Baja: All Zen and Fun on the Eastern Front

Loreto, Mexico

Loreto Mexico

It’s easy to associate Baja, Mexico with throngs of partying beach goers. No doubt the touristy tip of Cabo has this rep, but this is only a tiny part of Baja, the skinny California peninsula stretching more than 700 miles (1100 km) south of the U.S. border to its glittery tequila-soused point. For those seeking a more remote location, fret not, there are plenty of quieter and lesser trod areas in between that will quell the craving for a low key, sun soaked, holiday experience – with a margarita or cerveza in hand, of course.

Loreto Mexico

I was recently invited to attend a Chef’s Week event at the new Villa del Palmar Resort in Loreto, Baja, to not only indulge in rocking cuisine from a trio of world class chefs, but also to explore this relatively and refreshingly undiscovered niche of Baja.

Danzante Bay Mexico

Situated 300 miles (500 km) north of Cabo on the eastern coast overlooking the Sea of Cortez, the resort is away from it all, yet clearly in the middle of exactly where it should be, with abundant opportunities for relaxation and activity. Everything evokes balance – including (literally) the mighty location of its stunning golf course landscaped into the teetering cliffs overlooking the sea. I don’t golf, but I thought pretty hard about taking a lesson when I hiked the trails around the Rhees Jones designed golf course, perched on a bluff with panoramic views.

View from Hike

The orientation of the resort is equally spectacular, sandwiched between the jagged ridge line of the grand Sierra de la Giganta Mountains and the picturesque and vertiginous outcroppings of the Islands of Loreto, a pristine Unesco World Heritage Site.

Villa del Palmar Resort Loreto

Boat Tour Villa del Palmar

North of the resort lies the historically rich and vibrant colonial town of Loreto, which also (conveniently) has an international airport with direct flights to and from Los Angeles on Alaska Air. Loreto is a quaint fishing village, easily walkable and offering a little bit of everything, including an historic mission, muchos curios shops, and a vibrant plaza ringed with restaurants and bars that come alive at night. A long promenade stretches along the town’s sandy beach, home to fishing and tourist boats, thatched beach umbrellas and cafés overlooking the waters of the Sea of Cortez which beckons with its multitude of islands and marine life waiting to be explored.

Downtown Loreto Mexico

Loreto Mexico

Loreto Mexico

Thirty minutes south of the town, with easy shuttle access, lies the secluded property of Danzante Bay and the Villas, surrounded by unrivaled nature with an expansive white sand beach, miles of hiking trails, and all of the active and zen (your choice!) amenities of one-stop shopping resort life, including the aforementioned golf, a world class spa and fitness center, all things water sport, and beach yoga. The easiest task at hand is to simply park yourself and let time slip away while you contemplate your next cocktail, meal, or form of exercise.

Villa del Palmar Loreto

For nature lovers – and you will be one, after you explore the Islands of Loreto – take a private boat tour from the Villa and Danzante Bay, where you will weave between the craggy rocks and jutting, cactus strewn islands dotted with deserted beaches and private coves inhabited by a lexicon of birds, with plenty of opportunities for snorkeling and whale watching, likely in the company of pods of playful dolphins.

Snorkling and Boat Danzante Bay

Whale watching Danzante Bay

Back on the mainland, I was lucky enough to be at the Villa for Chef’s Week, which perfectly balanced my zen downtime. It was a 5-day fiesta extravaganza helmed by Celebrity Chefs Keith Breedlove, Manouschka Guerrier, and the Villa’s Gerardo Garcia Martinez, where we were treated to demonstrations and tastings, multi-course extravaganzas, plenty of local wine and tequila, and all around socializing with a fun group of food-loving (and writing) folks.

Chefs Week Culinerdy

Chefs Week Villa del Palmar

Chefs Week

Clearly there is something for everyone at this destination, which is conducive to families, couples, and even solo travelers. You can be as active, festive, or exploratory as you wish – or not, and simply chill with a book and beverage in a hammock on the beach. The point is that you will come back relaxed, refreshed, and well-fed, with no travel burnout or crowd fatigue, which to me is the whole point of a vacation escape.

Danzante Bay Mexico

Disclosure:
My travel costs and accommodations were provided for by Villa del Palmar and Alaska Air. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions and impressions are my own.

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

Alaska Memories and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Pearl Couscous

tutkabay6-592x370

It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi which multitasks as a mail and food delivery service, garbage collection, and all-purpose passenger shuttle to and from Homer, the closest town accessible by road. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

2aab009c32016fff053aae9391389902

Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut

The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

alaska makos taxi

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
Needless to say, the seafood is glorious in this part of the world. The following recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Pearl Cousous
Serves 4 to 6Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups pearl (Israeli) cousous
2 cups plus 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple or curly green kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, chopped fresh oregano leaves and chives

Method:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous, stir to coat, and cook until the couscous is toasted light golden, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock (it will sizzle). Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, the paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a clean skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until bright pink and lightly seared on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

3. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until the liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and season with salt.

