Category: Travel

Local Gems

April 27th, 2011 — 8:00am

Entrance to Queen Creek Olive Mill

Every once in awhile you run across a local gem. A place where local resources are combined to make a very special food or entertainment experience that you are not going to be able to see anywhere else, More often than not they are in places that you would never find on your own or really care to venture to because they are on the wrong side of town or the wrong side of the tracks. A case in point is the Queen Creek Olive Mill in Queen Creek, Arizona just outside of Phoenix.

My friend Jon had been telling me about the place for years admiring both the harvest from the farm and the skill with which the marketing for the mill had been executed. At first I was not so sure about the marketing part as the retail portion of the mill is located in a rather nondescript warehouse building on a narrow road more commonly used by farm trailers than by local people.

The Olive Oil Selection

Once inside however you realize that what is at heart an olive grower has morphed into a multifaceted producer of all things olive and a great place to grab a bite to eat and enjoy a glass of wine. The principal product is olive oil which comes in a few special blended varieties (none of which really sparked my interest) a very good extra virgin variety which has some grassy and peppery notes that I really like. And a variety of oils pressed with lime, orange, and lemon rinds during the pressing process to yield some delicious oils for topping off a salad or perhaps drizzling over a nice piece of meat or fish before serving.

Menu Board

The food menu is extensive and tends toward the sandwich realm. My breakfast frittata was also a sandwich with scrambled eggs, asiago cheese, and a locally prepared italian sausage. It was a very heart start to the day and a delicious combination of ingredients. Everything else looked very fresh with the promise that local ingredients are procured whenever possible.

Mission Olive Tree in Bloom

You can also take a tour, which is more of a classroom instruction on making the olive oil. Apparently insurance keeps the public away from the groves. But we were able to see an olive tree in bloom realizing that in a mere six months or so it would yield about 250 pounds of fresh olives. A remarkable thing when you consider the size of the blooms. If you are in the Phoenix area I highly recommend a visit. You can order their extra virgin olive oil on line as well.

Queen Creek Olive Mill
25062 S. Meridian Road
Queen Creek, Arizona 85242
(480) 888-9290

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Quick Trip to Phoenix

April 26th, 2011 — 8:00am

Dinner in Phoenix

Not being satisfied with a quiet Sunday in Tucson, probably lounging about doing mostly nothing, I took a quick ride up to the San Tan Valley area of Phoenix to see my friends Jon and Rachel. I decided to take the back roads which were recommended by David and Mark as a more picturesque view of Arizona and possibly the faster way to get to the southwest side of Phoenix. The scenery between Florence and the San Tan Valley was really quite remarkable. Much of the local plant life was in bloom including many varieties of cactus. And if you are into movie history you can even stop at the Tom Mix memorial on highway 79 which marks the spot where the silent film star was killed in a car accident, the cause of death being a suitcase full of cash hitting him on the head. (I made sure to leave my suitcase full of cash in Tucson before I left.)

Jon and Rachel were kind enough to feed me lunch and dinner as the trip took quite a bit less time than I had planned. Jon was gracious enough show me and allow the both us to consume a large portion of his wine collection. He also pulled together a very nice dinner of pumpkin soup, mushroom risotto, and a very delicious mixed green salad. I was honored he had chosen the mushroom risotto from the web site and made it as good if not better than I have in the past. We finished the evening with more wine and a movie, while I drifted off to sleep before finishing either.

The next morning he took me to the Queen Creek Olive Mill for breakfast, a tour of the facility and a bit of shopping. All of which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post. I beat a hasty retreat back to Tucson for one more night in my favorite guest room and hopefully another al fresco dinner. I mean how many al fresco dinners is too many? Then sadly I hit the road again to wind my way back to Dallas and the reality that awaits me.

