Category Archives: Restaurants

In Pursuit of the Smokey Margarita…


I spent the month of July and part of August in Oaxaca – it was an amazing opportunity.  I was awarded a fellowship to the NEH Summer Institute for Teachers there, where we studied Mesoamerican Cultures in History.  While we were there, we were educated on the production of mezcal, and even visited a mezcal distillery run by Beneva called Rancho Zapata.  The waiters there were kind enough to pass out free samples.  As were all of the pretty girls who ran the tasting rooms on the streets of Oaxaca.

The main difference between tequila and mezcal is the type of agave used, and the process for distillation.  The main characteristic, I think, for mezcal is that the agave is roasted before it’s fermented.  Here is a cute little video that leans a bit in the favor of mezcal…

Anyhoo… When I returned to Atlanta, I was happy to see that at my favorite restaurant – El Agavero Cantina – there was a drink offered called the Smokey Margarita.  It was actually a happy accident that I got to taste it.  My friend who arrived early had ordered it and did not like it.  She mentioned that it had mezcal in it.  So, I traded my margarita for hers.  Every since then, I have ordered it when I dine there.

Of course, I started wondering just what made it smokey.  Sure, mezcal has a smokey taste, but not that smokey.  So… to the internet!!!

In my search for the terms “smokey” and “margarita” – this is what I got:

A recipe by Bobby Flay for the Food Network:

  • 2 ounces tequila (recommended: El Tesoro)
  • 1-ounce Triple Sec
  • 1-ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon simple syrup
  • Ice cubes
  • 1/2-ounce mezcal (recommended: Del Maguey “Chichicapa” Single Village Mezcal)

Place tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker and shake until combined. Serve over ice in a rocks glass and pour mezcal on top; do not stir the mezcal into the drink, as it should “float” on top.

It was kicked up a notch by this reviewer: ” The mescal really adds some nice flavor. Took it one step further and picked up some smoked salt at whole foods to rim the glass and all I can say is that is one fantastic margarita smokey goodness.”

Here is another from the blog Daddy-O’s Martinis:

Build over ice in a double old fashioned glass.
1 oz metl silver mezcal
1/2 oz metl silver tequila
1/2 oz grand marnier
1/1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz agave nectar

Place the bottom of a cocktail shaker upside down to cover the old fashion glass and shake vigorously. Reserve drink in tin and salt rim of glass, pour back into the same glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

This one from Mission: Margarita – it is similar to Bobby Flay’s recipe.

Here is one that uses smoked paprika to add flavor:

Ingredients For 2 Cocktails

  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon
    smoked paprika,* divided
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 ounces tequila


  1. Mix sea salt and 1 tablespoon of the smoked paprika on a small plate. Wet outside rims of margarita or other beverage glasses with lime wedge. Dip glasses into sea salt mixture to coat.
  2. Fill cocktail shaker with 2 cups of ice. Add lime juice, agave nectar, tequila and remaining 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika; shake until well mixed and chilled. Immediately pour into prepared glasses.

*The regular paprika you have in the spice cabinet is probably sweet paprika. Spanish smoked paprika is a special kind, smoked over oak fires so it takes on a smoky flavor. In Hungary, there are six classes, or types, of paprika ranging from delicate to hot. In order to achieve the flavors of this recipe, you’ll need to use Spanish smoked paprika.

But this recipe – Carlyle’s Smoky Margarita (notice the smoky instead of smokey?) – gave me some real ideas:

1.75 oz Herradura reposado tequila
.5 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz lapsang souchong syrup

Shake over ice and serve on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass.

Here’s his note about the lapsang souchong syrup:

Lapsang souchong is a delicious Chinese black tea dried over burning pine wood. This distinctive process gives it a strong smoky aroma that lends itself well to use in cocktails. To make the syrup, simply brew hot lapsang souchong and mix with an equal volume of sugar.

So, I’ve been working with smokey things:  dried ancho chiles soaked in hot water, powdered chipotle chiles and ancho chiles, paprika (not the smoked kind, though), and I even a couple of packets of All Night Samba Yerba Mate tea I had in the pantry.  And, yes, I mixed them all together.  It wasn’t bad.

Now, so far, the only variety of Mezcal I have been able to find is Monte Alban.  It’s not bad, but I was just curious as to whether or not there was a smokier brand.

