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.