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Rest and Repasts

April 25th, 2011 — 8:00am

Apple Crostata

Yesterday was one of those days that remind me that with a little effort you can be happy anywhere, but with a lot less effort you can be totally ecstatic just laying in bed in Tucson. I have a guest room that opens on to a garden full of bougainvillea, fruit trees and assorted succulents that are generally covered by groups of singing birds and no other noise to break the spell. And the fact that cell phone service is nonexistent up here in the hills of Tucson the only other noise is from someone asking you if you prefer your coffee in bed or on the patio. In bed would have been nice but I did not want to push my luck.

The 'Big Boy" from Pasco in Tucson

We spent the day in search of interesting food things at the local Asian/Indian/Mexican/Filipino/Everything Else market. We moved on in search of some elusive exotic lime tree, which is apparently about as easy to find as the fountain of youth. Finally we ended up in Geronimo Square on the campus of the University of Arizona in search of food and pretty people to watch. We found both in spades. We dined at a cute hard-to-describe cafe called Pasco which featured college student prices with college student serving sizes, not to mention a wine list that would work well at some fine dining establishments. Wanting to relive my college days I opted for the “Big Boy” a decadent burger featuring Arizona grass-fed beef, braised pork belly and a poached egg all topped with hollandaise sauce. As outrageous as it all seems I have never tasted anything quite like it in a long while. And fortified with two glasses of a nice malbec and a little bit of people watching I have to admit I ate the whole thing. Delicious.

Homemade Fettucine in a Simple Red Sauce

In need of a nap I returned to my guest room to sleep for well over an hour. Upon rising I was able to watch David make homemade fettucine (he makes it look easy). And while he cooked away at a simple red sauce I sipped on a cocktail and generally just tried to stay out of his way while photographing the whole process. We once again dined al fresco on a bowl of fresh pasta, a nice cabernet and the usual banter about mostly absolutely nothing. In Tucson you never try to solve the world’s problems. That is for the people in Phoenix.

The evening ended with watching “Bollywood/Hollywood” a Canadian spoof on Indian people in Canada behaving like their Bollywood brethren in Mumbai. Full of laughs, a large slice of apple crostata (which David made in the morning during his spare time) and the last dribble of wine I tucked myself into my quiet guest room waiting for the birds to wake me up in the morning.

PS All recipes to follow when I return home.

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Almost Mexico

March 27th, 2011 — 6:23pm

El Paso at Night From Franklin Mountains

I spent the weekend in El Paso last weekend. I have been there so many times for work and have spent very little time wandering about the city. In the past I have stuck to venturing out as far as the hotel shuttle will take you. This weekend I was a bit more adventurous, and with a little bit of free time, and some assistance from my friends Lionel and Emmanuel who live in Juarez and El Paso, respectively, I was able to get a better sense of the place.

It would be easy to overlook the city. The brown sand, blends with the brown mountains, which overpower the senses. The vast expanse of the barrios of Juarez largely dominate the view from the airport to the downtown area. It is hard to figure out where El Paso ends and where Juarez begins until you get close to the border and see the border fence. You can almost touch the relative poverty of Juarez while standing in the prosperity and safety of El Paso. It is of course this duality that makes El Paso so different. The city has its feet firmly planted on both sides of the border. It could not survive without Mexico and yet it aspires to be something more American. Living in these two worlds creates a very special vitality.

The food scene is dominated largely by the major American chains. I noticed this trend when I was living in Monterrey, Mexico in the 1990’s. The Mexican culture was embracing the concepts of “Red Lobster” and “Chili’s” much to the detriment of the local culture and cuisine. To that end El Paso is clearly an American city. But there were signs that not all is fast food sameness in the city. One good example, Mi Piaci (not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name in Dallas) clearly was making some excellent Italian cuisine, sometimes with a bit of a Mexican twist. In my case my Penne Diavola was spiced not only with the traditional red pepper flakes, it was also spiced with some chipotle peppers, lending the dish a bit of a smoky flavor. While not exactly authentic Italian it worked well. My friend Emmanuel opted for a more traditional pollo parmigiana, which was prepared with a Latin-influenced pollo milanesa, topped with the usual sauce and cheese. The milanesa was so thin and the crust so perfectly browned it really did not need any sauce. The dish was perfectly executed and incredibly satisfying.

