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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “February, 2016”

Today’s Delicious New Word: “Empanar”

At a polo horse ranch in the Pampas, near Buenos Aires

At a polo horse ranch in the Pampas, near Buenos Aires

Every culture, seems to have some variation on the notion of a crispy pastry surrounding cooked treats of some sort, whether seasoned meat or seafood or cheese, or savory vegetables. In Spanish, “empanada” is the word for “covered in breading or pastry”.  On a recent trip to Latin America, myMEGusta enjoyed many, many empanadas.

Yucca empanadas in Old San Juan

Yucca empanadas in Old San Juan

The first encounter was in San Juan, at a “local” (vis: non-touristy) restaurant in the Old Town. Among the selection of small dishes was yucca empanadas, deep fried chunks of the root vegetable (also known as cassava) which were delicate on the inside and perfectly crispy on the outside. What a treat!

Farther South, first in Punta del Esta, Uruguay, then ubiquitous in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were the classic empanadas. Like every beloved food of a country, the variations were infinite, in terms of fillings and the textures of the outer pastry, although all were delicious, steaming hot on the inside and baked crispy on the outside. Favorites of myMEGusta were at Cabana Das Lilas in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires and at a polo horse ranch in the Pampas, a few hours out of town.

Empanada at Cabana Las Lilas in Buenos Aires

Empanada at Cabana Las Lilas in Buenos Aires

For a taste of authentic empanadas in New York, you will find an astounding variety at Empanada Mama.  https://empmamanyc.com/cateringmenu.php And, they deliver!

Char Sui Soh

Char Sui Soh

We don’t normally think of this kind of food as a Chinese treat, but there they were at a recent Chinese New Year Festival banquet: char sui soh, richly flavored barbecued pork encased in a shatteringly thin pastry crust (similar to the steamed roast pork buns more frequently found on a dim sum cart).

Then there is tourtiere, the French Canadian meat pie which is a wintertime staple, and was the family’s traditional Christmas Eve treat: subtly seasoned ground pork encased in a shatteringly crisp crust, made by my grandmother the old fashioned way, with lard.

Tourtiere

Tourtiere

Traveling to Morocco, we find briks, baked phyllo dough triangles with savory stuffings, and bisteeya, a phyllo dough pie, golden brown phyllo leaves encasing spicy stewed chicken or other goodies.

Briks

Briks

The most recent incarnation of tourtiere at myMEGusta’s house incorporated the best of these two worlds: a phyllo pie made with tourtiere meat, a delicious fusion of Canada and Africa. Alas, this occurred a long time ago, before cell phone snapshots in the kitchen, so you’ll just have to take her word for it!

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Cruising Along!

Being an avid traveler, myMEGusta is often asked which of the several cruise lines I have traveled is best.

Here’s a stab at a response, the short answer being “It depends.” And, the field I can comment on is limited to a handful, not a comprehensive look. So, if your favorite is not on the list, it’s not because I would not love it; it’s because I have not traveled with them, at least in the past 20 years.

So, here’s the list, all “excellent”, but with significant differences in style and costs.

Crystal Symphony in Ilhabela, Brazil

Crystal Symphony in Ilhabela, Brazil

Crystal

My most recent experience was on the Crystal Symphony, sailing 25 days.  The fact that I was NOT ready to leave the ship after all that time speaks volumes.

While not as upscale as Seabourn (for example, no unlimited, daily, high quality caviar), it vastly exceeded my expectations. The food was excellent (translation: top quality and great variety), both in the dining room and buffet and in the two specialty restaurants, Prego and Silk Road (Nobu), to which one is entitled one “free” dinner for each 10 days or fraction thereof (after which $30, a bargain for the quality).  All inclusive, the Champagne (Jacquart, Roederer and one other French) flowed freely, as did reds, whites and roses (e.g. one from Tavel and one from Provence), and top shelf bar.  Topping it all was the extraordinary service, professional and accommodating.

A major selling point for me, as a solo traveler, is that their normal single supplement is a reasonable 35%, and occasional sales bring it down to 10%. Another plus (although hardly a deal maker) was the Host Ambassadors, well-spoken gentlemen whose only job was to ensure that the ladies had partners for dancing. The entertainment was, by and large, very good, particularly the piano bar. I will definitely travel with them again.

Ponant

This is a French company, only recently beginning to market actively in the United States, and was an absolute delight when I traveled with them a few years ago. One big plus is that sailing with them is truly a French experience (announcements first in French, then in English), and the vast majority of passengers are French, as is the culture of the ship, including the food and wines (all inclusive, including Veuve Cliquot pour).

Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society Performing at the Palazzo Beneventano, Syracuse, Sicily

Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society Performing at the Palazzo Beneventano, Syracuse, Sicily

The Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, whose cruises I have enjoyed a couple of times in the past on another line, is now working with Ponant, and so far two itineraries are scheduled. http://www.chambermusicsociety.org/support/2016_cruises

I do not know what their normal single supplement is, because my voyage was on a 0% single supplement sailing. Entertainment was really poor, unless you like unending variations (with little synthesizers!!!) of “Stwainjairs in the Nide.” Of course, that would be completely mitigated by access to world class chamber music.

Seabourn

Tip top, no question about it, Seabourn is an example of “you get what you pay for.” But, in my opinion, the price/quality difference with Crystal or Ponant is barely worth it, even before the 100% single supplement.

Seabourn Caviar in the Sea

Seabourn Caviar in the Sea

Other than the caviar, their food/wine (I forget what Champagne, but it was a top one) was not significantly better than Crystal’s or Ponant’s, nor were their wines. Entertainment was OK, nothing special. If they fix the single supplement, I would consider them in the future if they offer an itinerary not available on one of the other lines.

Lindblad/National Geographic

Food and service are very, very good, but in a different class entirely from the above mentioned three, and it is not all inclusive. Cabins are not fancy. But, the drawing card, and what drives their high costs, is their exotic locations and teams of scientists and photographers on board, not to mention enough zodiacs so that all passengers can get off at every spot. The “entertainment” is daily debriefings and lectures. I have traveled with them three times: Antarctica, Alaska, and Columbia River.

Lindblad Walking Among the Penguins, Aitcho Island, Antarctica

Lindblad Walking Among the Penguins, Aitcho Island, Antarctica

This is the only company I would recommend for Antarctica, where being on an ice breaker ship, sailed by a captain who plies the Southernmost and Northernmost waters most of the year, puts safety in the forefront. Plus the experience includes actually walking among the penguins and kayaking among the icebergs, versus drive-by photo ops.

Silversea

Nothing to say yet about Silversea, which I am sailing later this year. It is reputedly on a parallel with Crystal, perhaps a little more formal and fancier cabins (“Every room has a walk in closet!” exclaimed one high maintenance fan), and they are solo-friendly with Host Ambassadors and a reasonable single supplement, at least on this itinerary. I am expecting excellence, so stay tuned!

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