Monthly Archives: August 2018

Quest for the Best : Coffee

I grew up with parents who drank tea so very rarely was coffee a part of my life, and when it came up, it was almost always of the instant variety.  When I went to college, I had a friend who loved to meet at “the diner” for coffee or our lunch would often be a piece of cheesecake at Juniors and coffee – I was lucky enough to attend college across from the iconic cheesecake restaurant’s original location.  I drank decaf at first but slowly converted to full test as my schedule allowed for less and less sleep and the caffeine became necessary.  When I entered the working world and also attended graduate school at night, I found myself drinking more than a dozen cups of coffee per day until my doctor finally told me I needed to cut back.  Since I have a tendency to do everything in extremes, I quit cold turkey.  At the time, I didn’t care for the taste of tea.

Several years later, I married someone who drank tea and I began to do the same.  While I have always preferred the taste of coffee, I continued to drink tea (with the exception of an occasional espresso after dinner) until my recent trip to Europe.  I’ve been to Europe before, but always stuck to my tea, primarily because one can get a great cup of tea there unlike in the U.S.  On this trip, I opted to drink coffee, primarily because there was a Nespresso machine in every home and hotel room we stayed.  I was hooked all over again!! #juniors #nespresso #coffee

The coffee I drank everywhere, from the Nespresso machines in friends’ homes to cups expressed from fancy machines, was so much better than anything I’ve ever had in the U.S. especially Starbucks and other chain coffee shops.  Even better than my American favorite, Stumptown Roasters in Portland Oregon.  It was smooth, flavorful, balanced; not bitter & acidic.  And thus began this quest to find the best coffee.  I drank espressos, americanos, cappuccinos, cortados and marocchinos over a course of three weeks in three countries.  My favorite style – the Cortado (2 parts espresso, 1 part steamed milk).  My favorite Cortado, or Tallat as it’s called in Catalan, was the one in the lobby cafe at the Renaissance Hotel Fira in Barcelona.  Runner up was the Marocchino (dark chocolate, espresso & a shot of milk) at Fabrique du Cafe in Limoges. #stumptown #cortado #tallat

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The Winner – Tallat at Renaissance Fira Hotel Lobby Bar

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The Runner up – Marocchino at Fabrique du Cafe in Limoges France

And all the coffees I loved along the quest……..

There’s no place like Home!!!

I awoke early on our last day in Madrid, left my son sleeping peacefully in his bed, and decided to go for a long walk before the streets filled with the hustle and bustle of a Monday morning in Madrid.  It was also our last day of vacation before leaving the next day for our journey home after this wonderful three week European adventure filled with visits with friends, amazing sites, hikes, relaxation and culinary expeditions.

A part of me is sad to leave as I have loved every minute of this experience, but there’s another part that is absolutely starving to be home. As I stopped for a quiet cafe-con-leche in the middle of my walk, I wondered why? Don’t we often wish we could be on a permanent vacation?  Would we, could we really be happy in such a state? I’m not so sure.  Because what I realized is that there is something to be said for this place called “home” which got me thinking about what that word really means and why my son and I were feeling homesick despite having a marvelous trip.  As we continued our journey home, I realized that home is much more than just a physical place, it is a state of being or a feeling. And it takes spending time away from it to truly appreciate.  The phrase “home is where the heart is” had finally made sense to me.

A cancelled flight had us stranded in Zurich, Switzerland which is one of my favorite cities in Europe and despite wanting to enjoy this added time, our hearts were simply not cooperating.  We made the best of it and had fun, but I cannot describe the joy of finally boarding the airplane, the view of the New York skyline during landing, seeing my mother’s car pull up at the airport, walking into my house and sleeping in my own bed .  A few days earlier, I had asked my mother if she would please cook some of our favorite foods when we arrived and she happily obliged.  As we sat and ate this food for dinner that evening, I truly had the sense of “Home”!!!!

