ya, the vegetable curry with shrimp and Crying Tiger beef at Sticky Rice, the roast pork tacos at Las Morelianas with lots of salsas and pickled vegetables and the beef at Belcampo Meat Co. (terrific although pricey, Jared Standing, Head Butcher suggested I try one of the less expensive cuts, the chuck eye steak and it was delicious!).
The produce stands that are still in the market are very old school. The fruits, vegetables and berries are sometimes a great bargain and sometimes not so great. I can always find root vegetables at a good price. And on occasional seasonal berries that are half the farmers market price.

A balancing act

At this moment in time, the Market is perfectly balanced between the new and the old so that I can indulge my passion for affordable ethnic food and quality products from specialty purveyors.

The old and the new are pressed together in a mash up that reflects what's happening Downtown. The mostly Latino population has been joined by a diverse mix of young professionals who have rediscovered the glories of Downtown Los Angeles, rich with history and benefiting from a great collection of buildings that are now being renovated and modernized.
Before that rediscovery, the Market had fallen on hard times. Local shoppers had turned to farmers markets for better produce. One by one stalls closed for lack of customers. The grit and grime of the city settled heavily onto the walls and floors. The Market had grown sad and forlorn.
But today, the Market is one of the most frequented Downtown destinations. Come during the day and the aisles are packed. The large indoor patio on the Hill side is filled with families and professionals enjoying a large bowl of ceviche from Lupita's Seafood, a taco plate from Sarita's Pupuseria, Wexler's house smoked lox on a freshly baked bagel and Bento Ya's $5.00 pork ramen that, in my opinion, is as good as any of the celebrity-chef bowls on Sawtelle or in Manhattan sold at three times the price and half the portion.
There is so much more to say about the Market, but I'm getting hungry. Happily I brought home a bowl of Bento Ya's ramen and I'm going to have that for breakfast.

One quick user's-tip about parking. Parking Downtown is very expensive. Happily, there is 60 minutes free parking inside the Market building.

The entrance is on the Hill Street side, almost to 2nd street. Spend $10.00 and ask the vendor to stamp your parking ticket. Go to the Security Desk next to the China Cafe for validation, then (yes, you still have one more step) go up the stairs to the parking garage and to your left you'll see a parking kiosk. Put your ticket in and you'll be told if you owe any money. Take the validated ticket with you to use at the exit.

On the weekend, the open air parking lots to the north of the Market above 2nd Street have reduced, all day rates, so if you are staying for several hours, park there.

I'll write more about the Market in coming weeks. Until then, I hope you take the time to visit the Market yourself.

Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213/624-2378), Sunday-Wednesday 8:00am-6:00pm, Thursday-Saturday 8:00am-9:00pm (selected vendors only open past 6:00pm).

Monday, August 4, 2014

752 Reasons to Submit Your Film to the Short Food Movie Project at the Rome Film Festival 2014 & Expo Milan 2015

The Short Food Movie Project Feed your Mind, Film your Planet is doing something pretty amazing.

Win an all-expense paid trip to Rome

Foodie-Filmakers have the opportunity to share their work in a unique setting. Anyone over sixteen can submit a 30 to 60 second video to the Short Food Movie Project before September 10, 2014 to be eligible to win an all-expense paid trip to the 2014 Rome Film Festival.

The videos should be about food related topics. Filmmakers can talk about what interests them: the environment, recipes, food policy, culture, nutrition, hunger or sustainable food production.

Rome is the first stop on the way to EXPO Milan 2015.

One film will be a winner, chosen by crowd-sourcing. The movie with the most “likes” on the Project’s web site will be shown at the Rome Film Festival, which is held between October 16th – 25th.

One movie screens in Rome, all the movies screen in Milan

All the movies uploaded to the web site before March 31, 2015 will be screened on a giant Samsung video wall constructed out of 752 screens in Pavilion Zero at the entrance to the Expo.
 

According to Project coordinator, Diamara Parodi Delfino, the shorts can be animations, narratives or docs. The production values can be simple or visually complex. Given the short length of thirty to sixty seconds, the films need to make simple statements.

