Tortillas

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One of my absolute favorite things to eat is a homemade flour tortilla. I make these for my self a couple times a week. Obviously only using a fraction of the recipe below since I don’t need to make that many tortillas for one person. A tortilla is versatile enough that you can eat them with just about anything or just on its own (midnight snack of left over tortillas if there are any left overs).

While Hannah was visiting she confessed that while she had rolled plenty of tortillas in her life she has never actually made the tortilla dough from scratch! Well, it was time to fix that.

Here is a recipe that was passed down from my grandmother. My grandmother was a hispanic woman that had 12 children. She was always in the kitchen cooking and making sure everyone was well fed. My aunts are also master tortilla makers and they actually make their tortillas round. Mine are decidedly not round, but it doest help to use a tapered rolling pin.

Flour Tortillas:

  • 4 Cups all purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp table salt
  • 3 Tbsp oil (technically vegetable oil but I often grab a mild olive oil)
  • 1 1/3 Cups cold water

Mix all of the above ingredients in a bowl or on the counter top. Once it comes together in a ball, if mixing in a bowl transfer to the counter top, continue kneading the dough ball a good 5 minutes, making the dough smooth and elastic. Cover the dough with a very damp cloth and let rest for 1 hour or longer. (If you are feeling particularly impatient or don’t have an hour to wait, use lukewarm water and cut the resting time in half).dsc_0016

Heat a (flat) cast iron griddle (called a comal) on medium high heat. Once warm, lower the heat to medium. The trick will be finding the temperature where the tortillas cook quickly enough that they don’t become crackers but not so fast that they burn before they are cooked.

Depending on the size of your skillet form roughly 15 – 20 balls. Now start rolling! IMG_7727IMG_7730

Once you have a rolled out tortilla place this on the warmed comal, flipping once so not to burn them.

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Once cooked, place the tortilla in a fresh kitchen cloth to keep warm and chewy. Serve with pretty much anything that you want, smeared with avocado and a bit of salt; filled with steak, chicken and veggies for a fajita; with a full New Mexican feast of enchiladas, beans and rice; smeared with butter and your favorite jam. So many possibilities!

 

 

 

South Africa: Vineyards

The end of my  South Africa tour, I spent three nights in wine country! Beautiful rolling hills with vineyards, delicious wine and food to taste.

A few tour companies advertised biking wine tours, sounded like fun except they were all booked full! So, we rented bikes and made our own wine tour.  It was a lot harder than I expected with all those slopes and upward inclines. I can’t even say they were hills but it felt like it. Stopping at several wineries that day, one of my favorite vineyards was the Simonsig Wine Estate. The grounds were beautiful and the wine did not disappoint. They are quite commercial and largely exported. Nonetheless, this was not a set tasting like several other vineyards but a menu that you could pick 5 different wines to sample.
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The next day we booked a cellar tour at Boschendal Estate. While they do make wine their core business is actually fruit! A quick lunch (with roaming roosters) of a toasted sandwich with chicken salad and fried egg we were off to take the tour including a peek into the saving room. They save out bottles from different years and age these, tasting every so often to find the perfect aged moment before releaseing.
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Further on the stay in South Africa wine country, we managed to get a table at the widely popular Bread and Wines restaurant at the Môreson vineyard. Accompanied by a bottle of their Mata Mata wine we ordered beer and mustard poached pasture pork hock with spiced corn and sweet cabbage and the Springbok loin with braaied celery with curried parsnip and apple relish.
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South Africa: On the road from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town

Part of our South Africa tour was a drive from port Elizabeth to Cape Town, stopping in a few of the seaside towns on the way.

One of the more impressive meals was found in port Elizabeth in a restaurant called The Colonial Kitchen. I ordered an appetizer as my main because I was so surprised to find the slow roasted bone marrow on the menu that I had to have it. It was delicious! Served with toasted bread and a light tomato flavored sauce. To add to the joy, the restaurant had a very sweet old cat that loved being petted and lazying around on the patio.
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Further along the journey to Cape Town we stopped in a town called Mossel Bay. We booked a very cute hotel, The Santos Express, which is an old train looking over the beach. My suit was beautiful and felt like I was transported in time. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side. Rain poured down the entire day. We took a little stroll bout found that not too many places of interest were open so we headed back to the hotel and enjoyed a waterblom bredie, a stew type dish traditional to South Africa. Waterbloem is a small water flower found in small ponds only blooming in the warm winter months. The Waterbloem didn’t add to much of an unknown flavor it is more like having a long slow roasted vegetable like courgette or green beans. The stew is typically made with lamb meat and potatoes.
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Further down the road, our next stop was a little town called Fish Hoek. While searching for a place to sleep for the night and seeing so many cute sea see town pictures we settled on a B&B in Fish Hoek. Little did we know that Fish Hoek did not have the same picturesque vibe that we saw in the surrounding towns like Kalk Bay. Only two restaurants in the town and the one in walking distance was closed. So we caught a cab to Kalk Bay to eat at the Cape to Cuba restaurant. This was a funny place, very bright and colorful with Cuban inspired dishes. The pictures of the food were not notable but this gives you a taste of the decor including a swing.
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Upon arriving in Cape Town we enjoyed a two day stop and  got to explore the city a bit before moving on to the famous South African vineyards.
Cape Town has so many restaurants to choose from. We spent some time at the harbor area that looks out over the small fishing boats, you have an enormous tourist mall and lots of harbor side restaurants. Very, very touristy but endless choice. One of the restaurants we stopped at in the city center was called Hemelhuijs. The food was not only beautiful but also delicious. Starting with an orange wine with basil and soda, I ordered the veal with crab butter, parmesan and pine nuts. This did not disappoint, since both veal and crab are very soft flavors one did not overpower the other and was really a very lovely meal.
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South Africa: Safari and Braai