But, lucky for me, I live near downtown Norcross, home of a great shop called Taste of Britain.  And what do the British LOVE?  Tea!!!  Strong, black tea.  So, I stopped by and bought a large box of Taylor’s of Harrogate Lapsang Souchong tea bags.  And, boy are they smokey…

At the moment, this is my recipe:

1 part tequila (Jose Cuervo Traditional)

1/2 to 3/4  part Patron Citronge (or orange liqueur)

2 parts sour mix (I am using 1 part Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix and 1 part Sinless Margarita Mix at the moment)

1/2 to 1 part strong tea mix*

agave nectar to taste

*I am still tweaking the mix.  More on that later…




Two great meals in the Oaxaca area


Yesterday, as part of our “Arts and Crafts Week” here at the NEH Summer Institute on Mesoamerican Culture, we went to the town of Teotitlan del Valle.  There, Lynn Stevens, a distinguished professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies who lived and studied the weavers in Teotitlan.  She even learned how to speak Zapotec while she lived there!  Just for our visit, the family she lived with gathered and made a big lunch for us at their compound.

One of the things we did while we were there was to go out into the milpa, the cornfield.  There, corn (maize), beans and squash are grown at the same time (I had thought they were rotated by season or year).   The corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb on, and the squash is planted between the rows to keep the ground covered and the weeds out.  While we were out there, one of the men pulled up a weed and told me to taste it.  He said that this weed was going to be a part of the soup we were going to eat shortly.

Here is a milpa

We went back to the compound, where we were given a demonstration of dying wool using natural colorings.  Then, we sat down to long tables and prepared to eat.  It is a tradition to toast the meal with mezcal shots, and we also had agua de jamaica (hibiscus flower drink) to drink.  As promised, the soup was served to us first.

I found out later that the herb used in the soup was called chepil (or chipil) and it was very good.  Here is the info on it from a website on Mexican culinary herbs:

Chepil or chipil crotalaria longirostrata:  An important ingredient in Oaxacan cooking, probably because of its drought resistance, the tiny leaves are tucked into the famous tamales de chepil and their green bean-like flavor adds a delicious touch to white rice.

The sopa de chepil was served with squash blossom quesadillas made with freshly made tortillas.  The soup itself seemed to be a broth (chicken?) with chilis and corn masa.  There was cut up squash and chepil leaves in the soup as well.  I thought it was great.

chepil in the wild

Following the soup was chicken in mole negro, accompanied by white rice.  The mole sauce was great and I ate all of mine.  Dessert was a strange regional dish called nicuatole.  It’s basically, in the words of a colleague, “corn jello”.  I had a version at one of the local restaurants that had a very smoky taste, but apparently this is not usual.  The nicuatole served in Teotitlan del Valle was made from blue corn and had a thin layer of red dye on the top (the dye came from cochineal beetles – the same red dye used to color the wool for the rugs.)

The next day, we had a very interesting talk on corn by Marietta Bernstorff of the MAMAZ (Mujeres Artistas y el Maíz) Collective.  She had gotten together a group of women artists who have made art related to corn and its importance in the cycle of life.  There is a wide variety of artwork in their shows, including photography, collage, installations and multi-media works.  They are very concerned in protecting the traditional varieties of corn indigenous to Mexico.

Nicuatole, or "corn jello"

Then, we went to Itanoní, a restaurant in Oaxaca City that specializes in native corn from the Oaxaca area.  We had a tasting menu that consisted of: quesadillas made with blue or white corn, memelas with beans and queso fresco, and chalupas.  Next time I go, I will need to try their agua fresca made with lime juice and mint (or the one with lime juice and parsley…).

Monte Alban and Mezcal, tour day part one


Yesterday (Tuesday) was a field trip day.  The NEH fellows met at the corner of Constitucion and Reforma and boarded a large University bus with a very stoic bus driver with sideburns.  We made our way around the top of the valley to the archaeological zone of Monte Alban.  I had been there once before with my husband and father (in 2003), but this was a little different.

For one thing, we were accompanied by the foremost expert on Mixtec culture and history, Dr. Ronald Spores.  He would periodically stand up on the bus and point out places in the distance, usually covered by urban sprawl, that were Zapotec or Mixtec sites.  He maintains that the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca state never “died”, but are alive and well up until the present.

