Madrid, Spain revisited

As many times I return to Madrid I always experience something new. In mid September I took Carl’s two daughters for their first visit to this amazing city. We arrived and checked into a small hotel I have stayed in before, Catalonia at Atocha 36. There are several hotels owned by The Catalonia group. This is a smaller property off Plaza Mayor. I think the location of the hotel puts it in easy walking distance to all the important sites.

We headed out to explore, stopping for tapas lunch at Mercado San Miguel, a couple blocks from Plaza Mayor. This is one of my favorite stops for everything Spanish when it comes to food. Wander through the food stalls and buy little plates of everything from olives, sliced iberico ham and sliced fruit. Grab a glass of local wine and little pieces of anchovies on bread.

From the Mercado we walked down to the Palace Real, the kings palace. If you want to tour the palace get tickets in advance the line was long. Back to the hotel for a rest before we had a light dinner sitting outside at Plaza Santana, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. This plaza is home to several outdoor restaurants. We chose Tabernacle Vina and enjoyed several simple plates of grilled vegetables, sausages and the iberico ham, of course a bottle of local wine to complement the food.

Then off to see the late show of Flamenco at “casa Patas”, there are several flamenco shows, but this is a small space very close to the hotel and has good dancers.

Just as a reference I had also stayed just up the street from our hotel at Catalonia Puerta Del Sol. This is owned by the same group and a larger hotel, however I think the rooms were newer and brighter at our smaller hotel.

We were up early the next day and headed to the Prado museum for a tour of the collection of Spanish art in the older part of the museum. Always a must for anyone not just on your first visit, but every visit. We grabbed a taxi and joined friends at a amazing restaurant outside to town in an area called FUEN CARRAL, the restaurant is called “Filandon” 917343826. Filandon is a beautiful property, you will not see tourists at this place. If you go order the fish the serving is more than generous to share.

After our lunch we headed back to town and a short nap before we headed out for the next surprise. CHOCOLATERIA SAN GINES, at Pasadizo de San Gines 5, this 100 year old shop is famous for serving chocolate as thick as pudding with Cairo’s for dipping. A must visit!
It always seems that the more you explore the more discoveries, we walked to the neighborhood called Malasana where we discovered “Mercado San Ildefonso” a 3 story building filled with little food stalls each one more inviting than the last. The street, Calle Fuencarral, offered an assortment of great small shops with many local products. The girls headed out to see their first bull fight while I took a well deserved rest. src=”https://reneebehnke.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/img_1354.jpg” class=”size-medium alignright wp-image-1553″ width=”4032″ height=”3024″>

We had a late dinner close to the hotel at ” El Barril de Las Letras”, Cervantes 28, good choice in a new upscale space. I had a perfect steak tartare, the girls had their steak grilled, and we shared 2 large grill red prawns with a little side salad of local tomatoes.
We ventured out early and had a nice breakfast at La Terraza in Plaza Santana then it was time for shopping in the upscale area. The main street of Serrano offers every high end stores with every beautiful thing you could dream of wearing. Serrano street is a few blocks from the museums and high end hotels. Since we were in walking distance we went to visit the Monet exhibit at The Thyssen museum. Our lunch was simple tapas in the courtyard of Plaza Mayor.
Dinner at Tabernacle Laredo, Calle Doctor Costello 30, is always good. I had a salad with little shrimp and a plate of rabbit ribs cooked to a crispy finish, perfect. The bar is casual with young people sharing small plates and the dining room upstairs is bright and has a bigger menu and great wine list.

There is a new hotel I would like to try sometime—GRAN HOTEL INGLES, Calle Echegaray 8.
A couple of restaurants I wanted to go back to but did not reserve in advance so ran out of time. CASA BENIGNA, great paella and rice dishes. Another is LA TASQUERIA de JAVI ESTAVEZ, Calle Duque de Sesto 48.

