Tag Archives: travel

Old Food Is Good Food

Schimmel Yogurt 3
Yogurt from a 104-year-old yogurt culture at Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, 173 E. Houston, Manhattan, NY 10002

Don’t throw out that old food-keep it and it just might become an heirloom. Jennifer Weiss takes a look at various foods of varying ages, some edible, some not. While my accompanying video looks at at classic NY institution that uses a very old yogurt culture.

Yonah Schimmel has much more to offer than yogurt. Their speciality is the knish-a huge potato pastry incapsulated in an incredibly thin crust. My favorite is the jalapino and cheese combination-Ellen, the manager, works had to constantly innovate while maintaing the bakery’s 104 year old traditions.

“I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis”

For a premium Scotch, you can't beat a Dalmore 18 from Alness, Scotland.
For a premium Scotch, you can’t beat a Dalmore 18 from Alness, Scotland.

Some people compare my reports to Scotch-that it’s an acquired taste- Well, anyway, hope you will watch this one on selecting the right Scotch! (Bonus points if you can tell me who said that quote)

A Brighter Story from Africa

Namibia makes a comeback.
Namibia makes a comeback.

In the midst of an unprecedented poaching crisis, there is one bright spot on the African continent: Namibia. They’re the conservation/poaching success story and the only country where wildlife numbers are actually growing.  I visited in 2010 and fell in love with the countryside and the people. As this video from The World Wildlife Fund shows, Namibia is proof that when mankind and wildlife work together, both will flourish. 

You might also like: Last Song of a Kalahari 

Searching for Pelmeni

Russian Classic: caviar
Russian Classic: caviar

“Foreigners sometimes have a different idea about what Russian food is.”  This phrase kept replaying like a skipping record with every step I took in Moscow.  It was the reply that Nonna, who had been helping me with the process shipping my video equipment back to New York, had given me when I asked for restaurant recommendation.  It was a reply that seemed to sum up my culinary quest in Russia.  After spending three weeks in Sochi covering the 2014 Winter Olympics and finding absolutely nothing resembling that I thought was Russian cuisine experience, I began to wonder if Russia had forsaken its traditional food in favor of imported genres like Italian, Chinese, and Greek, or, even worse, Subway and McDonalds.

Just when I had about given up, an ex-Pat forum came to the rescue.  I found a single line that recommended a small restaurant called Dacha na Pokrovkisy located somewhere in Moscow.   I asked Nonna about the restaurant, but she had not heard of it.  But she did tell me that “Dache” meant retreat or holiday, and that Pokovksy was a boulevard near my hotel.  ( ‘na’ was Russian ‘in.’  I worked that out for myself)  A search on Google Maps resulted in nothing except that  Pokrovkisy boulevard bordered a park in the Kitay Gorod section of the city.  Armed with this information, at about 7:00pm on my last night, I set out into the Moscow winter night to find what my idea about what Russian food was all about.

Dancers sway to vintage recordings of Russian folk songs.
Dancers sway to vintage recordings of Russian folk songs.

Finding Pokrovkisy Blvd. was easy, even if I did have to decipher the Cyrillic street sign, which took a bit of time.  At this rate, if I were to stop at every sign to try in figure out where the restaurant was located, I would not have made my flight home the next day.  I wandered into a car park and asked the two attendants, pointing to the name of the restaurant on a Post-it.

He spoke no english and after looking at the name on the paper, gestured he didn’t know the restaurant.  He then turned to the other attendant and asked.  After a moment, a smile of realization spread across his face.

“Da da da,” he said “Dacha na Pokrovke,” he corrected in broken english. “I know this place.  Come I will take you.”  It was a good thing he knew because without him I never would have found the place.  We walked another three blocks down the park and around the corner, down a short ally, in the back of a crumbling mansion,  we found the restaurant.  Expressing my extreme graduated, I shook my guides hand with both my hands.

Dache na Pokrovke diningDacha na Pokrovke is very much worth the effort.  From the moment you walk up the flight of stairs, the atmosphere envelopes you in a cross between someone’s home and a displaced european cafe.  At the top of the stairs, the narrow hallway opens up into a dining room with a small dance floor. Vintage recordings of Russian folk music inspired the four or five couples that tangoed across the floor.  I was lead through a narrow door into a second dining room where I was seated between a 1930s radios and a Soviet era propaganda poster.  The omnipresent scent of tobacco smoke tainted the air.   Across from me, two young students studied something on a laptop, one sitting and one standing.  Occasionally, the standing guy pointed to something on the screen, suggesting a change or confirming his approval.  I like to think that maybe they were planning the next revolution, but most likely , they were two entrepreneurs working on their new business model.  A few tables behind me, two other guys sat taking tea and smoking.  One of them gestured wildly with all the determination of a playwright trying get his point across to a director.

Like the atmosphere, the food did not disappoint.  Of course, for starters, I choose a classic: caviar with lemon and a daub of butter.  I could have ended the meal right there and been happy, but the Russian hits just kept on coming.  Next another classic: pelmeni.  They are dumplings stuffed with a variety of things, but in this case, lamb, served with the ubiquitous sauce in Russia, rich sour creme.

I could go on and on about the meal, but won’t.  Let’s just say that it was very good, from the starter to the desert,  and as far as I could tell, authentic.  The point of this experience was to connivence myself that places like Dacha na Pokrovke still existed in city like Moscow.  It can be intimidating and that intimidation can lead you to rely on restaurants that are easy, but in the end unsatisfying.  But if you take a little time and energy, you can leave a city like Moscow with hopefully a richer appreciation.

Hallway entrance to Dache na Pokrovke
Hallway entrance to Dache na Pokrovke

Some Photos from a Small Texas Town

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mainstreet clockThere is a common essence that binds a region together.  This subtle feeling is a combination of an areas cultures, weather, dominant industry, what have you.  But the point is, it generates an energy that is unique to that part of the world.

These images are from Lufkin, a small town deep east Texas.  During my recent stay, I found myself with ample opportunity to wander around with no particular aim.  I discovered that Lufkin was very similar to my home town in a lot of ways-a small, close-knit, farming community.  Wandering around LufkinWall helped to define feeling that had been riding on the edge of my memory for a while.  When I was a kid, I dreamed a million schemes while wandering around hot dusty streets like these. Coming back to similar streets I was reminded of all the feelings I had growing up.  It was a mixture of nostalgia, hope, resolve, and, to be honest, loss.  Loss of a time when I could imagine anything, when a day was filled with making plans for the future.  Sometimes I was so filled with making plans, that I really didn’t appreciate the advantages of growing up in a small town.

Life is change for all of us. With every change in life, with every gain, with every move forward, we also lose something,  whether it is a dream of childhood, a regret for what you should have done, or even the loss of a loved one, with every minute we move forward, a minute is left behind.  The trick for me is to recognize and appreciate that change.

I don’t like to quote other writers, but I’m making an exception in this case because one phrase hit home during these small-town wanderings:

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

There are images, scents and and sounds that will be with me forever.  Such as the smell of diesel mixed with Texas earth that you find while climbing on an old tractor.  Feelings like the heat and silence of an August day, accompanied by a chorus of cicadas.  These feelings will always be with me and every time I see, hear and smell them, reminding me of what it was like to live and hope in a small Texas town.