The first couple of days on vacation in South Africa had been a bit chaotic and tightly planned. After arriving in Johannesburg the next morning we caught a new flight to Nelspriut to look at chimpanzees and go on a two day safari. Mostly safaris advertise the big 5:  elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards, and buffalo. Not only are the big five to be found but many other animals like the giraffe and zebra are part of the experience. Some like the giraffes and elephants are in abundance in Krueger park and are very much out in the open but the leopard and tigers are are a bit more elusive. We got lucky in that we saw all big five plus lots of other animals in the first day. Including a very special mating performance by the lions which the tour guides found to be a special occurrence.

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Part of our safari package was a braai, the traditional South African barbecue. Meet Mark, our safari guide for the day and our braai specialist.
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While chatting with Mark it became clear that the braai is a very special and important part of their South African culture. Any chance he can get and at least once a week they braai. The type of meat changes but for us it was beef steaks royally seasoned with a light spicy chili and herb powder and continually basted with beer. The beer was just the type he was drinking from at the moment.
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Typically to accompany the meat is garlic bread grilled in tinfoil on the grill with corn on the cob also grilled, a green salad, potato salad and a mixed brown and green bean salad. The braai felt very familiar to my Americanness.
Ending the two day safari we visited the Blyde Canyon and stopped at Harrie’s pancake restaurant. This time feeling rather familiar to my dutchness. I usually eat my pancakes filled with sweet ingredients like fresh fruit or syrup. But at Harrie’s their hearty pancakes really did look good so I ordered a spicy mince and cheddar cheese pancake.
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Madeira, my dear

I have always wanted to go on vacation with my mother to Greece. As a young woman she visited the beautiful islands and has always spoke fondly of her getaway. But, while looking into vacation options, we decided Greece would have to wait until my sister could join us. For one thing our window for a week away was the wrong time of year, a bit too cool to have relaxed evenings on a terrace and, while you can find a flight to Athens, it is still a 4 – 8 hour boat trip thereafter to any of the more picturesque islands, it just wasn’t in the cards this time around. So that trip will still happen and with a bit of luck and planning maybe we can have my sister and her boys join.

With Greece out of the running for a place to visit I searched my own list of places I want to visit. The criteria, not too warm or too cold, not too far of a flight considering we are only going for maximum a week, somewhere beautiful and ‘authentic’ meaning I was not interested in staying for a week at an all inclusive resort where you don’t leave the actual hotel premises. While these  can be very relaxing, we were looking for a bit more of an experience than just excellent weather and a beach to hang out on. After a bit of googling we quickly decided on Madeira. Already on my list but within a few minutes even after other suggestions it was decided! The flower island, the always spring time island.

DSC_0421I had heard of Madeira wine before, what I thought then was mostly used for cooking. It is a fortified wine  on the sweet spectrum of wines although there is quite a variation in sweetness depending on the grape variety and aging duration. I had also heard of Madeira from a song called ” Have Some Madeira, M’dear”  the first time hearing this song was a Dutch cover but a bit of an internet search it turns out it was originally in English by Flanders and Swann and has more famously been covered by the Limeliters. Click here to see a hilarious and rather inappropriate video which makes me laugh any time I watch it. Yes, I think I listened to it 50 times before going to the island of Madeira.

 

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On to the trip! Madeira is known for its beautiful flowers and is now known to me for the many, many elderly folk. I personally brought the average age down by a few decades anywhere we went. Which was surprising considering all of the hills to walk up and down. Their main export, aside from Madeira, is bananas. The island is filled with banana and other tropical fruit plantations. Since it is a volcanic island the soil is very fertile and they use terraces to grow pretty much everything. Passionfruit are very well known but in Madeira (honestly I am sure it is not only Madeiran but since I have not seen these fruits anywhere else I can think for now that they are Madeiran) they have banana passionfruit, tomato passionfruit, orange passionfruit and the list goes on. Walking through the tourist market hall you can sample and buy these expensive and odd fruits.

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Bananas and passion fruits are combined with many or the local specialities like scabbard fish and banana. Other favorites on the island are meat skewers stews. My favorite meal of the trip was quite a walk uphill from our apartment to a restaurant known for their Madieran (less tourist) food. Stews with beans and rice!

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The most notable part of the food experience was the famed Poncha, the local cocktail. Made with sugar cane rum, lemon juice and honey is the classic. Use passion fruit juice or mint or just granulated sugar instead of honey to change it up a bit.

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