Next morning we headed for Barcelona and a new hotel for me, MUR MURI, in a very up scale neighborhood away from the busy tourist area. The hotel also has several apartments that can be rented just around the corner. I did see the two bedroom until and it was great for a family or 2 couples.
We arrived later in the afternoon and just headed out to explore. That evening we had a 9pm reservation at an A+ restaurant called, “WINDSOR” located a few blocks from the hotel, Corsega 286. We shared several dishes featuring local mushrooms since this is their mushroom season. They offered a good wine list and each course was better than the last. We were seated in a courtyard in the back full of amazing plants and flowers.
We did all the basic Gaudi tourist things, remember to buy your tickets on line before going to Basilica of Sagrada Familia. We did not have any problem getting tickets at Casa Bitilo, the house designed by Gaudi and this was one of the girls favorite sites.
We headed to La Boqueria for a late lunch at “BAR CENTRAL”, located in the back of the Boqueria. We ordered plates of razor clams, long thin stirfried clams. The girls had chocolate crepes for desert at another stand and we bought nuts and Spanish saffron at the spice stall. There are many different qualities of saffron so do you homework.
Then continued wandering the old town, visit to the Picasso museum, here again best to get tickets on line before you go. There are plenty of fun shops to visit as you wander through the Gothic area, old town.
Take time to walk on the beach and along the port. There are many little restaurants to stop in have a few olives and pitcher of sangria late afternoon while you watch all the beach activity.
We went up to Gaudi’s gardens for sunset, but the top area is under construction so everyone was crowded into half of the courtyard. The next time you are in Barcelona it should be finished and ready for your visit.
Our last day was just a trip back to the Boqueria for the last look and to buy some Iberico ham that has been vacu sealed so we could bring it home. After so many tapas bars we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the beautiful Mandrin Hotel on our way back to our hotel. The Mandrin’s restaurant for lunch is so open and cool after walking in the heat of the day. That night we had dinner at “Bardot”, Eric Grwmados 147, a small restaurant close to the hotel with a perfect outdoor seating area in a courtyard shared by several restaurants..
Every time I have the opportunity to visit these cities I find new and exciting places that I look forward to returning again.
Sounds like all we did was eat but I think that is one of the things you will find the Spaniard love to do. Remember dinner after 9 or you will be alsone in most fine restaurants.

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36 hours in Cannon Beach, Oregon

Growing up in Portland, Oregon a trip to Cannon Beach was something we always looked forward to in the summer. Now I try to take my mother down to walk in the sand and just sit on a log and look out at the surf. My mother is 92 years old and still enjoys getting all of her children together around a camp fire on the beach.

We checked into Tolovana Inn just about a mile from downtown Cannon Beach proper. The hotel sits right on the beach and offers rooms right above the beach with a great view. The hotel has an indoor pool for those that want to take a swim. Our room was a suite with one bedroom, kitchen and living room with a queen size hide a bed.

Walking on the beach was perfect exercise for all ages. Families flying kites, and spending time on low tide looking in the tide pools of Haystack Rock.

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Since check in was 4pm we got organized and just had dinner at a restaurant called Mo’s. They are famous for their chowder and fish and chips. The restaurant sits on the beach in front of the hotel. Not the best food, everything fried, but fine for a family. The cabbage salad topped with Oregon shrimp was good as was the chowder. Then my brother built a fire in one of the designated fire pits on the beach and we enjoyed the surf pounding the full moon above.

The next day my brother bought more fire wood and after a long walk we built a fire and enjoyed the day wandering the beach, roasting hotdogs and watching all the families itch dogs and kids in tow.

In the afternoon we drove into town and had a lovely lunch at The Driftwood Restaurant and had a perfect Cobb salad big enough to share. We wandered in and out of the little galleries, ice cream shops and enjoying the lovely flowers every where you looked. The town is clean with plenty of parking.

