Category Archives: Travel

The 4 C’s of Travel… And an F

We all know about the 4 C’s for diamonds, but what about your vacation– possibly a diamond in the rough; hopefully, not a lump of coal!

Some factors we should consider are Cost, Climate, Compatibility (not just you and your companion; also you and your itinerary) and Comfortable Shoes.

Add to these, the F factor: flexibility.

As I wrote last week, DH and I found ourselves in a bit of a bind. We’d committed (and pre-paid, thank-you-very-much) to 3 weeks in a small cottage in North Devon. Which might have been lovely, except:

  1.  Cottage was too remote, with no phone service or Internet
  2. Cottage was eternally damp, due to being in a microclimate
  3. Cottage was not near ANYthing, necessitating lengthy drives along perilously narrow roads with locals who knew where they were going careening towards us at breakneck speed. DH was not amused.

We came back to the cottage one day last week (when once again the TV was on the blink) and had a heart-to-heart. The upshot: “We’re miserable, let’s get the hell out of here.”

First idea, since we’re due in London on the 31st: Pick somewhere else, e.g., Somerset or Salisbury, and go there. But then, a brainstorm: Why limit ourselves, if we’re leaving early anyway?? Where haven’t we been that would be a short flight away? And voila (sorry; can’t find accent marks in my iPad!), a new plan: tomorrow we’ll head to Copenhagen for 3.5 days, somewhere neither of us has been before and it’s been on our bucket list.

So. We’ve booked the hotel, gotten opera tickets (a shared passion), and done next to no research. BUT! It can’t be worse than sitting in that dreary cottage!  Right?!?

Flexibilty! Never feel you have to stick with a hotel, destination etc. if there’s any way you can afford to make  a change.

We may still want to kill each other after a month of togetherness, but at least it will be in a new setting.

Have  lovely week! Xx, Alisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Admit It: I’m Addicted to My Devices

DH and I had a genius plan that hasn’t QUITE worked out as imagined: (Has this ever happened to you?, she asks…)  Rent a house in the English countryside for a month and use it as a home base from which to explore, so as not to eat out every meal and be able to live more like locals.

The fly in the ointment is that our cozy little cottage has no WiFi, no phone signal, and a currently non-working television.  In an emergency we could use a provided key to unlock a landline in one of the outbuildings…. Somehow, this does not inspire confidence.

As a result, we can check e-mail, bank accounts, etc. only sporadically. I like to imagine I can do without these updates, as I survived many decades before we all had cell phones and iPads, but the pathetic truth is that I’ve become used to immediate access when I need a recipe, map, random facts, or an Amazon Prime download. And I like it that way.

My parents and grandparents used to fret about the “good old days” but when I look back, I see only major improvements since my youth. For instance:

1) Flat irons. Back in the sixties, if you wanted straight hair a la Francoise Hardy or Jean Shrimpton, you literally ironed it. With an actual iron and ironing board! The alternative was to wrap your hair around a giant beer or coffee can until it dried.

2) Microwaves. What a brilliant way to reheat coffee, let alone cook a potato. I truly don’t care if radioactive waves are shortening my life as long as I can have a hot cup on demand.

3) Google. I don’t begrudge one cent of the money those gazillionaires have made. Not having to go to the library or plow through 400 volumes of the encyclopedia when I want to know something is priceless.

4) 500+ TV channels. I may only watch three of them but I have OPTIONS, dammit!

5) GPS. Maps are great, but having a cheery voice tell you when to turn left or “recalculate” is infinitely better than hearing the same information from an exasperated spouse.

What mod cons do YOU depend on?

Happy weekend, all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can one person make a drop of difference to a huge problem? Yes!

Happy weekend, everyone. I wanted to share my friend Terry’s wonderful safe water initiative with you. Thanks for reading!

Dear Cook’s Tour Readers,

A few weeks ago, you read about my incredible trip to Tanzania. Besides the amazing up-close interactions with wildlife, and the expansive, gorgeous views of the East African landscape, I told you about our visit to Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa (SWCEA) where they are working to bring clean drinking water to the local population.