When all the films are curated, the video wall of screens will be a visualization of EXPO MILAN’s central themes of Feeding the Planet.Energy for Life.  

Look at the web site and it’s apparent how widely different the shorts can be.

Every movie is unique

If a minute seems like a short amount of time to make a statement, some filmmakers need even less. In thirty-five seconds, Mauro Jonathan Manzo creates a dizzying “Mosaic of Food to celebrate the foods we love: soups, hamburgers, shawarma, French fries, sunny side eggs, pizzas, desserts, fresh berries, sausages on a grill and a pastry with whipped cream.
 
Using a low-res camera and a simple narrative, Greta Gabriel’s “Naturale” watches as two young women take very different culinary paths. One woman watches TV, drinks a soda and eats a hamburger filled with nuts and bolts while the other enjoys a green salad, a bowl of fruit and a glass of water. The result of their different diets is immediately apparent. The hamburger-woman looks ill and exhausted after her meal while the natural-woman walks happily on the beach. Sure it's didactic but the contrast of a sensible diet with one that disregards health is a lot of fun.

Many of the shorts go into kitchens to illustrate the making of a favorite dish. Grace Hsia’s “Shall We Eat Homemade Dumplings” lovingly details how to make pierogies according to an American friend’s recipe.

Your Word for Food” Belgium’s Aurélie Duray created a montage of stills showing people from around the world holding up a small blackboard with their one word description of food. The words come fast and furiously: joy, satisfaction, pleasure, rice, grain, carrots, quality hunger, balance, inequality, life…. The list goes on and on, ending with a question for the viewer: “What’s your word?”

From the U.S. in “Be the Change: 3 Meals a Day,” Sarah Gulick uses title cards to create a peppy, thirty-eight second film that makes the case that every one of us can help save the planet if we eat green.

Italy’s Emilia Garuti shows people and animals eating in his impressionistic, 59 second long “´E Ora di Pranzo” (“It’s lunch time”): a woman in a small kitchen making tortellini for nursing home residents, cows being fed, a butterfly hovering over a flower and a man in his city patio feeding chickens.

France’s Simon Bonanni goes to the dark side in a comic look at two young men who load up on supermarket food for a road trip in “Chevaliers” (“Knights”). Overcome by a savage hunger, they rip open bags of chips and junk food as they drive down a quiet country road.

Diamara Parodi Delfino encourages everyone to take their cue from the movies already uploaded to the site. Any one who has a professional camera, a point-and-shoot camera, a tablet or a smart phone, start shooting and UPLOAD your movie so you can be part of the fun.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

West Hollywood's RivaBella Ristorante: Italian Luxury Just Off The Sunset Strip

RivaBella Ristorante is in West Hollywood on the border of Beverly Hills and within sight of the Sunset Strip. From the outside, RivaBella has the look of an expensive fine dining restaurant.  Walk inside and the friendly bar men will offer you a cocktail or a glass of premium wine, then you'll enter a dining room with rustic wooden tables, brick walls and a massive hearth. The spacious restaurant has the feel of an upscale country inn. 
RivaBella balances elegance with casual dining. On the evening we had dinner, some diners were dressed in business suits while others wore shorts and colorful sport shirts.  A retractable ceiling opens to the sky. Natural light floods into the room through floor to ceiling windows. At night, candles on the tables and strings of white lights give the room a romantic, festive aura. 
RivaBella puts on a show
You'll experience the restaurant's theatrical side when you enter the dining room and pass the DJ who is working through a play list of pop songs. Order the mushroom risotto and the waiter brings a cart to the table heavily laden with a Parmigiano Reggiano wheel large enough to fit on a Mini-Cooper. 