I suppose you are wondering about the Mexican cuisine. I have only eaten at two Mexican restaurants in the city. I can honestly say I have had better Mexican food in Juarez (when it was safe to go there) and in San Antonio (La Fogata). For some reason the border cities like McAllen and El Paso rely too much on American convenience and go for the canned rather than the fresh foods. Unfortunately they are too much like the restaurant “On The Border” and not enough like the fresh-cooked food you can get at any roadside stand in Mexico. I can recommend “Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickey’s” or more commonly “Carlos and Mickey’s.” The food is very good and simply prepared. You can order all the usual Mexican food dishes. It adds a note of festivity with a lively bar scene, and live music every night. And of course my favorite Mexican ingredient, chaos. There is nothing like sipping a drink while watching a bunch of people try to manage a crowded restaurant with no one really in charge and no one responsible for doing anything. Honestly, those moments are priceless.

The most important aspect of the food scene would be seeing the influence of Mexican culture on the dining environment. The evening meal is a time for enjoyment with friends and family. It is generally eaten much later and much slower than the typical American restaurant meal. While I have often written about the enjoyment of a quiet meal alone, dining alone here would elicit stares and I am sure more than a few comments about the fact that that poor man has no friends. It is not uncommon to see six to ten people enjoying a meal together eliciting their own subculture of chaos and of enjoyment, experiencing a time of food and camaraderie. To that end maybe it really makes little difference where you dine. It may be more important with whom you dine. Last weekend the camaraderie was very good.

2 comments » | Musings, Restaurants, Travel

Back to Reality

September 12th, 2010 — 11:13am

Sunrise Near Tracy Arm Fjord Alaska

We are back from our Cruise to Alaska and British Columbia. It was a mixture of awe inspiring and disappointing. The natural beauty of Alaska and Western Canada is hard to describe especially in the areas that are relatively untouched by the tourism industry. We were fortunate enough to traverse the length of the Tracy Arm Fjord and see the Sawyer Glacier give up large chunks of ice (referred to as calving). It is an amazing sight that very few people ever see due to restrictions on the types of vessels allowed into the area. Our ship also struck a very large ice berg inside the fjord, causing the ship to shudder and shake, prompting the captain to announce that it “barely scratched the paint.” Good thing the ship is heading to dry dock soon.

The behavior of our fellow humans when they are in close proximity to unlimited food and tourist trinkets was nothing short of depressing. Most of the people on our cruise ship of 2,000 people never even got close to an outdoor adventure unless you consider shopping in Juneau a reason to go to Alaska. I do not know when traveling became such a passive activity. Spending all that money to look out at all that Alaska and Canada has to offer from the deck of a ship is a bit off-putting. I think cruising will once again drop to my least preferred method of travel as it did in the 1980’s.

Before we left on the cruise we did have a day to explore Seattle. We stumbled upon Café Campagne on our way to the Public Market. This was a very lucky find and led to the most memorable meal of the trip. I wrote up a review under the restaurant section. If you are ever in Seattle this is a stop worth making. We also had a nice dinner at Red Fin, which was primarily sushi, the less adventurous maki variety. I am not an aficionado of sushi so I did not write a review. It all seemed quite good to me. I also followed up the next morning with a breakfast at Red Fin, which was attached to our hotel, the Hotel Max. The breakfast was an interesting “hash” of sausage, chicken, and pickled vegetables complemented by a red pepper coulis; an unusual but delicious combination. I highly recommend the Hotel Max; funky, modern, chic and not so very expensive.

I also could not pass up the opportunity to write about the food on the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity. With the way people were consuming the food you would think the place had five Michelin stars. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the concepts for the food were interesting the actual food itself made Olive Garden look good. Oh well. At least I got to see a few whales along the way.

