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Food, wine, and things culinary.

Espresso with Elephants

Espresso Anywhere

Shut up and take my money, Handpresso, maker of portable espresso machines.

To be honest, you had me at “Hand” but then you really nailed it with the “presso” part. How did you know I was the perfect person to which to send that press release this morning?

At any rate, I can’t wait to use you:

Before elephants trample me.

Espresso with Elephants

Or while I’m paragliding in Austria.

Paragliding with espresso

Come to think of it, I may not be worldly enough to buy your portable espresso sets. But I do like the idea of being able to have a cup of espresso anywhere, anytime. Good luck!

Here’s the Official Black-Eyed Susan Recipe For the 2013 Preakness Stakes

2013 Black-Eyed Susan Recipe

The Black-Eyed Susan is hardly as elegant as the Kentucky Derby’s Mint Julep. But, it sounds tasty enough.

The weird thing about the Black-Eyed Susan is that there are so many variations on how to make it. Sometimes it’s made with vodka, sometimes with whiskey. This recipe calls for both vodka and whiskey and Baltimore Business Journal lists five different recipes for the cocktail, all with shots of two different liquors, usually rum and vodka. It’s confusing, but you probably won’t care after a few sips.

The Black-Eyed Susan | The Official Drink Of The Preakness | 2013 Preakness

My Culinary Tour of Montreal

The Montreal Bagel
One of many Montreal morsels: the famous Montreal bagel from Fairmount Bagels

There are some travel destinations you visit for the sightseeing and some you visit simply for relaxation. Montreal falls into the latter category specifically as a city where you can relax, recharge, and tuck into some of the best food this side of the Atlantic.

I had always heard about Montreal’s culinary traditions: France-centric with a dose of new immigrant authenticity. But I had no idea just how serious the dining scene was there. As I walked or biked the Boulevard Saint-Laurent – the main north/south boulevard – or ducked down its side streets, I saw countless cafĂ©s, delis, bistros, bakeries, banh mi sandwich shops, and markets, all of them seemingly packed – even on a Wednesday. My unscientific assessment was that there were approximately 3 eateries per capita in Montreal, about 85% of which looked worth visiting.

My trip to Montreal was short – just two nights – but my husband and I made the most of the trip by making every meal count. Following is a recap of my fantastic food finds of Montreal. I recommend you visit this city immediately – especially before winter sets in! – and try a foodie tour of your own.

Before I start, let me say that Foursquare was an awesome way for me to keep up with the places I visited while in Montreal (not to mention a fine way of remembering where I went when I finally sat down to write this article). Throughout this piece, I am going to link to the venues I went to on Foursquare so readers can view the sites on a map, tips, and more. You can also click on the Add to My Foursquare Button after each listing so you can add it to your own Foursquare to-do list. Give it a try!

Night 1

Café des Eclusiers

It’s important to whet your appetite before 48 hours of eating, so the first stop on our first evening was this slick, quayside outdoor bar just below the main streets of Vieux Montreal. An outdoor bar, you say? Indeed, it was the end of August and Montreal was just as hot and sticky as Washington, DC. CafĂ© des Eclusiers seemed to attract an equal amount of beautiful people and yipsters (yuppie hipsters – yep, I just made that up), but it didn’t seem to be particularly pretentious. Drinks were good, too. I ordered from the sangria menu.


One of the reasons you go to Montreal is to have that “I’m in France, but not really” experience. So, you have to go to a French bistro-style establishment. We chose L’Express, a busy, buzzy place in the Plateau district and it was everything I could hope for and more: tiled floor; cherry wood bar; knowledgeable, attentive waiters and barmen who could have been straight out of the Marais; a din of clinking plates and happy conversations; a perfectly edited menu of bistro classics and seasonal dishes; and a wine list a mile long (though wine is pricey in Canada, unfortunately). I had the celery remoulade, the onglet de boeuf with frites, and a glass of syrah. Perfection.

Day 1

Fairmount Bagels

New Yorkers think they’re the only ones who can make good bagels, but I beg to differ. Our breakfast destination was Fairmount Bagels to pick up a fresh, hot, chewy Montreal-style bagel (see main photo above). Apparently the bagels are boiled in a honey water which lends them a slight sweetness. I found them to be an ideal hybrid between New York bagels and Turkish simits (which also have a sweetness, thanks to pekmez). Line up in the cramped store to get fresh bagels (of several varieties) or packaged bagels to take back home. There’s no eating inside, but the few cafĂ©s on the street were fine with us eating our bagels there – as long as we drank their coffee.

Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

Smoked Meat Sandwich at Schwartz's Deli Montreal
Smoked Meat Sandwich at Schwartz's Deli Montreal

The lure of the smoked meat sandwich determined our lunch plans and the place to go was world-famous Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Deli, an institution right on Boulevard St. Laurent. We hit Schwartz’s around 2pm to avoid the lunch rush and still had to stand in line about 20 minutes. While waiting, we were able to check out dozens of slabs of smoked meat in the window, which was kind of like an overflow holding area for the kitchen.