The server ladles the hot risotto on to the wheel of cheese. As he swirls together the delicate grains of slow cooked Acquerello rice and sautéed mushrooms, the Parmigiano Reggiano yields to the heat forming a more perfect union of rich deliciousness. 
At the other end of the spectrum, Carmelo, our waiter, encouraged us to order the ice cream prepared table side using liquid nitrogen. The menu describes a dessert that you expect will be a dish of vanilla bean ice cream and a choice of toppings as varied as candied pistachios, chocolate pearls, fresh strawberries, salted caramel and Nutella sauce. But the dessert arrives not in a bowl but on another one of those carts, this time with enough machinery and "smoke" rising into the air to make Willy Wonka swoon. The liquid nitrogen supplies the pyrotechnics. The waiter works the machinery and presides over the transformation of mere mortal ingredients into a memorable sweet feast.

The menu
Executive Chef Luigi Fineo and Chef-Partner Gino Angelini created a menu that draws on many traditions. Northern Italian dishes like cavatelli with broccolini come directly from chef Fineo's grandmother's kitchen. So too the bucatini carbonara and shellfish caciucco are classics of Italian cuisine. But the chefs are open to discovery, which is how the popular lamb reuben with pickled cabbage materialized on the menu.
As a starter, we ordered the corn soup with crab. Everyone dipped a spoon into the bowl for a taste. By the time I pulled out my camera, the soup was half gone it was that good. Somehow chef Fineo created a "creamy" soup without cream that tasted like summer. Bits of steamed crab and finely chopped chives were a great addition.  I liked the dish so much, chef promised I can come back to the restaurant and he will do a video demonstrating the recipe. 

For a salad antipasti we had a plate of prosciutto di Parma topped with wild arugula and chopped burrata. Salty prosciutto was mellowed by the burrata and countered by the spicy arugula. 

Chefs Fineo and Angelini are masters of contrasting textures and flavors. That was apparent repeatedly through out the meal. A dish of roasted octopus had the right amount of char to bring out a sweet chewiness that was balanced by oven roasted fingerling potatoes, salty olives and spicy salsa verde.

We enjoyed the strozzapreti with langoustine. The slender, twisted pasta and the soft, pink langoustine paired well together and both benefited from a musky sautéed wild mushrooms-brown butter sauce. 
Their preparation of a ricotta chicken breast also made good use of wild mushrooms. The bottom of the flat bowl had a thick pool of sauce flavored with Hen of the Wood mushrooms and Padron peppers.  


When we asked about the bone-in ribeye steak, Carmelo said the 20 oz. cut was large enough to share. Covering a rectangular wooden platter, the thick steak had a beautifully charred crust. Seasoned with salmoriglio, the lemon-garlic-chili flake topping brightened the moist, fatty meat. Accompanied with a large side of oven roasted vegetables, the shared steak was perfect for two. 


The dessert menu had a good selection of choices. Besides the liquid nitrogen ice cream sundae, there were classics like tiramasu, sfogliatelle, crostata, a selection of gelato, an inventive milk chocolate pana cotta layer cake and sweets fabricated to look like a plate of charcuterie. The desserts sounded delicious but we had eaten too many antipasti and entrees. Carmelo was disappointed that all we wanted to end the meal was a round of double expressos and macchiatos.  Next time we'll save room for the sfogliatelle, a favorite from my days living in Providence, Rhode Island and I'd definitely like  to be entertained with a nitrogen ice cream sundae.

RivaBella Ristorante, 9201 W. Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069 (310/278-2060), http://www.innovativedining.com/restaurants/rivabella

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bring Your Own Food on the Airplane For An In-Flight Picnic




You can almost see the French cheeses and crackers on a tray with glasses of bubbly Champagne, an opulent first course meant to stimulate the appetite before a gourmet entree — chateaubriand, perhaps, or line-caught salmon with roasted asparagus. If you listen closely, you can hear the flight attendant whispering to leave room for the hot fudge sundae with fresh whipped cream and toasted almonds.
In coach, nothing is free. Sure, for now the sodas, water, and coffee are still complimentary, but if you’re hungry, have your credit card ready. Alaska Airline’s cheeseburger with chips is a relative bargain at $6, but Delta charges $9.49 for their hamburger and $10.99 for one of their wraps, and a vending-machine-type sandwich or salad is $9.99 on American Airlines. 
You’ll do a lot better if you brown bag it and pretend you’re on a picnic.