Local women gathering water from a pond
In Tanzania, the fourth most populated country in sub-Saharan Africa, half the people (27 million) don’t have access to safe water.  In many cases, women and children collect water where animals drink, urinate and defecate. 

Only 34% have access to decent sanitation, something we take for granted.

Boiling, which uses expensive fuel, can increase fluoride to potentially harmful levels, and most Tanzanian families use no water treatment method at all.

Left, dirty water from a pond; right, after filtering

But there is a solution and you can help. SWCEA has developed an easy, inexpensive water filtration method and The Cook’s Tour has partnered with them and Safe Water Now (certified non-profit) to raise awareness.

I’m asking you to join me in helping to combat this problem.
Designed and created in Tanzania, one $40 filter can supply a family of six with safe water for five years.

Please consider donating to this effort because everyone deserves clean drinking water. Any amount is appreciated. And if you can’t donate, please share this blog post and/or the link below to our GoFundMe page.

Thank you.
gofundme.com/clean-water-to-the-rescue

Sourdough Made Simple

Sourdough has a reputation for being a bit tricky, so a lot of people find it intimidating. Thanks to my friend P, a fellow baking geek, I’ve been introduced to the Lahey method, which makes it super-easy to bake bread at home. I love this book!

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I’ve been experimenting with Lahey’s method for several weeks and my adapted recipe for sourdough is even simpler. It looks like a lot of steps but bear with me.

The genius part: Instead of folding/kneading your dough every few hours, you let your dough ferment overnight (18 hrs), do a second rise for 2 hrs and bake. No more being stuck in your house all day during the rising process!

STEP 1

All sourdough begins with a starter — natural yeast with a brinier flavor than the commercial yeast you find at the supermarket. Plan on 3-4 days before it’s ready to use. All you need is flour, water, air and time.

Mix equal parts water and flour in a wide mouthed container, cover it loosely so air can get to it, leave it out on your counter and wait. THAT’S IT. Really!

Once your starter is bubbly and active, try to make your dough within a few hours, before it loses potency. Thereafter, if you’re not baking regularly, dump out about 50-75% once a week, stir in equal parts water and flour, and start the process over.

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Starter is ready to use!

I encourage everyone to invest a few bucks in a kitchen scale and measure by weight rather than volume because 1) it’s easier and 2) it will guarantee consistent results. Remember, different flours have different densities so one cup of A may be slightly more or less than one cup of B.

Put your empty container on the scale, and set it to zero. Add 50g-75g whole wheat flour, 50g-75g bread (strong) flour, and 100g-150g cool water, resetting to zero after each addition. Don’t worry if you’re off by a gram or two as long as your ratio of total flour to water is roughly 1:1.

STEP 2

You’ve been patient and you now have over 100g of starter. Let’s get going.

Put a large bowl on the scale, zero it out, and add:

  • 600g flour (I like 475g bread flour +125g whole wheat or another grain)
  • 16g salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of active dry yeast (the kind you get at the grocery store)
  • 450g water
  • 107g active starter*
  • Optional: Add a generous handful of chia seeds and a tablespoon of caraway seeds, as I’ve done here.

*If this amount uses up most of your starter, replenish by adding  50g flour plus 50g water, mix well and set it aside to reactivate for a couple of days.

STEP 3

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Once you have a well mixed dough (it will be sticky; DO NOT be tempted to add more flour), loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out at room temperature overnight for 18 hours. If you do this at, say, 4 PM, your dough will be ready for the next step at 10 AM the next day.

STEP 4

18 hours later, your dough will be bubbly and will come away from the bowl in long strands – this is the developed gluten. It will be loose and sticky; don’t add more flour!

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Those strands are the gluten

Dump it onto a lightly floured counter, and form the dough into a ball by tucking the edges under – using either a dough scraper or your (lightly floured) hands.

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The dark bits are the chia and caraway seeds.

STEP 5

The traditional method is to bake your dough in a pre-heated cast iron pot.  This is an easy alternative.