We had an early dinner back in town at Wayfarer. Wayfarer sits right off the beach with a great view of Haystack Rock and view of the sunset over the water. This is a good upscale restaurant offering fresh fish and salads. I had sautéed razor clams, a real treat when they are prepared correctly and others shared fresh crab cocktails and halibut. Back at the hotel we took up or place on the beach and enjoyed the fire while talking about all the years and memories shared on the Oregon Coast. It is an easy drive from Portland, about an hour and 45 minutes.

Make time for any of the beach towns along the coast of Oregon.

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Renting a house in Costa Rica

In celebrating our friends big birthday we rented a great house in Costa Rica for a week. We have rented houses from “Luxury Retreats” http://www.luxuryretreats.com, or call Jay Lunan 1877-993-0100 he has helped us rent perfect houses around the world.

The house we rented was Residence Pacifico in Tambor, 6 bedrooms with in suite bath and plenty of room to enjoy a week of relaxation after a winter of grey days and cold.

We flew to LA and spent the night since the connection from Seattle to Costa Rica is difficult. We flew on Alaska nonstop to San Jose the main airport in Costa Rica. We then chartered a plane from Sansa to fly us to small airport in Tambor. The plane seated all 12 of us and luggage, cost was $1200 round trip a real bargain. The other option is a 4+ hour drive and a short ferry ride to reach Tambor. Our driver pick us up and drove us to the house with a stop at a little grocer for a wine supply.

The house chef made us a great welcome dinner, helped us get settled and make plans for the week. There is a hotel just down the beach from the house so the next morning after breakfast of fresh fruit and beans and rice we ventured out. The hotel, Tango Mar, has a 9 hole golf course, nice spa and tennis courts and horses for hire.

We had lunch at the hotel several days and love their salads and gazpacho. We were here to relax, so time at the pool with our books was the activity of the day. We went back to the hotel for dinner and gave the coconut shrimp an A+.

Costa Rica is very hot and humid so be careful when you are playing outside on the beach. The next day we did an ATV tour with our guide Edouardo Sanchez tours, 506-87037199. We cruised through the jungle, across the rivers and ended at a lovely water fall for a swim. The tour was about 3 hours of laughter and discovery. Back to the house for lunch and pool and beach time.

This evening started with a 45 minute drive to Montazuma, a small town with shops and local restaurants. We had a simple dinner at “LAS PALAMS”, served on a deck of a family home. The family prepared whole snapper, fried perfectly with sides of rice, vegetables and fried plantains. Dinner was about $22 a person including wine, this is true in most places we ate. Most places have a simple wine list of good wine from Chili, Australia and Argentina.

The next morning we went snorkeling with a guided tour group called Zuma . Our driver picked us up and we went back to Montazuma where we boarded a boat for the trip to a small group of islands. The water was very warm and clear, there were a few fish, but also a lot of other tours in the same place. After about an hour in the water we headed to a lovely white sand beach where our tour group served a nice lunch and plenty of beer and soft drinks. We discovered later the hotel does also offer a snorkeling tour leaving from their beach, saving you the long trip back and forth to Montazuma. A great excursion worth the $120 per person cost.

That night we had dinner close to the house at a great family restaurant, “RESTAURANTE CRISTINA’S, about a 10 minute drive to Cobano Puntarenas where the owner and his mother served us lobster and fresh roasted fish. The owner, Eduardo Gonzales is a guide of Tambor Adventures, egonzalesb79@hotmail.com. You can use him also to drive you around so you do not need a car. The next evenings were spent at the house where the staff created fun dinners, built fires on the beach for us to enjoy and served lobsters around the pool. Nothing was to much to ask and so the afternoons were enjoyed with onsite massages down by the beach with the cool breeze blowing.

We bought our own liquor at duty free on our way down to Costa Rica and had to make sure we drank it all during our week long visit. The food is clean, simple the mood is easy going and the weather is HOT and humid.