4. To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with the fresh herbs and additional lemon zest.

Homer View Lynda Balslev

 

Lisbon Snapshots #TasteFoodTravel

Afternoon Light - Casa de Pasto
Casa de Pasto
Cevicheria
Cevicheria

Rooftop Sunset

Sao Roque
Sao Roque
Chiado Wine Bar
Chiado Wine Bar

Graffiti

LX Factory
LX Factory
Pastéis de Nata
Pastéis de Nata

Ginjinha

TasteTravel – Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Israeli Couscous

TasteTravel – Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge and a recipe for Shrimp, Kale and Israeli Couscous

tbl_AA5D_MG_1283-325x325It would have been simpler to meditate. Instead, last summer I traveled to Alaska. More specifically, I traveled 3,000 miles on three planes of diminishing size, and one water taxi to Tutka Bay Lodge. Tutka Bay sits at the mouth of a rugged seven-mile fjord stretching into the glacier capped Kenai mountains, 125 air miles south of Anchorage. It’s not accessible by road, only by sea plane or a water taxi from Homer which multitasks as a mail and food delivery, garbage collection, and all-purpose shuttle. If you want to get away from it all, this is for you. It’s well worth the trip.

tutkabay6-592x370

2aab009c32016fff053aae9391389902

Before you pack your compass, first aid kit, and water purification tablets, let’s be perfectly clear. This is not roughing it. This is not even glamping. This is wilderness isolation in extreme comfort. You will find yourself in a lodge, tucked into plush beds in cozy private cabins, waited upon 24/7 by an attentive staff, and dining in a first class restaurant. Sure, you are in the remote wilderness on a spit of land flanked by a rugged fjord and craggy mountains dotted with old growth Sitka spruce. Yes, that’s an ancient volcano looming in the distance, waiting ever so patiently for another opportunity to express itself. Indeed, you will be sharing your outdoor space with resident bald eagles, floating otters, and possibly an orca or two. You will also be pampered, fed and catered to in a lodge staffed with servers doubling as mountain guides, valets doubling as naturalists, and professional chefs doubling as culinary instructors in a teaching kitchen converted from a re-purposed two-story crabbing boat.

Widgeon Lynda Balslev

Tutka Cooking Class Lynda Balslev

Halibut The point is that there is something for everyone at Tutka, with the most notable activity being nothing. Because, while your every whim will be addressed and serviced, your tummy fed, your fitness itch scratched, your need for nature connected, you will find yourself in the most spectacular vignette of nowhere, amidst staggering scenery and blissful solitude. Activities are plentiful, and peace is everywhere, which yields the treasure of perspective and balance. So, whether you crave a weekend or a week to find your center, this is the the place to be. Just leave yourself a day to get there.

alaska makos taxi

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev
The following recipe is inspired by a delicious memory from Tutka Bay Lodge.

Shrimp Kale and Israeli Cousous
Serves 4 to 6

Alaska Shrimp Tutka

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups Israeli cousous
2 cups chicken stock, plus 1/4 cup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 bunch purple kale, tough ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced

Method:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the couscous and stir to coat. Cook until the couscous is light golden, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add the 2 cups stock. Reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Keep warm.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp in one layer to the skillet. Cook until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, turning once. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the red chili flakes over medium heat. Add the kale and garlic and sauté until the kale leaves begin to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 cup stock and continue to sauté until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Season with salt.

To serve, divide the couscous between serving plates or shallow bowls. Top with the kale. Arrange the shrimp over the kale. Garnish with fresh snipped herbs such as oregano, thyme leaves and chives.
Homer View Lynda Balslev

Top 3 photos courtesy of Tutka Bay Lodge. All other photos by Lynda Balslev.

Beautiful Alaska

Homer View Lynda BalslevFor those who seek space

Alaska PPP Farm Lynda Balslevand new beginnings

Tutka Cabin Lynda Balslev

to embrace nature

Tutka kayaks Lynda Balslev

and get their feet wet

Alaska view

Where the sky is the limit

Widgeon Lynda Balslevand convention shed

Halibut

King Crab Legs

to receive abundance

Alaska Paella TasteFood

and break bread

dinner

with fellow travelers

cooknscribble

and kindred spirits

Tutka dock Lynda Balslev

Beautiful Alaska

Boar Ragu with Pappardelle

Boar Ragu with Pappardelle

Ever since a trip to Umbria last year when we ate a succulent wild boar ragu in an obscure village restaurant, I have had boar on my mind.  The ragu was served over a platter heaped with pappardelle. The meat was falling apart tender, dissolving in a rich wine sauce perfumed with juniper and cloves. Since then, that meal has been a popular conversation topic in our family when reflecting on our trip. So, I decided to try and make my own boar ragu.

Boar meat may be ordered from your butcher and, depending on where you live, you may find it in specialty stores that carry game meat. I ordered my meat from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, where they raise ranch-raised boar. The meat arrived frozen in a cooler box and I popped it into my freezer, so it would be ready when I devised a recipe.