We got down at the entrance to Monte Alban, where we were met by family members who came on a separate bus.  My husband and nephew were there – my husband taking pictures, of course.  My nephew, who is into geocaching, was volunteered by me to operate a GPS donated to the Virtual Oaxaca Project.  The idea was to map the exact locations of the major buildings at the site so that it can be recreated in a virtual world, probably on Second Life.

To that end, I walked around with a notebook and pen, and each time Robert (my nephew) plotted the coordinates of a major temple or the ball court, or anything major, I wrote down the name of the place and its coordinates (latitude and longitude).  It ended up being quicker to just do the last digit, the “seconds” because the degrees and the minutes did not change.

Let me tell you that we went to EVERY tomb, edifice, pile of rocks, etc. that there was at Monte Alban.  The only place I did not go was to the top of the South Pyramid.  My nephew, of course, trotted up and down that twice, measuring coordinates at the base of the steps and at the top of the structure.

I stayed at the bottom and tried to sketch a hieroglyph that looked a bit like Donald Duck – I don’t know what was up with the bill… Maybe it was a visor.  While I was sketching that, the husband of a co-participant (David Geer) was sketching me!

Can you tell it's me?

After we left Monte Alban, we were heading for Mitla.  First, we planned on stopping at a restaurant and mezcal distillery for lunch.  Alas, we has an adventurous side-track because the highway was blocked – we think it was some kind of protest.  Our bus driver said he knew a “short cut”. and turned off onto a dirt road.  A one-track dirt road.  With cars going in both directions as they made their way around the blockade.  Did I mention that we were in a tour bus?  He got through just fine, but boy, were we ready for some mezcal tasting when it was done!!!

Rancho Zapata was the name of the restaurant/showroom and it is one of those destination restaurants for families to come to for the weekend.  They bring their kids with them (there’s a playground), have a leisurely lunch on the covered patio, and buy a little mezcal.  The place is operated by Mezcal Benevá, and they also raise race horses there.  There are stables in the back.

The front of the restaurant is decorated with old pictures of Emilio Zapata, and the back room has starting gate and finish line photos of their winning horses.  In the back is also a palenque or press for getting the juice out of the maguey roots.  There are vats with maguey in several states of fermentation, and a big murky tub feeding liquid into the distillers.  From there, the mezcal drips into big plastic tanks to be bottled later, I guess.

Now, the one thing I learned about this whole process is that there are a LOT of flies.  Flies on the growing maguey plants, flies on the pulverized core, flies on the vats of fermenting pulp, and flies over the murky tub.  The one source of comfort is that that stuff is boiled, distilled and stored in a fly-proof tank.  Did you know that some mezcals (not all) have an maguey worm in them?  They should really put a fly in there!

More later!  I have another long day in a bus tomorrow and I’ve got to get to bed.

Tlayudas in Atlanta


This summer, I will be going to Oaxaca. I am excited about all of the new and different things I might eat.  Last time I was there – 7 years ago – I sampled huitlacoche (corn fungus) and chapulines (roasted grasshoppers).  They were okay…  The chapulines were served with tortillas and guacamole.  Alas, my guacamole ran out before I finished my grasshoppers and I am afraid I left some in my bowl.  I don’t remember exactly how the huitlacoche was served, but I think it might have been canned – it was pretty much black liquid…  One thing I DO remember is that my father and my husband did not try them.

Since then, I have learned of tlayudasTlayudas, (from Wikipedia) sometimes erroneously spelled Clayudas, are a part of Mexican cuisine, consisting of a big, crunchy tortilla  covered with a spread of refried beans, asiento (unrefined pork lard), lettuce or cabbage, chapulines (grasshoppers), meat (usually shredded chicken, beef tenderloin or pork), Oaxaca cheese or other cheese, and salsa. They are a popular antojito  (snack food) originating in Oaxaca, particularly around Oaxaca City, and are also available throughout larger Mexican cities, such as Mexico City, Puebla, or Guadalajara.

The restaurant I have been eyeing to try the tlayuda is about a 50 minute drive south of the airport in Jonesboro.  It’s called Taqueria La Oaxaquena. There are all sorts of rave reviews on it.  The second location I had read about was Cafeteria La Oaxaquena, which is much closer – in Smyrna.  It didn’t have the outstanding press of TLO, however.