The line moved pretty fast and we were shown two stools at the bar. We ordered. Then, about five minutes later, a guy plopped down two regular smoked meat sandwiches, fries (one plate is enough for two), and a fat pickle, which we also shared. In case you’re wondering what smoked meat is, it kind of reminded me of brisket crossed with corned beef. I’m not sure. But it was great smothered in mustard.

Working it Off

Our food jaunts around Montreal were made easier – and healthier – thanks to Bixi, a bike-share program. There are Bixi stands all around the city. Pay just $5 Canadian and you can have a bike for 24 hours. Swipe your credit card to get the code. The database remembers your information, so you can pick up and drop off a bike multiple times within a 24-hour period. We coasted down Boulevard Saint-Laurent on our bikes, all the way downtown to our hotel, where we could cool off and dress up before dinner.

Night 2

Terrasse Nelligan

Drinks before dinner on the rooftop bar of Hotel Nelligan, one of the most talked-about boutique hotels in town which was unfortunately a bit too pricey for our budget. But the drinks were strong and delicious, and we enjoyed a lovely view of the sun setting behind the high rises of downtown.


All that meat we had had in the previous 24 hours had been great, but our palates were craving something exotic and spicy. While I was advocating we go to Les Pyrenees, a good-looking Basque eatery (get it? We were in Quebec, another province with dreams of Independence), we ended up at Gandhi. Here was some of the best Indian food I had had since returning from there a few years ago. Sophisticated and bright flavors, not heavy like your typical Indian meal. Framed food section articles in the dining room signaled to us that this was a beloved alternative to Montreal’s typical carnivore menu.

Day 2

Caffe Italia

Our final morning was spent in Little Italy, which is also the location of the wonderful Marché Jean-Talon (more about this below). We stopped for breakfast in the originally named Caffe Italia, which looked from the street like a mob hangout. In fact, it was open, friendly, and served a delicious cappuccino and brioche with nutella. What else do you need to start your day?

Marché Jean-Talon

Our last stop before leaving Montreal was the great outdoor food market Marché Jean-Talon. There was a beautiful bounty of Quebec-grown produce as well as shops and stands lining the outside of the market that sold meat, fish, cheese, pastries. (See the slideshow below.) There was even a nice cookbook shop near the entrance. We may or may not have stocked up on contraband.

Tech tip: As part of the Ile Sans Fils hotspot network, MarchĂ© Jean-Talon has free wifi! But the wifi requires a username and password. I recommend you signing up for MarchĂ© Jean-Talon’s free wifi service before you go to Montreal so you don’t have to spend time doing it once you get there.

Review: Vinturi Wine Aerator

Vinturi Wine Aerator
I am not a wine expert. I’ve never been a sommelier and I have a rather rudimentary understanding of wine grapes, varietals, bouquets, and all the other vocabulary that goes with being a connoisseur du vin.

So it was with great surprise when the PR company behind the Vinturi Wine Aerator contacted me about reviewing their product. Perhaps they were scouring my Facebook page, on which I list my favorite quote, “What I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others.” Or maybe they saw my #winewednesday (or, more obscure, #malbecmonday) tweets on Twitter. For sure, I’m a wine lover. But I’m hardly a high profile wine writer. Heck, I’m not even a high profile travel writer.

At any rate, I was skeptical about the Vinturi. My kitchen cabinets and drawers are full of random wine accessories that I’ve acquired via “Secret Santa” gift exchanges or ones I’ve purchased myself. And I’ve never found myself using any of them but the trusty wine key I bought at a roadside enoteca in Tuscany.

Not only do I have a lot of failed wine products in my house, but I also tend to have only cheap bottles of wine at home. I can’t say I’ve ever spent more than $15 on a bottle of wine at the store and I prefer bottles that are $10 or less. When you’re a freelance writer who enjoys drinking wine as much as I do, you kind of have to go with the cheap stuff. That’s not to say that there aren’t tons of delicious, drinkable wines at that price point. My favorite inexpensive bottles are Syrahs, Malbecs, and Vinho Verdes. But I’m definitely not and never will be Robert Parker. While I’d love to keep a cellar of wines rated “90” and above, that’s just not where I’m at financially. What’s more, it’s very common in my Italian-American household to have a bottle or two of homemade vino.