6 comments » | Musings, Restaurants, Travel

One Year Anniversary!

September 8th, 2010 — 8:00am

Spanish Spice Peppers

From a very humble one paragraph post on September 8, 2009 I began The Busy Gourmand with a bit of a whimper. I was quite intimidated by not only writing on a regular basis, but also by having to use the software to make the blog at least somewhat interesting. I think I have found my voice. And by using the Word Press platform it has been relatively easy to manage not only the posts but also the pictures and pages that all make up a blog. I also had some help from Jason at ZoopMedia. If you need some help with Word Press I highly recommend his services.

When you write a blog you learn a lot about yourself and also a lot about the people who read your blog. Unfortunately most of my feedback has been in person instead of comments on the blog. I will take feedback any way I can. But please feel free to write your comments on the blog so others can read them. It’s OK to tell me that you hate my photography (Norman told me in a text message), or that I misspelled Ipswich (from an e-mail from my sister Terry), or that the recipe for borracho beans is really great (which I heard in person from everyone at every pool party this summer), or that some of my Italian recipes are not always authentic (Christian tells me every time I see him). I do have a faithful commenter in Jon who also usually enjoys the blog most when I make fun of myself. It’s my blog I will make fun of whomever I want.

There are a number of interesting statistics for the blog for the past year. I have posted 116 recipes over the past year; closer to 200 if you account for the variations on a theme that I include with most of the recipes. Through software that allows me to track the traffic to the site I can tell you that Middle Eastern Orzo, followed by Pork Schnitzel, followed by the Quinoa Veggie Patty are the top three recipes in terms of views over the past year. The site Epicurious sends a lot of people my way for the “Chicken, Artichoke, and Rice Casserole.”

My restaurant reviews from my trip to Buenos Aires generated a lot of traffic from the national tourism office in Argentina. I am not sure they liked or disliked my reviews. You can see that they are on their toes down there in Buenos Aires.

I have also posted five of my blog posts in article format on the site These articles have been reposted, with permission, a total of 18 times on other web sites. The number one article is my review of Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential.

My favorite post of the past year was September 30, 2009 when I rhapsodized about my gas grill in Grillinovations. My favorite new recipe would have to be the Catalan Savory Pastis which I posted on July 5, 2010. My favorite travel writing would have to be about Genoa, Italy which was posted on November 28, 2009.

And finally, you know when you have really made it when “Jeremy Bacon” was invited to a gala fundraiser on October 17 in Dallas for the local food bank. I will probably attend just to see how long it will take me to blurt out my real name and blow my cover. Celebrity has its pitfalls.

PS  As you are reading this I am somewhere off the coast of Alaska.  Even Busy Gourmands need to take a break once in awhile.

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“I’m Busy”

June 15th, 2010 — 1:26pm

The Ham Museum - Buenos Aires

I have been a bit remiss in adding new post for the past few days. I, unfortunately, have a real job, and I have actually been busy writing my guide to Buenos Aires. I know most of you will be heading there soon so I will get it done just as soon as possible.

I did find out when we were in Buenos Aires that guide books, restaurant reviewers, and (surprise, surprise) the people on the Travel Channel are not always very honest. I get a sense there is a little payola involved, especially at the Travel Channel. So you do not make the mistakes we made, I will give you “The Busy Gourmand” version of a review. Because I actually paid for all this stuff on my own. The overview of the guide is published. The rest will come out in dribs and drabs.

I just finished the “Restaurant” section of my guide. It has a nice overview of what to expect and I provide in depth reviews of six restaurants. Four of the restaurants are definitely “Highly Recommended,” one is a “Maybe,” and one is a “Do Not Bother.”