Choose food with staying power

Pack food that travels well: trail mix, your own tea bags and sunflower seeds. Fresh fruit is good, but avoid berries that bruise easily. Carrot and celery sticks are great, as are sandwiches. One caveat: Remember that you can only take 3 ounces of any liquid through airport security, so go easy on the salad dressing or condiments you bring.

Assemble sandwiches carefully

Sandwiches are an easy-to-eat option for in-flight meals because everyone gets to choose what they want. There are an infinite number of combinations from ham and cheese on rye to a grilled shiitake mushroom and watercress sandwich for vegetarians. Meat eaters in the family can go crazy and build a feast of turkey breast, salami and provolone on deli rye.
To keep your bread pristine, put the mayo or mustard (as well as tomatoes or lettuce) between the meat slices, not directly on the bread. Or, for really long flights, wrap the bread, meat and cheese in plastic wrap sealed in Ziploc bags and assemble the sandwich with condiment packets while you’re flying.
Avoid fillings that might disturb your fellow passengers. Overly messy food or condiments, like chopped liver and garlic paste are a bit too aromatic for an airplane’s close quarters.

Keep it fun for the kids

If kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, stop at a camping supply store and pick up a couple of refillable plastic tubes. The kids can choose their favorite peanut butter and jam and pre-fill the tubes at home. Now they have something to look forward to on the plane.

A salad bar in the air

Make carrot, potato or pasta salad at home and pack it in plastic containers. Keep a green salad fresh by assembling it when you’re ready to eat. (A tip: You can pick up a couple of the empty salad dressing containers at your grocery store’s salad bar.) At home, give everyone the chance to pack their favorite salad fixings. Besides lettuce or arugula, bring chopped tomatoes, scallions, croutons, olives, hardboiled egg slices, crumbled cheese, and carrot rounds — those salad-dressing containers work well for these items, too. It's a little more ambitious, but a grilled vegetable salad is well-worth the extra effort.  A treat anytime, at 30,000 feet, the sweetness of charred vegetables is especially delicious.
Besides salad dressing in one of those little containers, bring sea salt and black pepper as well.
Want to make your salad even more delicious? Try this simple vinaigrette. Just heat ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar over a low flame until it’s reduced to a teaspoon, then mix it together with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. The reduced balsamic adds depth and natural sweetness to the dressing.

Let your deli do the work

To glam up your meal, nothing says classy like a charcuterie plate and nothing is easier to prepare. Pick up a selection of favorite meats, pâtés, cheeses, and a small baguette or a selection of rolls at your favorite deli. Bring along some olives, a few cornichons — those tart French pickles — and a packet of Dijon mustard, and you won’t care what the first-class passengers are eating.

Celebrate your sweet tooth

For dessert, go wild and stop at your favorite bakery. Fresh fruit tarts don’t travel well, but cookies, muffins, scones and even eclairs do quite nicely if packed in plastic containers, like the ones used at the deli or the lidded containers sold by Ziploc and Glad.

Don’t forget the basics

Bring paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils so you can feast in style. A plain kitchen towel makes a perfect airplane tray tablecloth and helps with spills. Pack everything in plastic containers. Be a good neighbor and carry plastic bags for easy clean up so you don’t leave any trash behind. Take along sea salt and freshly ground pepper in empty 35mm film canisters (remember those?) or even the plastic containers used for prescription medication.

Why we love flying

With all the inconveniences, we easily forget that flying is a manmade miracle. Think about it, a hundred-plus people and all their luggage powering through the sky above the highest clouds. Amazing. If only we didn’t feel so claustrophobically uncomfortable, we could return to the wonder we felt as kids when we pressed our noses against the window and looked down at the earth below.
We can’t regain that lost innocence, but enjoying a delicious home-prepared meal, maybe we can reconnect with the fun of flying. A really good sandwich, some olives, and a crisp Fuji apple from the farmers market can do that for you.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fourth of July Picnic Favorites: Rosemary Fried Chicken, Carrot Salad and Potato Salad

I wrote this post several years ago as a tribute to how much we enjoy the 4th of July and how much we enjoy a picnic with our friends. Happily we'll be enjoying the evening all over again in a few days. Life is good. Very good.