We did not see much of Costa Rica, but enjoyed the small corner we explored and believe it is a place for young people of old hippies. It is not expensive so makes it an easy choice of a vacation in the sun.

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36 hours in San Francisco

For a belated birthday Merrill and Marisa took me to San Francisco for one night. It had been a long time since I was there to just wander the streets, stop in small shops and enjoy great food.

We checked into the Fairmont Hotel, dropped our bags and started walking. We walked down to Gump’s for old time sake and bought a few special gifts for those April birthdays. Then since it was a perfect 75 degrees we headed to The Ferry Building. The shops in the Ferry Building are all unique, along with specialized food vendors, there is something for everyone. Lunch at THE SLANTED DOOR at the far end of the ferry building is always a treat. Everything we ordered was delivered hot and perfect to share, try the green papaya salad and crispy imperial rolls.

After a big lunch we headed out to walk along the Embarcadero to the Fishermans Wharf and down Pier 39, a lot of tourist and trinkets and trash. After a quick walk along the pier we headed out toward China Town. When we reached China town decided it was time for a little shopping so we called an Uber and went to Fillmore street. The real shopping started we went in and out of small interesting shops. Could not help myself, the shopping for grandchildren was contagious as we explored one store after the other.

We walked back to the hotel to complete our 20,000+ steps for the day, 8.9 miles. Quick change of clothes and a cab to dinner at “OCTAVIA”, 1701 Octavia street. This special neighborhood restaurant is small, but offers a nice selection of small plates to share. A jewel and worth making reservations if you have an extra evening.

My friend Joanne Weir had recommended Octavia and so when she suggested our breakfast should be at TARTINE, 595 Alabama, I knew we were headed for another great meal.

This was the amazing breakfast egg sandwich I had on a soft bun. We watched the bakers taking loaves of fresh bread from the massive ovens while we ate breakfast, it made me wish I could take some home.

Since we only had an afternoon left to explore before we had to catch a flight home we took off walking to “Hayes Valley”. Fun stores, interesting restaurants and people watching. Found a great store called “Outdoor Voices” nice workout things in soft colors.

Lunch was back in the Financial district, BARBACCO”, 220 California Street. They have lovely salads and simple Italian fare, the room is sleek with a lot of stainless and glass.

Time to hike up the hill to the hotel and back to the airport for our flight home. Sometimes the best way to enjoy a city is limit yourself to 2 days and just start walking.

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Couple of days in New York with Joanne Weir

Why do we go to NY over and over? The shopping, the restaurants, a great show or tour of another exhibition at one of the many museums.

Joanne Weir asked me to join her for a couple of days to attend a conference about food, new cookbooks, and how the public communicates about food in 2018 and beyond. Understanding the internet and understanding what is next in food trends. The past 10 years has changed where a person cooking finds their recipes. Do they watch a video on how to chop an onion? Pull up an Instagram post on how a dish in the hot new restaurant looks or go to a recipe site to fine 15 versions on how to make Mac and cheese? We know that people are still buying cookbooks, reading publications either on line or hard copy and sharing their new discovery of the best way to roll out pie dough.

Along with the many hours of all the information we were taking in, we also had to sneak away to share a special meal. We arrive a day early so we could explore some of our old haunts. We checked into the Midtown Hilton, since that was where the IACP conference was being held. Dropped our bags and headed out to a new Spanish restaurant, TOMINO TABERNA, 192 Grand Street. Tomino is only a few months old and making a name for its self. They offer small plates of perfect Spanish tapas. We loved the little sausages served on a skewer in a cast iron pan that is flaming as it is placed in front of you. The service is excellent and the owner, Phil, was on hand to make sure everything was to our liking.

