Fete Paradiso

The carnival has come to town!

This summer, French company Fete Paradiso, has made its American debut at Governor’s Island; bringing vintage 19th and early 20th century carnival rides, games and carousels to one of New York City’s prettiest spots.

Set in amongst the old yellow houses of Nolan Park, I imagine it’s a nice little surprise if you don’t know it’s there. The distant sounds of bells, horns, and children’s laughter draws you closer until you spy hints of *something* between the trees.

The rides and attractions have been beautifully restored and maintained. The detail on some of the pieces is remarkable.

French accordion music, interrupted every so often with cuts from the Amelie soundtrack, pumped in through the speakers adds a great touch to the atmosphere.

By far my favourite thing was this bicycle carousel, the “Velocipede”, one of only two in the world. You actually have to pedal to get the carousel going. And then they make you go backwards! Considering how much work you have to put in to it, it was great fun.

And this we just couldn’t resist, because what’s a day without a little treat? Though I think I can happily go another ten years or so without having another bite of candy floss.

My only complaint? The food! There was just one vendor and they were serving things like croque monsieur and burgers. Where are the cone crepes I can get on every street corner in Paris? Caramel popcorn? What about hot dogs in baguettes with spicy French mustard? Next year, maybe next year…

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Recipe: Bacon Jam

So it’s all just been lots of travel posts around here lately, but can you blame me? Who wants to be indoors at all during the summer, let alone in the kitchen cooking. But I recently had a pound of bacon staring back at me in the fridge and needed to use it up, so what better to do than whip up a batch of bacon jam.

Yes it’s just what it sounds like, a sweet sticky bacon mixture that’s perfect for spreading on just about everything. The flavour is actually pretty deep and complex – sweet, spicy, smoky, and salty all at once.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1lb thick cut smoked bacon
2 medium onions
4 cloves of garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper
black pepper, to taste (optional)
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup brewed espresso
1/4 cup brown sugar

I get my bacon from the farmer’s market because I think it has a lot more flavour than anything you can get from the plastic packets in the supermarket.

Cut the bacon in to small pieces and cook on medium-low heat in a wide bottomed pan. You want the pan to have a large enough surface area so all of the bacon browns. If the pan is too small the bacon will just stew and you won’t get any of that lovely caramelisation you’re looking for.

While the bacon is cooking, chop the onion in to a smallish dice and mince the garlic.

This is the bacon cooked about half way. You want the bacon to brown but not become crispy, that should take 15-20 minutes.

When the bacon is ready, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Take out all of the rendered fat save a tablespoon or two. In the same pan add the onions, garlic, crushed red pepper and black pepper.

Cook until the onions are softened and translucent, do not let them brown too much. Add more of the bacon fat as needed. You really want to release as much of the sugars in the onions as possible.

When the onions are done, add back the bacon and all of the remaining ingredients and scrape all of the bacon flavour from the bottom of the pan. Bring this mixture to a boil for 2-3 minutes and then lower to a slow simmer. Taste at this point to make any adjustments.

Cook on a very low heat for 45-60 minutes until you get a thick, syrupy consistency. The jam should be shiny when finished.

Once cooled take a portion of the jam (about two thirds) and coarsely chop it in the food processor. Mix the chopped jam back in with the rest of the batch.

As I mentioned you can use this with pretty much any dish – sandwiches (especially breakfast sandwiches), burgers, bruschetta, on eggs – but my favourite way to eat it is to tear of a piece of crusty bread and top it with a thick slice of cheddar and a heaping spoonful of the jam. So good.

Duke Farms

New Jersey is known as the garden state, but it’s not always easy to see why. Duke Farms, which just opened to the public last year is one of the largest nature preserves in the state. At some 3000 acres it is three times the size of Central Park. It was the former estate of J.B. Duke, a famous industrialist and namesake of Duke University. The estate passed on to his daughter Doris at the time of his death, whose wish it was that it should be used to promote conservation.

The farms have a number of lakes, waterfalls, meadows, gardens and trails – something for everyone. There is a tram service that will take you around to the main sections, but after that you’re on your own. Though there are some signs around in case you get lost, it’s best to pick up a map at the visitor centre as a lot of places look exactly the same.

This is the otter lake, unfortunately we didn’t spot any while we were there.

The conservatory where Doris Duke grew her orchids. This was restored before the opening and is now full of a number of native species.

This is the old foundation. J.B. Duke had plans to build a large mansion on the property, but for still unknown reasons abandoned them within a couple of years. The foundations remain as they were when the work stopped. Doris Duke did move back on to the property after the death of her father, but it wasn’t clear when we visited where exactly she lived.

The steps leading down from the old foundation. The manicured lawns that were created for the family are currently in the process of being restored to their natural state as a wildflower meadow. They are doing everything they can to create a habitat for birds and other animals.

Though conservation is the main goal of the farms, it’s the amazing open space that I think brings people in. Great for bike rides, jogging and long walks and just perfect for a summer picnic.