Divide dough into two balls. Shape each ball into a log and put them in a perforated baguette pan. For a free form shape, place your logs (or ovals) onto a baking sheet that’s been generously dusted with cornmeal. Leave plenty of room between them.

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Lightly dust the tops with flour. Cover the pan or baking sheet with a linen or cotton dishtowel (avoid terry cloth) or plastic wrap, and let the dough rise again for 2 hours.  After 1.5 hours have elapsed, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.

STEP 6

After another half hour (the full two hours), your dough will have puffed up nicely. Spritz your hot oven with water, put the bread into the oven and lower the heat to 475 degrees F.

You can spritz again after 2-3 minutes to keep the steam going and create a crispier crust. You can also score the dough at this point to let steam escape during baking but it’s not crucial.

Bake for about 25 minutes and check your bread – it should be a rich golden color. Depending on your oven this may take another 5+ minutes.

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Left: the bottom, showing bumps from the perforated pan.

To ensure your bread is baked through, check it with a kitchen thermometer – the internal temperature of the bread should be 205-210 degrees F.

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Nice and craggy with an open crumb

Cool. Slice. Eat.

 

Traveling With Others/Business Edition

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In the rest of life you can choose your travel companions. A business trip is more of a crapshoot, some crappier than others. Do these descriptions remind you of any of your co-workers?

It’s All About Me. This person schemes ahead to make sure they get the best airline schedule/hotel room/seat assignment/you-name-it… even if they are junior to the rest of your group. WTF?

IAAMs often have menu demands that have nothing to do with food allergies or legitimate needs. “Instead of French fries I want twelve organic Zanzibar zucchini spears; ¼” thick, blackened but not burnt, no salt, just a dusting of imported turmeric.” Expect this to be sent back to the kitchen regardless.

The Road Hog. Ever had to ride with a really terrible driver who insists on doing all the driving while flipping the bird and swearing at anyone who passes him, oblivious to the gun rack on the other guy’s vehicle?

The Loudmouth. With or without alcohol, the LM manages to alienate everyone in the vicinity by screeching at the top of her lungs on a continual basis. It’s even worse if you’re traveling internationally — because we really need to reinforce that Ugly American stereotype, right?

 The Expense Account Cheat. I don’t know if people still get away with this, but I can remember several occasions when co-workers justified personal items as business “necessities”.  Like you need designer sunglasses because you left yours at home? C’mon. It’s raining.

The Dawdler. No matter how important the presentation, meeting, shoot or whatever, this individual keeps everyone else waiting. ‘Cause you’re not stressed enough already?

Rude-y, Rude-y, Rude-y. He snarls at the waitstaff, desk clerk, cab driver. You stare at the ceiling, hoping nobody will think you’re together.

Forgetful Frank (or Felicia). You gave them the list. You checked it twice. They still managed to leave a critical part of the presentation back in the office. Now it’s ten minutes ’til showtime and you are frantically texting your assistant to e-mail you the document you need before you make an utter ass of yourself.

The Leech. You have a precious few hours of downtime. Your colleague clings to you like plastic wrap. Is he timid? Lonely? An inexperienced traveler? Do you honestly give a s***?

Ethelred The Unready. They have one job to do. You have gone off to take an urgent call from your boss. You return to discover that they a) revealed the one thing they weren’t supposed to reveal, b) didn’t get the crucial shot and now the film crew has moved on to a new location, or c) agreed to an impossible timeline which forces you to backpedal  and convince everyone that the necessary delay is their own idea.

Mr./Ms. GrabAss. “Oooh, we’re out of town. Of course you want me to hit on you even though you’ve never shown the slightest interest before.” They’re THAT irresistible? Mmm, no.

Happy trails!

Saving and Spending

A fun article; hope you can access it since some Wall Street Journal pieces are behind a firewall:  https://graphics.wsj.com/image-grid/OD50Spring2018/

And one on truly excessive excess, courtesy of my dear friend and fashion maven, SH.  Would be perfect for a certain President I can think of….

https://www.retaildive.com/news/retail-therapy-the-loo-uis-vuitton-is-here-to-flush-100k-down-the-toile/521780/

Hope you’re all having a great weekend! xo, A

Traveling With Others

Traveling with another person is the ultimate blind date. Do you like to do the same things? Are they overly assertive or passive compared to you? How would they handle a stressful situation?