The next morning was our free time to head out and start exploring. We headed to Chelsea Market, this is a must for any foodie. We first stopped at DIZEN GOFF, the best hummus you will ever eat. Served with fresh out of the oven pita and a selection of sides, we chose the pickled beets and harissa carrots. Go early because it gets busy and there are only a few stools to sit on. Then we began wandering through the market, next stop LOBSTER PLACE, as you enter you see one of the largest selections of fresh shucked oysters in front of you. Choose one or ten set in front of you to savor with just the correct topping or just a squeeze of lemon. Toward the back they are serving whole steamed lobsters and a huge array of fresh fish of every kind to take home. You can find any type of food from around the world here so plan to just wander and sample to your hearts content.

Since we were in the area it was a short walk to Soho and a little shopping. We went to one of Joanne’s favorite shops, MORGANE LeFAY, they have beautiful selection of simple dresses and jackets that will please everyone, 464 Broome Street. Time for a glass of wine and light snack before we return for the first event at the conference.

Great stop in Soho is always THE MERCER KITCHEN, 99 Prince Street. The main floor as you enter has a coffee shop busy with late afternoon tea, wine and small desserts. We headed downstairs where it is cozy on a rainy afternoon, sharing a glass of wine and small veggie plate was the perfect way to finish our afternoon adventure.

We spent the next couple of days learning how to create a better video blog, write and photo graph a winning cookbook or bone a duck. The next food trends and where prepackaged food and meals are going. One afternoon Joanne and I did sneak out for a perfect bowl of noodles at KUNGFU KITCHEN in Time Square, 610 8th ave. They also have one in HELL’s Kitchen, 811 8th Ave. This was a great find for one of the best bowls you can have. I had the spicy beef with hand shaved noodles and Joanne had the veggie hot pot with chicken. They also had a nice selection of dumplings and bows, make time to go.

Later that night we went a couple of blocks away to MOMO FUKU, 15 West 56th Street. You will go down the steps to the simple dining room with bare tables and a simple menu. We shared several small plates and enjoyed the clean flavors of things like razor clam ceviche, broccoli salad with a miso mayo dressing and spicy fried chicken. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass to pair with the spicy food.

We stayed an extra day after the conference to explore the shops on Madison and see what the new year has to offer in clothes and food. Look for everyone wearing crazy tennis shoes, and simple casual shoes with white soles, of course there are all those very high sexy high heel shoes for over $800, in every store.

We share a lovely lunch with friends at NELLO, 696 Madison, 212-980-9099. This beautiful restaurant adorned with branches of the first spring flowers was a lovely way to relax and dine instead of eat. I enjoyed the shaved baby artichoke salad with just the right amount of lemon dressing and slivers of Parmesan cheese. The pasta dish with fresh shaved black truffles looked and smelled like Italy. We had amazing white burgundy to top off the experience and left the restaurant thinking we needed a nap.

The last night in NY was a true contrast to our lunch. We invited a couple of true foodies to join us for dinner at ESTELA, 47 E. Houston Street. Estella is a very small restaurant up a short flight of steps. When you enter you will be greeted by loud excited chatter in a room holding about 50 guests. The long bar runs half the length of the restaurant with little room to move past all the happy customers crowded onto the bar stools. We were seated at a small table and given the one sheet of interesting dishes to choose what we wanted to share for dinner. We had a hard time eliminating any of them so with a consensus and the help of our attentive server we settled on 7 dishes each one better than the next. The textures, seasonings, flavors and combinations of each was perfect. We loved the azzoz negro, the fluke ceviche, endive salad with anchovy dressing and topping of toasted walnuts, toasted bread crumbs and small bits of cheese, the lamb ribs fell of the one and the simple crunch on the top was delicious.

Always fun to spend a few days in any major city around the world with friends that love food and the adventure of discovery. Pick a new city and just go for 3 or 4 days it really makes you want to go home and try your hand at cooking something new.