Travel: Mystic Connecticut

A couple of weekends ago, K and I embarked on our annual summer road trip. There are so many beautiful towns, hamlets, and villages around we’re never short on a list of places to choose from. This year we decided on Mystic, Connecticut. To say that we’re primarily out to discover a new place would be a lie, as we’re really just out for our fill of some delicious, fresh east coast seafood.

Driving in to town on a narrow two lane road you pass a number of historic colonial homes, some of which have been turned in to museums. Many of them are still beautifully preserved.

Turns out we picked one of the hottest days of the year for our little jaunt, so our first stop was a seafood shack near the seaport where we sat by the water and snacked on fried whole belly clams.

Every bite bursts in your mouth and imparts a really deep flavour, so much better than fried clam strips.

Trying out the fisheye lens on the olloclip, I think I need more practice…

The Mystic Seaport is a large interactive museum where you can get tours of old ships, see a number of exhibits and visit a series of gardens. As much as we wanted to see some of the gardens, we weren’t interested in most of the museum and thought the $24 entrance fee was a bit steep.

Instead we walked along the bridge across the Mystic River and in to downtown, where there are lots of little shops, some restaurants and a few galleries.

After all that time in the heat we decided we needed to find a spot indoors to rest. The S&P Oyster House was calling our names.

We whiled away the rest of the afternoon here, sipping cold beers and looking out on to the river.

Mystic is about a 2 hour drive from New York City and perfect for a day trip. I recommend going on a cooler day as you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors.

Ah Chicago…

I love this city. The people are friendly. The architecture, amazing. The food, delicious. It’s one of the few places I can actually see myself living. Well, at least 9 months out of the year, I’d likely make a hasty retreat during the winter.

I’ve visited almost every year for the past five, and try to see different neighbourhoods on each trip. This time I was there for a conference and so I spent most of my time in The Loop.

The city is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan from which the Chicago River flows. Bridges crisscross the city along the path of the river and walking along them allows some of the best views.

Miles and miles of man-made beaches run along the shores of the lake. How great to have them right in the city. And not that crowded at all. I can imagine if we had anything like this in NYC they would be packed full at the first sign of sun.

Chicago has a large amount of green space, which, along with all the water flowing around and through it makes it feel bright and open.

Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”, has been in Millennium Park for a few years now and is pretty popular. It reflects the surrounding buildings really beautifully. Along with the Crown Fountain (below) it’s one of the interactive art installations in the park, you’ll see people walking around and under it taking photos of their reflections.

Kids have a great time splashing about in the water that runs down from the towers of the fountain.

View of the skyline from Lake Michigan. It’s not difficult to see why Chicago is one of my favourite places in the country – there is always something new to discover and I could never tire of this view.

An afternoon at Dumbarton Oaks

Visits to DC are a fairly common occurrence for me. I generally go to visit my sister and brother-in-law and eat great food – hard to come by reservations are on the menu if I’m lucky. But I also do my best to visit a new neighbourhood or museum.

This time I went to Dumbarton Oaks, a hidden treasure in Georgetown. Now, Georgetown is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my favourite place. Oftentimes crowded with obnoxious people, it’s not exactly what I’m looking for when escaping NYC. But the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks are a welcome respite from the noise.

It was the home of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, an American diplomat and his wife. They spent a significant amount of time improving the house and grounds before conveying the property to Harvard University with the intent that it exist as an institute for scholarship and the arts.

Today the building of the main house is a museum, library, and archive.

Pass through the old orangery to get to the back of the house and the grounds.

The property is divided in to a series of terraces and enclosed gardens. The place isn’t overwhelming in size, but there are quite a few steps and slopes along the way.

This is the pebble garden, one of the prettiest parts of Dumbarton Oaks in my opinion. Made up of thousands of pebbles in varying colours and sizes laid in a mosaic resembling a sheaf of wheat.

Winding pathways lead to wonderful flower gardens, pools and shady nooks. There are lots of benches along the way, perfect spots to while away an afternoon reading a book.

This small patch of lawn just outside the orangery, overlooking the pool and the pebble garden was my favourite spot. Just warm enough, a little dappled sunlight coming through the trees. I think I spent a couple of hours here reading peacefully and admiring the beautiful house.

Like a lot of places in DC, Dumbarton Oaks has an interesting story and rich history. They do charge admission for access to the gardens (not for the museum or library) and though there are many wonderful free places to visit in DC I highly recommend going to Dumbarton Oaks if you can.

Bandelier National Monument

Last post about New Mexico, I promise.

We took a day trip from Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument where a number of Ancestral Pueblo dwellings have been preserved.

Most of the area is made up of volcanic tuff, a soft material that the Pueblo Indians were able to carve in to.

There are miles and miles of trails throughout the monument, some with steps and footbridges, but for the most part it’s flat.

All of those large holes above are caves and some of them connect to each other. They’re rather small inside, and most not high enough to properly stand up in, so I assume the majority of them were used for sleeping.

They have ladders set up at the mouths of some of the caves so you can climb in to have a look. They’re really easy to get up, but not much fun on the way down…

We didn’t spend much time here, as it was way too hot and there wasn’t much in the way of shade, but I’m sure it would make for a great hike in the cooler months. There were hardly any visitors around the time we went, which added to the beauty of the place, it was unbelievably calm and peaceful.