The serious underpinning of 4th of July should never be forgotten. In these perilous times we have good reasons to appreciate our good fortune as we celebrate independence, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness.

For us, our day is spent going to the breakfast 5k in Pacific Palisades, our small town overlooking the Pacific Ocean. After lunch we cheer on the parade that slowly winds its way up main street, then we go home and cook our part of the pot-luck picnic dinner.

At 6:30 we gather in the nearby park, meeting up with friends and family as we eat, talk, and wait until night falls when the fireworks at the high school begin.

We contribute favorite picnic dishes to the pot luck. Nothing could be better on the 4th than crunchy-salty, rosemary fried chicken, sweet carrot salad with the added kick of lemon soaked raisins and a bit of cayenne, and the comforting creaminess of Yukon Gold potato salad.

Rosemary Fried Chicken

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes to prepare, marinate the chicken overnight in buttermilk

Ingredients

2 whole chickens, washed, cut apart, skin removed if desired, wing tips, bones, and skin reserved to make chicken stock
1 quart buttermilk
5 cups flour
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts safflower or canola oil

Method

When you cut up the chicken, separate the two parts of the wing and cut the breast meat off the bone. Keep or discard the skin as you wish. The breasts can be left whole but will cook more evenly when cut into strips or tenders. The legs and thighs can be cut in half if you have a heavy chef's knife.

Toss the chicken pieces with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Put the pieces in a container, add the buttermilk, 1 tablespoon of the rosemary, stir, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Using a wok or deep frying pan, heat the cooking oil to 325 - 350 degrees or until a piece of parsley browns immediately when dropped in the oil. Before you begin cooking, prepare your counter. Have a slotted spoon or an Asian style strainer ready. Lay two paper towels on top of a piece of brown grocery bag paper on a large plate.

Reserve 1 teaspoon of the rosemary to use just before serving.
In a brown paper bag mix together the flour, sea salt, pepper, rosemary, cayenne (optional), sugar (optional), and onions (optional). Remove one piece of chicken at a time. Shake off the excess buttermilk, drop the piece into the paper bag with the seasoned flour, close the top of the bag, and shake. Repeat with all the pieces, assembling them on a plate or cutting board.

Cook the chicken in batches. Gently drop each piece into the hot oil, making sure it doesn't touch the other pieces so each one cooks evenly.

Turn over when browned on one side. Remove when golden brown and drain on the paper towels. The pieces will cook quickly: chicken tenders (breast) 2-3 minutes; wings 7-8 minutes; thighs & legs 10-12 minutes.

Just before serving, lightly dust the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of rosemary, sea salt and pepper.

If you are making deep fried vegetables like onion rings or broccoli florets, they cook even more quickly: thick rings cook in 30 seconds, thin rings in 5-6 seconds; broccoli in 30 seconds. Soak the vegetables in the seasoned buttermilk for a few minutes, then process like the chicken pieces.

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

Yield 6-8 (makes 1 quart)
Time 20 minutes

8 large carrots (preferably farmers' market fresh), washed, peeled, ends trimmed off
1 scallion (optional), finely chopped
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, stems trimmed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise

Soak the raisins in lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight Grate the carrots in a large mixing bowl.

Roughly chop the raisins, reserving the lemon juice not absorbed into the raisins. Mix together the carrots, raisins, parsley, and scallions.

Season with the cumin, cayenne, sea salt, and black pepper and toss. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise. Mix well.