When I mentioned these places to my husband, he said that he felt like he could wait until we got to Oaxaca to try Oaxacan food.  Well, that’s no fun!!!!  I also stressed to him that the tlayuda, also called a Oaxacan pizza, was made on a huge gluten-free crust of corn masa. (my husband is intolerant of wheat gluten and rarely eats real pizzas any more, unless they are made by a woman named Amy…)

On my way home last night I took the Buford Highway route.  Buford Highway is the “corridor of diversity” in our part of Atlanta, and foods of all nations can be found there.  As I was moving along slowly in traffic, the sign for Don Cabrito caught my eye.  Below the title it said “taqueria oaxaquena”.  I stopped and looked at it and decided to try it out.  Anyplace that served barbequed goat is my kind of place.

Tonight, while my husband was at choir practice, I decided to give it a try.  I was kind of skeptical, because in my earlier drive-by, the restaurant windows were decorated with the words “taqueria estilo guerrero y michoacan”.  Where was the Oaxaca?

My answer came when I walked in – posters everywhere of Oaxaca: the Guelaguetza, panoramic view of the zocalo, the whole thing was decorated Oaxaca-style.  And, sure enough, right there on the menu, were tlayudas.  The place is pretty good-sized, but I was the only customer, and there was only one waitress and one cook.  I ordered my tlayuda with goat – which is not traditional, but I had to have goat…

When it came out, it did not look like the tlayudas in pictures I had seen, which were served open-faced.  This one was folded over like a gigantic crepe – I mean GIGANTIC.  It must have been about 18 inches in diameter and was cut in half and served with a variety of sauces.  I tried a bite of the tortilla, and it was tough as leather.  I really did give it a good try, but ended up asking for some fresh corn tortillas to scoop up the big glops of melted cheese and goat (mixed with a little bit of beans and cabbage).  Then I ate that bit taco-style.

I packed up the rest to take home and when I got there, I peeled off the perishables (onion, avocado, and tomato) and stuffed the filling only in a storage container.  I fed a bit of the tortilla to my puppydog, then threw the rest away.

When I sat down to write this post, I did a little bit of research on the structure of the tlayuda and see that it can also be served folded over, so it’s not like they were doing it “wrong”.  I think that the masa dough was just overcooked or tough.  One of the articles I read said that some tlayuda stands make the tortillas ahead of time and then reheat them.  Maybe that was it.

I am willing to give it another chance.  At least the goat was good!

Aguas Frescas – other than Horchata


My first experience with trying to make aguas frescas was in the interest of my Spanish Exploratory class –  I developed this day where we ate “Crazy Mexican Sweets.”  The Klass mixes were the first I tried and it was horchata.  First thing I learned after mixing it in a bottle was that sugar MUST be added.  I had some Mexican children in Spanish Exploratory (which cannot be avoided in the scheduling world) and someone politely tasted it and shared that info with me.

So, yes, there are mixes for aguas frescas that are little more that Kool Aid.  Here is a link so you can see all of the Klass mixes.  I think that the tamarindo and jamaica are passable, but skip the limon – it is very VERY acidic.

Next on the  list are bottled aguas frescas – which are a pretty good substitute if you don’t want to take the time to make them yourself.  They are also good to bring to a tasting – for example, if your Spanish students wanted to have a food day.  Bonadea Drinks offers 11 flavors, including pepino (cucumber?) and has very clean, slick packaging.  It is sweetened with agave for you health nuts out there.  Morela Aguas Frescas has many flavors as well.  Cañita  Brands offers only jamaica and tamarindo.  Even Kern’s Nectars is getting into the act with jamaica (full of antioxidants!), tamarindo and limon.

Okay, if you don’t know what an agua fresca is, it’s basically a drink made of pureed fruit, sugar and water.  The mixture is blended together and strained to make a refreshing beverage.  For further enlightenment, here is a Los Angeles Times article on aguas frescas – and another from the L. A. Times on where to find freshly made ones.  Apparently, they take their A.F. (aguas frescas)  seriously in L. A.

Here is a Guide to Mexican Fruits from  This is for your reference.  After you have read all of the enticing and creative recipes here, you may want to personalize your own fruit!  To get you started, here is a Basic Agua Fresca Recipe with variations.  Here is another page with the basics – they call them Mexican Coolers.