Not surprisingly, the drive to and from was my favourite part, I will never tire of turning a corner and seeing this:

On to Santa Fe

We picked up Zippy here and saw a few more things in Albuquerque before heading on to Santa Fe.

Petroglyph National Monument is not too far out of the way and makes a nice stop before getting on the highway.

The monument is actually made up of a series of dormant volcanoes. There are four trails you can take, with one of the shortest have the largest number of view-able petroglyphs. We managed to see quite a lot in the couple of hours before we hit the road.

Although it wasn’t our original plan, renting a car was one of the best decisions we made. So much of what we loved of New Mexico we were only able to see on the drives. Curving, steep mountain roads with gorgeous views and plenty of lookout points so you can stop and take it all in.

We arrived in downtown Santa Fe in the early evening and saw a notice for a walking tour leaving from our hotel, we decided on that to get our bearings and learn a bit about the city.

Santa Fe as it is today was planned mostly in the early 20th century when New Mexico became a state, but its history stretches back hundreds of years to the Spanish and the Pueblo Indians before them. By city ordinance all new buildings must be built in the Pueblo (adobe) style, and for the most part that’s what you’ll see, the main exception being the St. Francis Cathedral.

Downtown Santa Fe isn’t all that large and you can see a lot of it in a couple of days. There is a lot of history so having a guided tour can be helpful. The majority of places are a short distance from the plaza – galleries, art studios, restaurants, market stalls, and shops – so I recommend staying close by if you can.

On Holiday

Another accidental hiatus. This is where I’m supposed to say I’m not going to let this happen again, that I’ll be on here all the time posting at least once a week and all the rest of it. But that would just be a lie and I usually confess immediately after telling a lie (what?). Usually the reason I don’t write is because I haven’t been doing much of anything and have nothing to write about; no pretty pictures to post. But recently I’ve just been lazy.

Now that’s out of the way…

A few friends and I decided we needed time away from the city and chose to make a quick escape out to New Mexico for some of its famously fresh air and beautiful scenery.

Most of our plans went out the window on the first day. Flight delays, a layover in Dallas that resulted in our having to take separate flights to Albuquerque, and arriving at the hotel close to midnight meant that we lost an entire day.

The next morning we planned our walking route to cover Old Town, Downtown, Nob Hill and a few other places nearby. We started out on the old Route 66. And we walked. And walked. And then walked a bit more. Thought we might be lost, when finally, we saw this:

It appears somewhat out of nowhere, surrounded by major roads and strip malls, so it’s understandable that we thought we might be lost. Old town is the historic district of Albuquerque and dates back to the original Spanish settlement of the area in the early 1700s. It’s a few blocks of traditional adobe buildings surrounding a central plaza.

Today it’s comprised of lots of shops, galleries, restaurants and a few museums. Depending on what your interests are you should be able to explore all of it in an afternoon.

After seeing that it would be almost impossible to explore this city on foot we decided to book a rental car. We walked back to the hotel through downtown Albuquerque which is supposed to have lots of great restaurants and is considered an entertainment district. If all that was there, we missed it. The only place that stood out to us was the old Kimo Theatre.

It’s a pretty interesting building, built in a style that combines art deco with traditional adobe pueblo designs, unfortunately there were rehearsals going on that day and we weren’t able to look around inside.

Thankfully, getting a car gave us a lot more to explore. Eventually I’ll get round to writing about it…

Recipe: Shrimp and Fish Cakes

I had some great fish cakes at a restaurant about a month ago and decided to try and recreate them. The ones I had were battered and deep-fried, which I’m sure had something to do with why they were so good, but since seafood cakes (crab, etc.) are usually coated with breadcrumbs I think these will be just as tasty.

For 8 cakes, you will need:

½ lb white, flaky fish such as cod or haddock
½ lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 medium potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
zest of two limes or lemons
¼ tsp chili powder
salt and pepper, to taste

Roughly chop the shrimp. Some recipes call for the shrimp to be processed, but I prefer the taste and texture of chunks of shrimp in the cakes.

Steam the fish fillets for 7-10 minutes until just cooked. Remember that the fish will cook a little more when the cakes are fried, so you don’t want to overdo it now. Allow the fish to cool for a few minutes and then flake.

While the fish is steaming, slowly fry the onions and garlic until golden.

In a large bowl, mash the cooked potatoes, then add the flaked fish, onion and garlic, lime zest, worcestershire sauce, mustard, and chili powder. Season liberally with salt and pepper and combine.

Be careful not to mix too much, you want the potatoes to remain fluffy so the cakes are light.

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, then fold in the shrimp.

Form the mixture in to patties and then coat with breadcrumbs. Fry over medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness.

Serve with a lime (or lemon) wedge and your choice of sauce – remoulade, mustard, tartar sauce, or some spicy mayo.

I had a couple with a big salad and it was an excellent lunch. I’ll definitely be making these again; they are so easy, and the majority of the ingredients are staples. They would probably work just as well with some good quality frozen fish and shrimp too, so it’s a good recipe to have on hand.