VariationsUse cilantro instead of Italian parsley

Add chopped capers

Top with roasted chopped almonds

Yukon Gold Potato Salad

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold, washed
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
3 quarts water
1 scallion, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped
1 carrot, washed, peeled, ends removed, grated
1 ear of corn or 1/2 cup corn kernels
2 tablespoons olives, preferably Kalamata or cracked green, pitted, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the potatoes, kosher salt, and water into a pot, bring to a gentle boil, and cover. Cook 30-45 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the potatoes. They should be firm, not mushy.

The potatoes are done when a fork goes in easily. Remove from the salted water. Let cool. Peel off the skins.

Grill an ear of corn and cut up carrot seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Cut the kernels off the cob, finely chop the carrot and add to the potato salad along with the chopped scallions, olives, capers, and mayonnaise.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Variations

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, leaves only.

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh celery.

Add 1 broccoli floret either grilled or lightly sauteed then finely chopped

Monday, June 16, 2014

Advice If Your Child Is Traveling On Their Own

International travel is a great way for kids to have fun experiences in worlds beyond school and home. For parents it can be a really good time but also stressful when children travel on their own. Our sons are good travelers. They are smart and careful. They love experiencing other cultures and landscapes.

Over the years I developed a to-do list for them so they are ready to get the best out of the experience. The to-do list helps me as well. I want to know they are having a good time and that they are safe and know how to navigate their travel environment.
Because there is a great difference between travel destinations, we are lucky to have the internet to research the attractions and safety issues of just about any venue.

Here is an email I sent our son when he was getting ready for a week's vacation to an island in the Caribbean.

Good morning. We’re very happy you’re going on your trip. That’s so cool.

It’s going to be beautiful there. Remember to bring sunscreen. From the iPhone weather app, it looks like you’ll have sunny warm weather (88 hi/79 low). That’s great.
Send us the confirmation email for the round trip airline ticket you bought so we have your travel information.

I put money in your ATM and paid your Credit Card bill.

PACKING
Pack as lightly as possible. Figure out what clothes you will need for each day. Pack that plus an extra day. Find out if the hotel has self-serve laundry facilities. Avoid using the hotel's laundry service. The rates are very high. As in, $5.00 for a pair of underwear. $3.50 for a pair of socks. $18.00 to launder a shirt.

If you don’t need your laptop, leave it at home and just bring your camera, phone and iPad. Remember to pack your adapters and extra batteries.

RESEARCHING YOUR DESTINATION
Take a look at the articles about your destination I emailed yesterday. Even if you don’t go off the resort property, they had good tips for dealing with crime and how to deal with people who approach you. Like the articles say, don’t wear jewelry, openly carry your electronics or pull money out of your pocket.
When you are at the airport you are vulnerable and criminals are looking for the right moment to grab a suitcase or backpack or wallet or phone, so hold on to everything you have with you at all times. Even in the bathroom.

CREDIT CARDS - TRAVEL NOTIFICATION
3-5 days before you leave, you need to call all of the credit card companies and banks with credit and ATM cards you use, to notify them that you will be using the cards on your trip. They will want to know your dates of travel and where you are traveling. That way when you use them out of the country, the banks won’t think it’s fraud when charges show up outside your normal area of use. The numbers to call are on the back of each credit card. 
CASH
Exchanging US currency at the airport or hotel is usually pretty expensive. Some people like to buy the foreign currency in the US before they leave, but that is also expensive. The most cost effective way to acquire local currency is from an ATM at your destination. The exchange rate is favorable and depending on your ATM bank, the fees may be low. When you call the credit card/ATM company you use to give them your travel notification, ask them what those fees are.

In my experience, an airport ATM that supports your bank's card is a good place to get local currency. 

Each time you use your ATM card, there is a fee, so don't use it to withdraw small amounts a lot of time. Withdraw what you need for 3-4 days. 

When you use an ATM machine, be aware of the people around you. Crooks like to grab money from people who have just gotten money from an ATM, so be watchful.
COPIES OF YOUR DOCUMENTS
Make 2 copies of your essential documents:  passport, credit cards (front and back) and medical card. Keep each set of copies in a separate place. When you are traveling, carry the original documents and one copy with you. Keep them in separate places.