The flavor of boar may be likened to a cross between pork and lamb. Boar meat is very lean and rich in protein. It has more protein than beef or pork and is lower in cholesterol than chicken. Not bad for an animal deemed an exotic pest in the U.S. Due to its mild gamey flavor and lack of fat, boar meat benefits from marinades and slow cooking, and it’s well matched with spirits and aromatic spices such as cloves and juniper.

Boar Ragu with Pappardelle

As the ragu simmers, the boar meat will absorb a good deal of the liquid. The ragu may be made up to 2 days in advance, allowing the flavors to develop with time. As an alternative to pasta, serve over polenta. Serves 4-6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boar shoulder, cut in 1 inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 large garlic cloves
1 – 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juices
2 cups full-bodied red wine
4 bay leaves
Bouquet garni: 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries, 8 black peppercorns, 6 whole cloves, tied in cheese cloth with kitchen string

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet. Season boar all over with salt and pepper. Add boar to the skillet in batches and brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Transfer meat to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Sauté onion, carrots and garlic, scraping up brown bits, until they begin to soften, 4 minutes. Return boar with any juices to the pan. Add tomatoes, red wine, bay leaves and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer over very low heat, partially covered, until meat is falling tender and sauce is reduced by half, 2 hours. Serve with pappardelle and top with grated cheese.

Tomato Bruschetta, Italy and the World Cup

Bruschetta Tomato tf

It’s World Cup Football Championship time again. For those of you not in touch with this sporting rite, it is THE international football championship that takes place worldwide every four years. Don’t get me wrong. I hardly watch football (that’s soccer for you Americans). But, I am, after all, married to a Dane and lived many years in Europe where if you are not following at least a teensy bit of football in the news or on the television, you are living in a shoebox.

The World Cup also makes me think of Italy, where we often vacationed when we lived in Europe. Four years ago we were doing just that when the Italians won the last championship. What an impression that made. We were in Rome when the quarterfinals took place. As tourists, we naively ventured into the city for dinner during the quarterfinals match. While the restaurants were open, they were sparsely populated – and only with wayward tourists such as us. The staff were, to say the least, distracted, hovering over radios or watching small televisions in the kitchens or at the bar. We quickly deduced that we might as well just settle back and root for our new favorite football team without being overly critical about erratic table service. After our meal we knew there was no hope in finding a taxi driver to bring us back to our hotel until after the match. So, we wandered into another restaurant with a lounge and cheered on Italy as they won. From that moment on the streets came alive with revelers, cars honking, sirens blaring. This continued well into the night, long after we had gone to bed. It was just the quarterfinals.

The semi-finals took place after we left Rome for Tuscany, where we shared a villa with some friends near Montepulciano. The afternoon of the match, we wandered the crooked, narrow streets of the medieval village and came upon the town square, or Piazza. An enormous screen was being erected against a building façade while rows of folding chairs filled the open space, encircling the fountain to create an outdoor theater. It made me think of the film Cinema Paradiso. No worries if you didn’t own a television – all the villagers would gather that evening and watch the football match together, cheering on their team.

The finals played on one of our last nights in Italy. We had moved to the Isle of Elba and were staying in at the lovely Villa Ottone. The staff was professional and proper, the clientelle was well-heeled and dignified. So, imagine the night of the finals, in the middle of the first dinner service, when a tuxedoed maître d’ wheeled a television into the center of the dining terrace. As if on cue, all protocol was suspended. Waiters, busboys and hotel staff gathered around the television. Diners pulled up their chairs, balancing dinner plates on their laps. The French tourists cheered on France. The Italian tourists and staff cheered on the Italians. We were all caught up in a passionate TV dinner for the next 2 hours. When we finished eating we crowded into the bar, squeezing into sofas, balancing on the arms of chairs, sitting cross-legged on the floor, elbow to elbow with our fellow football fans. A Swedish photographer bought us a round of drinks. We reciprocated and bought drinks for the French couple sitting at our feet. The bartender invited our children to perch on the bar and gave them free sodas. Together we cheered and booed as Italy won the world cup. What an equalizer. Who said that English is the international language?

This year the World Cup takes place in South Africa. But I cannot help but think of Italy whenever it takes place. If I had to create something to eat while watching a football match it would be Tomato Bruschetta.


Tomato Bruschetta


Tomato Bruschetta
Makes 8

For the tomatoes:
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in 1/4″ pieces or quartered if small
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the bread:
8 slices levain or peasant bread, cut 1/2″ thick
1 large garlic clove, lightly smashed but still intact
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

1/2 cup basil leaves, shredded plus whole leaves for garnish

Prepare the tomatoes:
Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl and toss to combine. Taste to adjust seasoning. Let sit at room temperature while bread is prepared.

Prepare the bread:
Preheat oven grill or griddle pan. Rub bread on both sides with garlic. Brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over bread. Grill, turning once, until both sides are golden.

Arrange bread in one layer on a platter. Stir shredded basil into the tomatoes. Top bread with tomatoes. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve immediately.