What follows is basically a collection of recipes and variations I have found on the internet through hours of research…

While I was researching, I came across Rachel Laudan’s blog.  She has a lot of posts about exotic foods, but if you click on her Aguas Frescas tag, you can find several unusual drink recipes.  Here is one for Agua de Viernes de Dolores which I think is colored from beet root but it has all sorts of fruit and even shredded iceberg lettuce in it!  Another unusual agua is made with Apricot Leather – it actually has Middle Eastern provenance.

Finally, I did an search to see if anyone had a book out yet on aguas frescas.  I found Cool Waters: Refreshing Homemade Thirst Quenchers by Brian Preston-Campbell – This looks like a really good book with recipes for flavored waters and ice cubes.

P.S. – I did find an interesting variation on Horchata from a restaurant called Guelaguetza in Los Angeles.  It has chopped prickly pear fruit (tuna) and pecans (nueces) on top.  Yum!

Aguas Frescas: Horchata, Pt. 2 (Rated R…)

The Smoked Horchata

The Smoked Horchata

Now, let’s talk horchata and alcohol. I found a couple of interesting general articles on using horchata as a mixer.  Of course, there’s the great Squirrel Horchata recipe at Chowhound. But here are some excerpts from a Horchata Cocktails Article on

“Traditionally, forward-thinking citizens have spiked horchata with rum, Cointreau, Grand Marnier or brandy, but finding formalized cocktails has been rare (in California, some Latino bars apparently make a “Rice Rocket,” a potent mix of horchata, coconut-flavored rum and Goldschlager).”

Note:  I was just thinking about the “bling” factor of a liqueur with tiny pieces of gold floating in it, but I just read that Goldschlager has a cinnamon flavor.  That would make it more appropriate than I thought for a horchata drink.

and this (most intriguing):

“At the creative cocktail den Death & Company, you can pick up the very complicated “Smoked Horchata” crafted by bartender Joaquin Simo. The recipe involves reposado tequila, crema de mezcal, cinnamon bark syrup, house-made horchata (crafted with toasted coconut flakes and almond flour) and a dash of bitters. The resulting cocktail is dense but crisp. An unexpected summer drink, like the base liquid itself, it somehow manages to restore.”

Yay!!! I found a PDF of Smoked Horchata recipe, including the easy horchata (made with rice and almond milks with coconut water) and cinnamon bark syrup (added to other drinks as well) at Tasting  It looks fascinating! Here’s another cinnamon bark syrup recipe used in a non-horchata drink from Imbibe Magazine. highly recommends a horchata drink called The Spicy Brown Girl made at Stir Lounge in Las Vegas:

“While the Horchata gives the Spicy Brown Girl its creamy consistency, the drink’s zing comes from (mixologist Niles) Peacock’s homemade Ancho chile simple syrup, a spicy mixer that leaves the palate surprisingly hot. Other ingredients: Smirnoff Vanilla Twist Vodka, dark Crème de Cacao, and Peacock’s homemade Madagascar cello, which he makes with Madagascar vanilla beans.”

I could not find a recipe for the Spicy Brown Girl on the internet, so I looked for recipes for the components of the drink.  Here is an Ancho Chile Syrup Recipe to try (scroll to the middle of the page). I could not find a recipe for “Madagascar cello”, but I assume it is vodka infused with Madagascar vanilla bean pods.  Here is a link to Marie Brizard’s Vanilla Liqueur, which I think might be an acceptable substitute.

The Rosa’s Horchata Site had five cocktail recipes using their canned or bottled ready-made horchata. Click here for the page with the recipes and here for a PDF file to download.

On other random sites, I found some other drinks recipes:

  • Here’s one for Rum-Spiked Horchata, which uses condensed milk and then rum to replace some of the water.
  • Here is a Sarah Moulton recipe for a coconut rice cooler with optional rum added.
  • The Monte Alban on is similar to the Rice Rocket, but uses tequila instead of coconut-flavored rum.
  • had the Rojo Robles,which adds coffee liqueur and raspberry vodka to the horchata, and…
  • The Reggaton, made with horchata and Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum.
  • In the middle of this article  is a recipe for Heavenly Horchata, made with tequila and Kahlua.
  • The La Palapa Horchata has vanilla vodka and amaretto added to it.
  • Horchata Macau uses just a bit of spiced almond horchata with Flor de Cana guava-infused white rum and fresh lemon.
  • the White Widow has tequila, melon liquor and horchata

I just found a fascinating article on orgeat syrups. The original orgeat syrup is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange-flower water. It was, however, originally made with a barley-almond blend. (from Wikipedia).  Here is a step by step recipe for French orgeat syrup with illustrations.

This article from RookieLibations at Blogspot seems to be playing around with derivatives based on rice-based drinks.  Check it out – there are recipes for three different types of syrup.  There is a syrup using a horchata de melon recipe, which is used in a drink called the Melon de Rosa.  There is a rice horchata syrup recipe with a pisco drink called a Fausto Cocktail.  Finally, there’s a wacky syrup based on thandai (a northern Indian concoction) with a cocktail called the Isodo Cocktail.  Very creative!

We’re at the Yurt! Dinner in Sylva…


We took it pretty easy coming up to North Carolina – left at around noon and got here at 3:40, after stopping for lunch on the way.  When we got to the business office of Sun Dog Places, Caleb, the manager, had us follow him to the pavilion on Bear Creek Lake.

He showed us how the yurt was set up and showed us around the pavilion, which is this huge outdoor living room with a fireplace on one end and a dining area on the other end.  On the buffet is a satellite television, and there is a fully stocked kitchen and two big bathrooms with all of the amenities.

Our yurt is the smaller one, and it has everything you would need – but you have to walk up a path to go to the bathroom.  We took the dog down to the lake, where there is a small peninsula out from our place – the water was clear and the place is crawling with ANTS!  I don’t know what the deal is – I have never seen so many ants in one place!

After we got settled in, we went in to Sylva, about a 3o minute drives, to get groceries.  We decided to eat out tonight and cook for the rest of the time or eat sandwiches.  We went to this little place called Guadalupe’s – it had high end fusion food with home made cheeses, etc.  I ordered the goat burger, which was great.  My husband had a little more difficult time because everything seemed to have gluten in it – the goat burgers had oatmeal.  Talk about putting the “oat” in goat!

Time for bed.  There’s A/C in the yurt, but I don’t think we will need that at night.  More later!

Trip to Houston


What can I say?  I had a great Spring Break.  Friday night, my husband and I went to see Yacht Rock at a bar in Buckhead.  Do you know how long it has been since I have been out?  Especially in Buckhead: a major meat market for 20-somethings (and maybe 30-somethings). I cannot describe the crush when we were downstairs with the unwashed masses.  Finally, we made our way upstairs to a balcony overlooking the band.  That is where all of the other “old people” were… The band was great, though.

The next day, I left on an afternoon flight to Houston to visit a friend of mine.  She has the cutest little house in the Heights – the cutest little neighborhood in Houston.  We went out to eat – left planning to go one place and ended up at another.  We tried this trendy place called Max’s Wine Dive.  What a concept: expensive glasses of wine with upscaled “dive” food: Fried chicken, hamburgers, “meat loaf”, mac ‘n’ cheese.  God, I wish I had thought of it!

On Sunday, we went out to brunch with another friend – I had requested dim sum. Instead, a new South African restaurant was suggested for brunch.  It is called Out of Africa.  I have a friend who is spending the year in Johannesburg.  I would love to visit, but I’m afraid that the airfare would be a killer.  So I will have to take my South African experiences wherever I can.  It was pretty good – I really liked the bobotee.  The terrace was the perfect brunch spot – not too hot, not too cool.

As a surprise, my friend bought me a ticket to see Les Miserables at the Theatre Under The Stars.  It was particularly meaningful because Rob Evan was playing Jean Valjean.  I used to be friends with his mother when I was teaching in Monticello, GA.  I met him before he was “my son, Rob Evan – the actor/singer” (that’s what she called him).  He was also quite an event and hunter/jumper rider.  Okay, I am pretty sure I have seen Les Miz before, but did not remember anything at all about the plot.

I did a lot of sleeping late – while my friend was out walking in the morning, I hung with her two dogs, “the Fluffies”, teaching them bad habits, like jumping on the guest bed.  Monday, we went to International Boulevard to have Mexican food.  We ate at a little taqueria (Casa de Leon), where I had tacos de birria (goat, I think).  Afterward, we stopped at an ice cream place – appropriately called La Michoacana.  I had a coconut paleta.

Does it sound like we did a lot of eating?  I’m not done.  That night, we went to Anvil Bar and Refuge.  It’s a new bar run by four hard-core former bartenders.  Everything is homemade and prepared to exacting standards.  They specialize in old school cocktails, like “the sidecar” – I didn’t want that.  After looking at the daily specials, I decided upon a drink called a “Dark and Stormy“.  It was a combination of Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, Ginger Beer (they brew their own, adding a little Thai chili for spice…), and lime.  It arrived in a beautiful squat old-fashioned glass filled to the brim with uniformly crushed ice, with a slice of lime and a straw.

I took a sip of my drink, and pondered.  My friend took a sip, and also was quiet.  Finally, we discussed what it tasted like.  My guess was an incense shop.  My friend went with “inside of my grandmother’s purse”.  Bingo.  I joke – after a while, it kind of grew on me.  My second order was a caipirinha – the cachaca was smokey, and there were perfect little clear cubes of ice.  Beautiful.  These guys cure their own olives, macerate their own cherries (my friend had one on her Metropole), and toast their own hazelnuts, I guess.  Check it out when you are in Houston!

On my last day, I went shopping on 19th Street in the morning.  It’s a lot of fun.  I spent a lot of time at Casa Ramirez, and came out with some cool stuff.  The owner is really nice, and we had a good conversation.  He is somewhat of a local expert on Mexican culture and gives talks and tours of Mexico for Day of the Dead.  I also spent a lot of time at Grace Hart and Company – a flea market-like shop with lots and lots of stalls.  It was fun.

Before I went to the airport to catch my flight, we went to Oishii – a sushi restaurant – and to Berripop, one of those new-fangled yogurt places. It was all very good and light.  It was so much fun to get out of town – I forget how big a city Houston is!  Bigger than Atlanta!  One of the best parts was that, coming back on Tuesday night, I still had five more days of vacation left to spend at home.

Stoppa da tapas!


I hate this – I have had a fabulous time here in Spain – Palafrugell was beautiful, our hosts were great, I am over my stomach illness. When we got to Barcelona, however, internet access became scarce and expensive (and even risky, according to a sign up at the internet cafe near the Subway fastfood…). So, I have not written anything since my last short entry.

What happens is – while I am having a great time, I often don’t have time to capture that. Barcelona has been fabulous – the weather is warmer and sunnier here than it is in Georgia. We have walked up and down the Rambla, seen the port and Columbus pillar, toured the Templo de la Sagrada Familia.

Last night, we went up to the Parc Guell, one of my favorite places. It is exactly as I remember it from 23 years ago, except I forgot that it was up a steep hill (thank God for the escalators they have installed for most of the way). I also forgot that you have to wander through this maze of garden paths to get to the lovely mosaics and sculptures. I had Wheat take close up pictures of many of the mosaics – I saw some postcards like that and they looked awesome.

The only thing I did not appreciate was my tapas experience. After doing some research on the internet about the best places for tapas in Barcelona, I came across two places: El Xampanyet (near the port) and Txapela (near Passeig del Gracia). I then looked at our DK Eyewitness travel guide that said the cava was cheap and the prices were great. I was happy to find it, but of course, the place was packed.

Determined to have our tapas experience, we pushed our way to the back of the bar and were thrilled to find a tiny ledge in a corner against the old wooden refrigerator. Our waiter was busy, but seemed a decent guy. He immediately took the things we had stashed on the second ledge below our ledge. He assured us that he would put them somewhere safe, and asked what we wanted. Well, we asked him to suggest something. He replied that he would bring us a little sampling of items.

So, he arrived pretty quickly with two cream-cheese stuffed cherry peppers, a plate of anchovies, a huge plate of sliced hard sausage, some ham, some tuna in olive oil, and olives, I think. This was accompanied by a plate of pan con tomate (sliced baguette with tomato innards rubbed on them – there must be one person whose job in back is to smear tomato on bread – my husband has dubbed him the “tomatador”).