When you are in the hotel, keep your passport and credit cards locked up in a safe. If there is not an in-room safe, usually the front desk has a safe available for guests.

To protect against pick pockets, always carry your wallet and passport in your front pocket never your back pocket or backpack. 

CELL PHONE USE
Call the cell phone company and tell them about your travel. Ask if there is an inexpensive payment to roam so you can use your phone for texting and emailing on the trip and find out the cost of cell phone use where you are traveling. Let's talk about the options.

When you call the phone company, ask what you have to do to activate your phone for roaming. For some carriers you have to enter a roaming code before you leave, turn off your phone while you travel, then when you arrive at your international destination, you turn your phone on, enter and send a roaming code.

When traveling internationally, only use roaming in emergencies or infrequently to use Google Maps and check for urgent messages and emails. The cost to roam is very high. Sharing one or two photographs, emailing and surfing the web can cost hundreds of dollars. Some carriers like Verizon offer discounted roaming plans, but even those do not solve the problem.

Once you have activated your phone for roaming on arrival, immediately turn off Cellular Data in Settings and only turn it back on as needed.

When you are in the hotel, presumably they have complimentary WiFi (if not in your room, then in the lobby), in which case you can email and text without charge. If WiFi is not available, most hotels have a lobby or Business Center desktop computer with internet access. If not, then check for important emails and texts a couple of times a day. Avoid sending photographs and, if you do, send them at the lowest file-size.
LANDLINE PHONE CARDS
We use iDPhoneCard which has dial-in numbers in most countries in the world. The rates are usually very low. Go on line to find others and compare. See which one you want to use. The way they work is you set up an account and make a deposit. Then when you are traveling, you can call in to the US for a low per minute rate. With iDPhoneCard there is no charge for making a call other than the minutes used. Some phone cards charge for each call + the minutes used.

ADAPTOR PLUGS
Find out if you need adaptor plugs for the hotel. If you have a toll free phone number for the hotel, call them and ask if they have plugs free-for-guest use you can use during the stay. If they do have them, ask them to please put aside 2 for you.

You can also go to a travel store to buy an adapter plug. They don’t cost much. All you need is a plug that attaches to the plug on your AC adapter. Traveling in most places, you don’t need a voltage regulator. But ask the hotel about that as well.
THE HOTEL CONTACT INFORMATION 
Make sure you bring with you the local phone number and address of the resort. Confirm with the hotel how you will get from the airport to the hotel. Ask if you need to give them your travel information & cell phone number so they have a person pick you up free of charge or is there a shuttle at the airport. In either case, ask how and where you will find the person bringing you to the resort. If you are expected to take a cab or bus, get all of those details and ask how much the cost will be.

Bring copies with you of your hotel confirmation.
Lots of small details but they are important. Once you get all this done, then you’ll be ready for a great adventure.

Let’s talk this afternoon.

Love, 
Dad and Mom

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Father's Day Deserves a Feast, Start with the Grill

This year I will be out of town on Father's Day. I'll miss being with my sons on that special day. We already have a bealted-Father's Day date two weeks later when we will all be in town. I can hardly wait!

Since Father's Day coincides with the start of summer, grilling is the best way to celebrate male parenting.

For me, nothing is better than a platter of grilled Italian sausages with sautéed onions, deveined shrimp seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, corn on the cob, charred red peppers mixed with capers and garlic and lobsters split open and doused with pats of sweet butter.  With a tossed arugula and carrot salad, a loaf of freshly baked bread and a fresh fruit salad and I am happy.
The best grilling is the easiest kind. Buy good sausages, seafood and chicken, drizzle with olive oil, season with sea salt, pepper and any dried herb you fancy, put it on a hot grill, turn diligently to prevent burning and serve when it's done.

When the boys come to the house to celebrate a birthday, mother's day or father's day, they frequently take command of the grill. As my younger son, Michael, reminds me, they are my sons so of course they are good cooks. And that makes me very very happy.

Our other son, Franklin, doesn't regard a meal a proper meal unless there are appetizers. The secret to a great grilled meal is what's served on the side. My contribution to your Father's Day celebration are three of my favorite sides. 