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Chicken Kheema, Chapati, Cauliflower, Moong Dal & Cucumber Raita

Last Stop : Zurich – A Special Place

In closing out our European adventure, we were scheduled for a 17 hour overnight layover in Zurich Switzerland.  This was not by design, rather just the way our flight worked.  But I was excited to be back even for a short while.  Zurich is one of my favorite cities.  It is the German influenced area of Switzerland and is just a beautiful walking city with a large lake and a lively old town area called the Niederdorf.  For ease of travel, I had booked the Radisson Blu hotel in the airport for the night which is a short train ride from downtown.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), our original flight was delayed by a full day due to mechanical problems and we scored one extra day in this beautiful city.  While it meant moving to another hotel for the second night, there are many many worse problems in life and thus we opted to take full advantage of our “luck”.

So, why is Zurich so special to me?  It was my son’s first international destination when he was only five months old.  It was his first flight, first stamp on the passport, first European adventure during which he visited Germany, France, Austria and so much more.  More importantly he was clearly a true blue traveler at that young age and enjoyed the experience thoroughly.  We had returned again when he was 18 months old for another summer of travels in the region.  So, the coolest part of the two days for me were the memories of those days (seems like yesterday), of mixing formula and baby food or feeding him his first bites of cheese and sausage contrasted by sharing a beer with him on this trip while he inhaled yet another plate of wurst in all varieties.

On this trip we spent our time walking around the Niederdorf, ate gelato, drank beer near Lake Limmat, and revisited some favorite dining spots from the past trips – Zeughauskeller and Sternen Grill.  The Zeughauskeller is an old restaurant that has been in Zurich for ages and is a classic beer & wurst kind of place.  The waiters are no nonsense but friendly and have been there forever.  The sausages (wurst) here accompanied by spicy mustard (senf), potatoes and vegetables are delicious.  Washed down with a not so cold (Europeans prefer beer that is not ice cold, as do I) and life is just about perfect.  It truly was an unplanned yet perfect ending to an amazing three weeks of wonderful memories that we will hold onto forever.

Europe Day 18 – 20 : Madrid

After a full breakfast and a wonderful conversation on our taxi ride with Manuel (thankfully my broken Spanish didn’t fail me), we arrived at Barcelona Sants train station for our high speed train journey to the capital city of Spain, Madrid.  I absolutely love traveling on the trains in Europe. It is easy, affordable, comfortable, and a wonderful way to catch the scenery outside. A short three hours later our train pulled into Madrid’s Atocha station and we made our way to our hotel which was a short two block walk.

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We were quite hungry upon arrival in Madrid and decided to venture out to find some lunch.  By this point in the trip, I was facing serious competition with the World Cup tournament in trying to get my son to leave the hotel to explore or do much else.  Finding restaurants that were showing the matches became important at certain times of the day.  Wanting to eat something different after five days of Spanish food and tapas, we decided to try a well rated Turkish restaurant called Jalo on Calle de Atocha.  It’s not fancy, but they had a TV and the food was quite good.  We ordered the Burek Pachanga (vegetables and meat stuffed in a thin dough like phyllo and fried crisp) and Lahmahjun – A thin dough crust topped with ground lamb, peppers and spices. Both were delicious and we were happy to taste some different flavors while watching the football match.

Our energy replenished, we continued our first day with the walking architectural tour of the city which included some beautiful buildings, but also took us through some crowded areas in the intense heat of the afternoon which we weathered and forged on determined to visit all ten destinations on the tour.

A quick snack in a plaza on our return walk and some very welcome gelato at Illy, we returned to our hotel very tired and called it a night.

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The next two days in Madrid were spent perusing through the Museo de Prado, Museo de Reina Sofia, walking through the Parque de El Retiro and the Plaza Mayor

We also did a walking foodie tour through the city including the famous Mercado San Miguel (crowded and very touristy), and ate at some wonderful restaurants like The Spanish Farm where we found the best sangria and burrata. Other restaurants we liked were Sant Arcangelo with its fresh pastas, and Ramses with its lively outdoor atmosphere and great food.  We even enjoyed our lunch of bocaditos at Cerveceria 100 Montaditos at Madrid airport while waiting for our flight to Zurich, which would be our final destination before heading home.

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