Nevertheless, I set about in earnest to use and review the Vinturi wine aerator. And here’s what I discovered:

  • The Vinturi is made of heavy-duty, clear plastic, with a rubberized neck and a rubber stand (for storage).
  • It also has a small filter that fits over the top. The filter is super handy when you’re drinking homemade wine – no more sediment!
  • You have to hold the aerator over your glass while you’re pouring the wine. I found this very awkward. Vinturi would do better to add some small flaps to the side that you can pop up and fit on your glass. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend using these if you’re using fine crystal because of potential breakage. (On a side note, there are bigger stand models that you can purchase for about twice the price as the compact model. Check out the Vinturi shop or Brookstone online or in your local mall.)
  • Vinturi makes wine aerators for red and white wines. The company gave me both models to try out, but I really couldn’t tell the difference.
  • The aerator also comes with its own little velvet travel pouch that looks quite obscene if you carry it around with you…kind of like the kind of gift you’d get at a bachelorette party.

I sampled the Vinturi with a bottle of Farnese Montepulciano (a red), not my usual cheap bottle of wine – but even cheaper. I tasted the wine before Vinturi: not bad, drinkable, kind of a singular flavor. Then, I maneuvered the Vinturi over another glass and gave a pour. The wine went through with a gurgle, passing over the small air hole that is drilled through the aerator and into the glass. I gave the second glass of wine a try…and Vinturi really did make a difference. My cheap Montepulciano suddenly had a bit of complexity. It was rounder in the mouth and more of a pleasure to drink. I am a skeptic convinced.

While I have only used the wine aerator a couple of times since I first sampled it, I would recommend it to people who have an interest in wine. The Vinturi makes bad wine drinkable and good wine even better. In fact, the Vinturi is exactly the kind of accessory a wino like me needs.

Perfect Summer Salad

My staple during this hot Turkish summer has been kisir, what some call Turkish Tabbouleh. It’s not really a salad, but it makes the perfect cold side for stuffed peppers or karniyarik (another Turkish dish I’m making a lot lately).

I learned this recipe from my maid, but you can also find a perfectly good version in Claudia Roden’s Arabesque. Her book shows kisir served in traditionally in lettuce leaves, but you can easily leave it in a bowl if you feel like skipping the presentation. Read more

Beypazari and the Food of Anatolia

Last weekend we went to Beypazar?, a small village an hour and a half by bus from Ankara. Located on the old “Istanbul to Baghdad route,” Beypazar? has been inhabitated by various tribes and peoples, including the Seljuks, who left behind a 12C mosque, and the Ottomans, whose “konak” houses dot the town’s hillside. Beypazar? is known for its silver, especially filigree work, and is responsible for 60% of Turkey’s carrot (havuç) production.

Beypazar?, whose name translates roughly as “gentleman’s market,” struck me as a typical Anatolian village. Off the hot, dusty (but tidy) cobbled streets, old men huddled, drank tea, and played backgammon. A majority of the native women covered their hair with broad, patterned silk scarves that fell to about waist-length. Meanwhile, during the festival, young men wearing finger cymbals danced two-by-two to music that was part Turkish flute (ney) and part techno drumbeat. Near the town’s Ottoman MĂĽze, what appeared to be a high school woodwind quartet played the requisite “Rondo alla Turca” from Mozart’s Sonata No. 11.

While more cosmopolitan parts of Turkey, such as Istanbul, like to play up their historical and geographical connection to mainland Europe, Anatolia looks to its pan-Turkish heritage. And, Beypazar? being the Turkish heartland, it wasn’t a surprise to find a large mosaic map in one town square which highlighted the “Turkic” areas of the world: Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaristan (Bulgaria), Turkmenistan, Uighur Mongolia, etc. Groups of beautiful, dark-haired, light-eyed girls wore the traditional costumes from these regions.

But back to the food. Those famous carrots were a central theme at the Beypazar? Festival. Multiple vendors offered bottles of fresh carrot juice, while others sold carrot helva. Further along, there were stands overflowing with dried fruits (including incredibly sweet sun-dried tomatoes) and nuts, packages of grape leaf dolmas and walnut baklava, and ayran, a yogurt drink not unlike a lassi. We stopped at a döner kebap stand and later watched village women rolling out and cooking gözleme (a bit like a pancake) filled with a hard, white cheese (beyaz peynir) and parsley (maydonoz). Beypazar?’s classic dish, which we didn’t get a chance to taste, is a casserole of lamb, rice, eggplant and earthy, easily attainable ingredients. The village also makes good use of a copious amount of walnuts by preserving them in a “walnut sausage,” a confection that looks exactly like the meat product but is flavored with nuts and sweetened with grape jelly. In addition to ayran and carrot juice, Beypazar? residents wash down their meals with mineral waters from the InözĂĽ Valley.

Only an hour and a half from Ankara, Beypazar? is probably a sleepy town for 364 days per year. But it still merits a visit for its lovely Ottoman houses, gorgeous silver, and honest food. And even though the village is not quite on the tourist route, it has a surprisingly sophisticated, English-language website, helpful for planning a daytrip.