All three are addictive so you may find you'll be eating them all summer long. They are all easy-to-make. The tapenade and lavash crisps can be made a day or two ahead. The grilled corn salsa is best made fresh.


Grilled Corn Salsa

Adding corn caramelized from light grilling gives this salsa it’s distinctive sweetness. When you buy corn from the market, look for plump kernels. Avoid ears with wrinkled or shriveled kernels.
You can use any kind of ripe tomato you enjoy, but I prefer cherry tomatoes because they are sweet and they hold their shape after being cut up. For added color, select a basket with a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 8 oz basket of ripe cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1 large shallot, ends and skin removed, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Lemon juice to taste (optional)

Directions

Pre-heat the grill to medium-hot.

Drizzle the olive oil on a large plate and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roll the ear of corn to coat. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill.  Turn frequently to prevent burning.  Remove the corn when all the sides have light grill marks. Let cool. Cut off the kernels and place in a large mixing bowl.

Use a rubber or silicone spatula to transfer the seasoned olive oil from the plate into the mixing bowl with the corn.

Add the quartered cherry tomatoes, shallot and parsley. Toss well and season with the cayenne. Taste and adjust the flavors with more sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice (optional).

Tapenade with Charred Garlic

A secret weapon in last minute cooking, tapenade brightens any meal either as an appetizer or a condiment. If you use pitted, canned olives, making tapenade will take 10-15 minutes.
 
The taste of your tapenade depends on the quality of the olives.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 can pitted olives, drained weight 6 oz., preferably green or kalamata olives
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves with skins
¼ cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon pepper flakes (optional)
Black pepper to taste

Directions

Skewer the garlic cloves on the end of a knife or a metal skewer and hold over a gas flame to burn off the outer skins. Let cool, remove any pieces of charred skin and roughly chop the cloves.

In a small blender or food processer, place the drained olives, olive oil, garlic, parsley and pepper flakes. Pulse until the olives are roughly chopped. Taste and adjust the seasoning with the addition of black pepper, sea salt, pepper flakes and olive oil.

Pulse again until the tapenade achieves the desired texture. Personally I like a tapenade that has a rustic look with the olives coarsely chopped rather than puréed.

Refrigerate until ready to use and serve at room temperature.

Variations

 2 anchovies packed in oil, roughly chopped and added with the olives. If salted, rinse before adding.

1 tablespoon capers added with the olives.

Lavash Crisps

Served in the Middle East, lavash and pita are commonly used instead of bread. Flat, unleavened lavash has a delicious, lightly grilled flavor when fresh. Making crisps makes use of lavash that might otherwise have gotten stale and gone to waste.
Lavash crisps have more flavor and are more flaky than commercially manufactured chips. Serve them with salsa, tapenade, dips or thin slices of cheese.

The crisps will last for weeks if kept refrigerated in an airtight container. 

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 large or 2 small sheets of lavash
1 cup olive or safflower oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
5-6 paper towel sheets

Directions

Cut the lavash sheets into 2” squares by cutting the sheet in half, placing the halves on top of each other, cutting those in half and doing that again until the pieces are 2” wide. Cut the 2” wide strips into 2” squares and set aside. If not cooked immediately, store in an airtight container.

In a large frying pan or griddle, heat ¼ cup of the oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper and heat on a medium-low flame. Be careful not to burn the oil or cause it to smoke.

Lay a paper towel sheet on a large plate or baking sheet.

Add the lavash squares to the hot oil. Do not overlap. Using tongs, turn over the lavash when they are lightly browned and cook the other side. They cook quickly so watch them closely.

Remove the cooked crisps and place them on the paper towel. Cook another batch. Place a clean paper towel on top of each layer to absorb excess oil.

Replenish the oil in the frying pan as needed and season with sea salt and black pepper. Allow the oil to reach the proper temperature before adding more lavash.

Discard the paper towels when the crisps cool. Store refrigerated in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature.