Dishing it up Croatian Style

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food.  I LOVE trying new foods, spices and dishes from around the world, and I especially LOVE bringing new things into our kitchen.  That’s why when we were contacted to take part in the World On a Plate campaign with Expedia I was all too excited to find something delicious from the focus country – Croatia.

Sadly, Croatia has not made it onto our list of “been to” countries.  It is high on the list of places we still want to go, but despite the fact that it is a pretty huge tourist destination these days, we still haven’t found a way to get there!  While most people probably dream of it’s sapphire waters and seaside, I’m really more focused on exploring the Paklenica mountains and Plitvice Lake area further inland.   Alas those dreams are going to be set aside for the moment thanks to two very active toddlers and our ever growing family.

Until we have a chance to go, we brought a little of Croatia to our kitchen.  I present my masterpiece:

 

Rizot od sparoga or asparagus risotto

Asparagus Risotto Croatian Dishing it up Croatian Style

 

Always fearful of making risotto after living in Italy, I was a bit nervous to try out this new recipe. Risotto everyone had told me is hard to make right – if you overcook the rice it turns into mush, if you under cook it, well let’s just say an Italian grandmother somewhere will roll over in her grave.  Fortunately Croatian risotto isn’t as scary as it’s Italian cousin.  (Don’t ask me why, it is the same grain!) That’s right, it was surprisingly easy and turned into the the perfect use of some left over aspargus.  Oh, and it was pretty much toddler approved from the moment it landed on the plate.  In fact these little girls couldn’t eat enough.

Croatian Asparagus Risotto Toddler Approved Dishing it up Croatian Style

 

I found this easy to make and perfect for spring recipe online at: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/asparagus-risotto-rizot-od-sparoga (Note the Australian measurements if you are US based before you attempt to make the dish.)

Only the adventurous eat swamp pizza…

Nearly a year ago I stumbled on an article about about Everglades Pizza in Ft. Myers, Florida. The pizza had all the best of the Everglades on it: snake, gator, swamp cabbage and frog’s legs. I promptly emailed a few friends about this and then began harassing them on Facebook about making the trip as a guys outing. One was tepidly interested, the foodie was sarcastically interested (which meant he wasn’t interested) and the rest shared varying levels of being grossed out. Those were my guy friends, quite the manly and adventurous bunch.

Last weekend Laura came to town. Somehow we started talking about Everglades Pizza, which we keep calling swamp pizza, and she was intrigued. Once we nixed a spontaneous day trip (Laura, unforgiving, didn’t think to bring her passport!) to the Bahamas, Laura suggested we drive across Florida to try the pizza. My guy friends have nothing on Laura.

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I went back to that old Facebook thread and email list to let my buddies know we were actually going to do it. The one who was tepidly interested in the past decided to come on for the ride, along with his family, and no others joined. We did alert Jillian’s parents, who live in the area, and they met us as well. I made it clear that everyone agreeing to try the pizza, it is $45 after all, needed to commit to eating at least one slice. In the end that meant that of our caravan of 7 adults and 3 toddlers, only 4 of us were going to make the try. Oh, and we planned to have the kiddos each try one new meat….we were expecting leftovers and those kids eat ANYTHING! Needless to say, I was relieved when we arrived and learned that our pizza was a medium with 6 slices rather than a large with 8 slices, far less food to eat.

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The pizza arrived, it clearly had frog’s legs on it but otherwise looked, more or less, like any other pizza. I dove in and found it delightful with just a hint of spice courtesy of one of the meats. The others did more or less the same but took the time to take apart their slices so that they could try each of the tastes.

IMGP2272 250x188 Only the adventurous eat swamp pizza...

Rob, the guy friend who made the trek, was surprised at how flavorful the whole thing was when he was expecting it all to be gamey. He thought the gator was the best part and thought the python was chewy but still incredibly flavorful. Jillian’s dad, Jimmie, agreed with Rob on the python and compared it to Rabbit. He also felt the Alligator was spiced just right. Unlike Rob though, he really enjoyed the ‘swamp cabbage’ which was hearts of palm. Neither seemed too entranced or offended by the frog.

Laura pointed out, and I have to agree, that it was a bit annoying to have actual bone (from the frog) on the pizza, which we all had to pick off. She had actual been quite nervous and non-committal toward eating the entire slice but loved it all and the frog best, pointing out the frog had a nice, crispy skin. If anything, she was disappointed that the gator reminded her of chicken.

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As for me, I just ate the whole thing and didn’t look back. Had the frog not had a bone and you told me it was a meat-lover’s pizza I might not have known the difference.

We ordered three pizzas and some other food and the Everglades pizza was the first item finished. We all had our initial one slice and we dived up the leftovers as equitably as possible. The next day, no stomach ailments were reported.

 

Interested in trying it yourself?  Head to Evan’s Neighborhood Pizzeria in Fort Myers, FL.  Call ahead if you want the Everglade’s Pizza – it takes an hour to make.

Getting the local perspective when you travel

One of the greatest gifts you can receive as a traveler is the gift of hospitality.  The world over we were invited into the homes of locals, sometimes for a coffee, sometimes for a meal and still other times for a safe, warm place to rest.  In fact, spending time with locals played a huge role in our trip around the world.  Locals served as hosts, tour guides, drivers, advisors and more often than not travel companions. The kind of generosity and hospitality we experienced is far and beyond the greatest souvenir we could take home because it was authentic.  It was real.  It was a genuine experience.

5138708278 69fcf5becb m Getting the local perspective when you travel
Bowl of Pho.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Michael Pittman

I remember being in Vietnam and getting into Ho Chi Minh City late in the day. We looked all over for a nice place to stay, settling in at a hotel that was modernly furnished in the heart of a tourist zone.  It was inexpensive and couldn’t have been more comfortable, but we walked for what seemed like forever looking for a restaurant that didn’t have a menu in English and tables full of Westerners.  Of course what we found was a small cart with little white stools around it. We had a delicious bowl of Pho, communicating with gestures and broken English with the proprietress.  It was delicious, but more than the food I remember her smile and her gesture for us to sit down.

These experiences happened to us all over the world, but they were more often than not the result of happenstance. Now of course, just a few years later, there are websites like Withlocals and even apps that will help you connect with locals.  From a home cooked meal to a cooking class with someone’s grandma and a local tour on the back of a motorbike exploring the countryside, the possibilities for authentic travel are expanding and that makes me excited to get back to exploring.

I’m looking forward to sharing the world with the twins.  Of going to places and having experiences that will share with them the amazing people and places that make up this world.  We had to wait until we were in our 20s to have those kinds of experiences, but with the opportunities that exist in travel today there’s no reason why they should have to wait.

Let’s just hope the girls master the art of chop sticks soon, I don’t want to see them attempting Pho with their hands!

How Feijoada (Portuguese Bean Stew) Made It Around the World

How many times can we repeat that one of our favorite aspects of travel is sampling new food?  It seems like we aren’t the only ones given the complete obsession in America with global food.  From Anthony Bourdain to the food network, American’s are obsessed with bringing a taste of their vacation or their dream travels home to their dinner table.  We are really no different.  From the unusual ingredients we saw hanging in markets in Asia to the easily recognizable beans and potatoes sitting in baskets across the Americas, we try to incorporate our favorite dishes or ingredients from our travels into our everyday life.

Guidebooks always tell you what the “staple” dish of a place is, but sometimes more interesting than the ingredients is the history of the dish.  Sometimes you can get this from a recipe book, but better yet, get it from actually going to the place where the dish originated.  We love the history of food, for it’s really the history of human exploration. Given that globalization started happening centuries ago, it’s not hard to draw similarities between the dishes of exploration centers like Portugal and far flung ports in Mozambique or Brazil.  Enter one of the best examples of Portugal’s dominance in world exploration- the simple, yet delicious feijoada.

5580426218 b9571435df How Feijoada (Portuguese Bean Stew) Made It Around the World

Feijoada is one of those “traditional” dishes that calls multiple countries, separated by a vast ocean, home.  Originally from Portugal, Feijoada is a bean, beef and pork stew that we saw in Brazil, Mozambique and pretty much anywhere we traveled along a coastline that the Portuguese had explored. The Brazilians in fact, call it their national dish. Why? Well, like so many of the “great” dishes of a culture or region it’s simple, homemade food.  Although you can find it at the best restaurants and although you can find it at any Portugal hotel or restaurant, it’s a dish beloved by many and found in all levels of Portuguese cuisine. There’s nothing pretentious in feijoada, just beans, pork and oh let’s say the most delicious mix of spices you’ve ever had.  Think of it like a Sunday supper meal that stews all day.  The name, feijoada actually comes from the Portguese word for beans – feijao.

5580425880 2e3f92d8f9 How Feijoada (Portuguese Bean Stew) Made It Around the World

 

Although I love anything that has the word “stew” in it, for me the most interesting aspect of feijoada is its long history.  Just as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, Portuguese families still make this dish, albeit with certain variants for a delicious weekend supper.  Food made at home and meant to be consumed family style is the best, especially for those travelers looking to get a taste of regional flavor and take it home with them.

Maybe on our next trip through the Iberian Peninsula we’ll make a tour of feijoada….who’s with me?

 

Photo Credit: Shared via a creative commons license from flickr user Fotos Gov/Ba.

Eat Your Heart Out in Cyprus

When visiting the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, there are a few foods you won’t want to miss. While Greek influence is strong, Cypriot cuisine has a unique spin on some of the more typical Greek dishes.

Souvlaki is a favorite “fast food” on the island of Cyprus. Skewered lean meat, usually lamb, pork or chicken, is tucked inside a wrap of Cypriot pita bread. Lemon juice, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and onion are some of the accompanying condiments. White cabbage and green chili peppers are other common additions, as well as tzatziki dip made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and spices. In addition to the regular souvlaki, you can also get it “mixed” with sheftalia, a kind of spiced and minced pork sausage. You might see either version being served street side or as a to-go food from neighborhood restaurants.  Don’t miss it!

Cyprus Cuisine Slovaki1 Eat Your Heart Out in Cyprus

If it’s vegetables you prefer, Cyprus is known for its fresh vegetables including asparagus, artichokes, and elongated Cypriot potatoes. Many meals are complemented with a fresh village salad made from cucumbers, peppers, black olives, onions and tomatoes. It’s often tossed with local olive oil and feta cheese. While this may sound typically Mediterranean, in Cyprus fresh coriander is usually sprinkled on the salad giving it that extra Cypriot touch.

Cyprus also has plenty of delicious desserts that you can’t miss, even if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth!  It’s worthwhile checking out flights to Cyprus when your sweet tooth strikes for some fresh Cypriot baklava.  Baklava is a sweet concoction of finely chopped nuts, usually walnuts and almonds, combined with sugar, cinnamon, honey and lemon juice and wrapped in paper-thin layers of filo pastry. This syrupy nut and cinnamon mixture is a common basis for Cypriot desserts, similarly featured in daktila, a kind of finger shaped pastry.

adventure travel Eat Your Heart Out in Cyprus

Photo Credit: Flickr user Geoff Peters 604