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SKIING IN TELLURIDE

Every other year our ski group of 9 friends ventures from our home ski base, Sun Valley, to a new area. On the off year we explore a U. S. Ski resort that we have not been to before. This year it was Telluride in Colorado. Telluride is surrounded by high peaks and sits in a closed valley that in the late 1800’s was an old mining town. We flew into the town of Montros about an hour and half from Telluride. We were pickup up by a large van, use Mountain Limo 1888-564-6894, our driver Jerry was great and took us to our hotel in the village above the old town of Telluride. We checked into hotel “Madeline”, and headed out to rent our skies. The hotel is nice, clean rooms but in need of more attention to details. They directed us to the ski shop they use called NEVE, helpful, but not the best equipment most of the skies were a couple years old. The skies were sent to the hotels ski room and the next morning everything was ready for us.

The first night we had dinner at a restaurant called “ALPINO VINO” a small cabin high up on the mountain reached by first a gondola ride then you board a snow cat for a 25 minute ride to the front door. Alpino is a small log house, there is a set menu either with wine paring or you can choose your own wine from an extensive list of very high price wines. Plan on about $300 per person if you choose your own wines, more if you do the pairing. Lovely 5 course meal beautifully prepared and served a fun way to start your visit to Telluride.

Since our hotel sits at 9,400 feet several of the group could feel the altitude especially the next day as we ventured out under blue skies to ski in a foot of new snow. We hired mountain guides and they were the best. Marti Martin-Kunitz has been in Telluride since 1976 and was amazing, if you go contact her at (mkuntz@wic.net or 1970-708-7072). Marti brought another guide Ken and they gave us the grand tour and made sure we all had an opportunity to find the best powder and ski the best runs. We stopped at Giuseppe’s for hot chocolate around 11 then continued to ski until 1 when Marti had reserved lunch on the mountain at Allred’s. This restaurant is a beautiful lodge feeling space serving lunch and dinner. Just a short gondola ride from our hotel. They have a large menu plus a nice soup and salad bar followed by a dessert bar. We skied until 4 then headed to the hotel jacuzzi and a nap. When you ski at 11,500 feet you can really feel the altitude.

You take a gondola from the upper village down into town where there are many good restaurants. We went down early to walk the Main Street, have a drink in the famous Sheridan Bar before our dinner at the Chop House, also located in the lobby of the Sheridan. The food was perfect and service great, the steaks were large and the restaurant was happy to let us share everything.

There are not many restaurants up in the village and the hotel had a very poor restaurant so breakfast was either at a little coffee shop, Starbucks with no seating or a long wait at the hotel. We did stay up by the hotel this one evening and went to a little Italian restaurant next to a pizza place. The food was fine and the owner was very attentive, however there were only 3 tables full so there was not a lot of energy in the place.

The next morning we were surprised to see another 11 inches of new snow over night. Telluride usually gets up to 300 inches of snow and this year they had been very light on snow all over the west. Lunch was at BON VIVANT, an outdoor pop up restaurant on the mountain. Open when weather permits. Dan is eating a mushroom soup with puff pastry on top, their signature dish.

That evening we headed back into town for a very fun dinner at a small bar/restaurant called THERE http://www.therebars.com, a great place about the size of a trailer house. The owner, Jonny, was making drinks, serving small plates of food and describing what our group should order for dinner. Every dish we ordered seemed to be better than the next. We loved the mussels, the pad Thai dish was perfect with just the right amount of spice.

The next day skiing was not on new snow so we just cruised the mountain. Had lunch at a big place called The Peaks, good but not great and slow service. Since it was Valentine’s Day we went to a lovely upscale French restaurant called La Marmotte a couple blocks off the gondola in a very nice new feeling building. The food was lovely and they offered a beautiful cheese board at the end of the meal. The portions were very large and could be shared. I had a beautiful frisée salad and simple seared lamb tenderloin from the appetizer selection. Carl had the rack of lamb and it was way to much.

There is an airport in Telluride, but it is small and very few flights go in our out of the town. Seems all the planes use Montros for safety….. we had a Continue reading

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Trip to Brazil with friends

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