With luck, you find a partner, spouse or friend whose rhythms match your own. But what about a trip with another couple, your extended family, or someone you don’t know well? That’s a real litmus test.

Mostly, I’ve had wonderful experiences. A trip to London with S forged a friendship that’s lasted for decades. DH and I took a European vacation early in our relationship and learned that we were able to cope when things didn’t go as planned. And our recent visit to Charleston was successful because my friend T and I talked frankly in advance about what we all wanted – or didn’t want – to do there.

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Other trips have been a challenge. Beware of these types of travelers!

The Sloppy Drunk. I’m all for having a good time. But when my ex-husband fell into the bushes after a booze cruise and had to be dragged out by a sailor I should have saluted that red flag and called off the wedding. Live and learn.

Druggie Howser. Similar to the Sloppy Drunk, Druggie will score whatever he can, wherever he travels. An ex-beau bought weed and hashish from a complete stranger when we were in Morocco in the 70’s… did ‘ya learn nothing from the movie Midnight Express??

Sir (or Lady) Bossypants has researched every heritage site, museum, etc. within an inch of its life and is a self-styled expert on all topics relating to the places they insist on dragging you to and Will. Not. Shut. Up. About.

The Slowpoke moves at a different – dare I say, glacial – pace. Unless you are a very patient person (unlike myself) this will drive you stark staring insane.

The Obsessive Planner follows a rigid schedule. By which I mean never, ever deviates from it. You’re enjoying chatting up the owner of a local art gallery? Too bad; gotta get to the next thing on the list. NOW.

Mr. Spontaneity, on the other hand, NEVER wants to plan ahead. You might arrive in another country without a hotel reservation, as happened to a friend of mine many years ago. In high season.

The Hysteric. S*** happens. Train schedules change. Planes get grounded. Connections get missed. Places are unexpectedly closed. You do not want to travel with someone who is totally unhinged by this. Trust me.

Morning vs Night. My father was a morning person. My mother stayed up until 2 AM and slept until noon. On family trips, we had to squeeze all activities between 1:00 and 8:00 PM. Know which one you – and your traveling companions – are, and plan accordingly.

The Cheapskate. Bargain-hunter in the extreme. Will only eat street food, go to a museum on the one free day, stay at a Motel 6, or take the bus even though you risk arriving at your destination after closing.

Hey Big Spender. There are two subcategories: Ms. Moneybags (who can afford it) and Mr. Moocher (money is no object because you’re footing the bill). Watch out for anyone who has no understanding of – or respect for – your finances.

Michelin Or Bust. Michelin-starred restaurants can be terrific — unless you have a sensitive stomach or wallet. Our last Michelin meal was so rich, both DH and I tossed our (artisanal) cookies within an hour of returning to our hotel room. Next time, we’ll suggest our friends dine alone, check out the simple place around the corner and meet up for an after-dinner coffee.

The Bottom Line: Pre-Planning

  • Discuss expectations and set ground rules in advance, even if it feels awkward. Especially if you’re traveling with another couple or someone you don’t know well.
  • Be honest about how you want to spend your time. Be open to compromise unless an activity will bore or annoy you. For example, don’t go shopping just because your friend loves it if you know you’ll hate every minute. A reluctant companion is no fun for either of you!
  • Benefit from others’ expertise. Some of our friends are serious foodies and love to research the newest or best-reviewed places in town. I’m happy to let them pick the restaurants since I don’t care all that much.
  • Eating out with others? Get separate checks. You won’t feel guilty if you have that extra drink or order something more expensive.
  • Travel with people who have similar resources. If you’re on a budget, make sure you don’t get sucked into spending outside your own comfort zone. On the other hand, if you always stay in a suite you may feel resentful if you get a standard room like theirs to be “polite”.

Enjoy traveling this big, wonderful world of ours!

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