This was all very well and good – and we received refills of the tomato bread when we asked for it. He then asked if we wanted cheese – sure, why not? But we finally had enough – it was very claustophobic and no one would move from their tables. We asked for the bill, declining the “cookies” offered. That took about 20 minutes to pin down. As we waited, we wondered how much two glasses of cava, two bottled waters and the above assortment would cost us. The euro is about one and 1/2 the worth of the dollar, so we wondered aloud: 15 euros? 20 euros?

The waiter returned to us with a hand-tallied bill on a small pad of paper. THIRTY FIVE EUROS!!!! That’s like, $50!!!! That was a $50 snack – because, in theory, people go from place to place eating these tidbits. We were too much in shock to argue. We did not tip, however.

That is how much it cost for a three course meal with drinks at San Miguelito, a really nice restaurant in Morelia, Mexico. That was unbelievable!!!

We went out again last night to eat seafood paella at La Barceloneta, by the port. Instantly wary, we plotted our game plan. One order of paella to SHARE, a salad to share, and sangria – water for my husband. Our bill was about $80 – we didn’t catch the “we charge for bread” scam there…

Let’s just face it – poor Americans have no business going to Europe right now. We were very fortunate when we were in Palafrugell – we had a free place to stay, and Wheat’s boss generously paid for even my dinner – he cooked half of them himself. I loved it there… And, don’t get me wrong, I love Spain – it’s just too expensive right now.

Two Days in Palafrugell


So, I am now ending my second day in Palafrugell.  The man who hired my husband to come here is a native Catalonian and couldn’t be more gracious.  So far, he has taken us out to dinner and cooked for us twice.  I told him that he can have a second career as a chef along with marketing his cutting edge video editing software.

When we arrived on Sunday night, Alejandro took us out to a local restaurant called L’Arc, where we had French onion soup and I had lovely duck in mustard sauce with french fries and zucchini.  My husband had the Hungarian goulash.  We didn’t need dessert, but Alejandro convinced us to share a local specialty called recuit, with is a sort of fromage blanc made from cow or sheep’s milk.  It was served with honey.

Last night, Alejandro made a dish that his aunt used to make for him.  It was shrimp with spinach.  He sauteed the gambas (shrimp) whole, in their shells.  After they had cooled a bit, we peeled the shrimp, saving the heads and carapaces.  I cut the shrimp in smaller pieces (if the shrimp had been smaller, he would not have sliced them) and set that aside.  Alejandro took the shrimp shells and heads, added some fish stock to it and mashed it with a wooden mortar, then took one of those lovely hand blenders and smashed it all into mush and strained out the liquid.

Then, he thawed out 6 bricks of frozen spinach and sauteed it with olive oil.  He added the shrimp liquid and simmered it for a while.  He topped it off with some cream and simmered the mixture for a while longer.  Finally, he added the shrimp pieces, serving the dish after the shrimp was warmed.  He served it alone, but it would have been great with pasta, too.

He also served us some pan con tomate, which was just sliced bread from a fresh baguette with tomato “guts” smeared on it.  He served this with anchovies in oil,  olive oil, and two artisanal hard hams.   He served more bread with tomato for the meal tonight, but added small sauteed shrimp and steamed cockle shells to the mix.

The dish tonight was made with sepia or cuttle fish.  He was going to make it last night, but the only cuttle fish available was gigantic.  Tonight, I came in a little late, but I could see that he had cleaned the cuttle fish and set aside the ink sac and the “sauce” – innards, I suppose.  He sauteed the sliced cuttle fish in olive oil and added some sliced garlic to that.  Then, he added the “sauce” and cooked the mixture some more.  He added some small steamed clams that looked like coquinas (small clams we used to find on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico) and served it all tossed with spaghetti that had been cooked in fish stock.  It was awesome!

I ate lunch today at La Girbal, a cafe and pastry shop in downtown Palafrugell – I had a flauta (nope, not a rolled taco, it’s a sandwich made from a baguette) of ham and brie with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.  It was great.  For dessert, I had two of the three tartlets I chose – the truffle and the crema catalan.  I could not eat the strawberry one, so I packed it up with one more of each of the others and brought it for dessert.  I also bought a bag of the specialty of the house, called garoines de xocolate.  I just looked up garoines and that means sea urchin.  I don’t think the candy had sea urchin in it, they just look like them.

I walked a looooong way after I dropped off those things – all the way to Calella de Palafrugell and along the sea path to Llafranc.  It must have been at least 5 miles!