They break down as follows:

Highly Recommended:
Brasserie Petanque, French Cuisine, San Telmo
Omm, Bar and Tapas, Palermo Hollywood
Impetu, Porteňo, Palermo Viejo
El Timon, Porteňo, Palermo Hollywood

Campo Bravo, Parrilla, Palermo Hollywoood

Do Not Bother:
Café Tortoni, Café, Congreso

Tonight I am making tomato sauce from scratch. Wish me luck!

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Un Dia Final

June 2nd, 2010 — 10:01am

Angel Statue, Recoleta Cemetery

Our last day in Buenos Aires arrived all too quickly.  We woke up a bit worse for wear having spent the night before with our new best friend in Argentina, Daniel Cabrejas.  He is the owner of Omm a bar and restaurant.  It seems that all roads lead to Omm and on this trip we spent three evenings there, either having drinks or appetizers, and talking about Buenos Aires with Daniel.  On our last evening he wanted to make it a bit special so he brought down a nice vintage Malbec from his secret stash in his wine cave.  And when we polished that off he asked us to taste a wine a vendor had left earlier in the day for sampling.  We were in bed around midnight and up early with a bit of a fog in our heads.

Our earlier days in Buenos Aires were a bit cloudy and foggy so I was not sure if any of the pictures I had taken would look so great.  So we retraced our steps and went back to revisit Recoleta Cemetery, and the rose gardens, and strolled down Avenida del Libertador taking in all the sights.  The sky was clear. The wind was brisk (it is almost winter down there).  The camera was clicking madly. (Above the first real picture from out trip.)

We finished our stay with a revisit to the restaurant El Timon, right around the corner from our apartment.  We had a very nice Buenos Aires lunch and took in all the local flavor.  All the kids from the schools in the area stopped by to buy their empanadas and pizzas for lunch.  The local old guys group looked like they were having their weekly lunch meeting proffering unlimited joking around and more than a few sips of wine or Quilmes.  And we were made to feel welcome despite the fact that the place probably has not seen someone from further than a few blocks away in many years.  This was the real Argentine lunch.

With heavy heart we went back to the apartment and changed to leave for the airport.  I have never been in a place like Buenos Aires where I felt right at home within a matter of hours.  I felt like the little neighborhood had become “our” neighborhood.  We gained more than a few lasting memories and hopefully a few new friends as well.  It is hard to believe that I am writing this from Dallas, Texas, when this time yesterday we were comfortably enjoying a foreign land.

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Un Dia En Tren

June 1st, 2010 — 7:30am

Retiro Station

We had to get Will out of the city yesterday. He was afraid he was missing something important about Argentina by just seeing Buenos Aires. So I did a bit of research, jotted down some notes about taking the train to Tigre, which is about 45 miles north of the city in the delta area of the river, and off we went to the Retiro Train Station. Unfortunately when I got into the taxi I realized I had left all my notes in the apartment so it was going to have to be a day of improvisation.

Like most train stations, Retiro is set up for those who know what they are doing and where they are going. Since I had no idea about either I found a nice person in the ticket booth who gladly told me what train to take and what train to transfer to as we would have to take two different trains to get to Tigre. Astonishingly the round trip price for two on the first part of the trip came to a whopping 95 cents. I guess train travel is heavily subsidized in Argentina.

We took our train to the end of the first leg of the trip and transferred to the much plusher Tren de la Costa, or coastal train, which hugged the coast from Buenos Aires all the way to Tigre. Comfort has its cost and this train cost me $12 round trip for the two of us. But the extra expense was worth the extra comfort and we arrived in the delta city of Tigre in about 30 minutes.

Tigre is actually built on a set of islands in the delta of the Rio de la Plata. It is primarily used as a summer destination for Portenos and is usually crowded with tourists. You can hire a boat to take you around to the different islands, which feature hotels and restaurants, or for the naturalists, islands with nobody on them at all. The city is actually rather quaint when compared to Buenos Aires. And oddly it seems that everyone in Tigre knows everyone else in Tigre. I have never run across so many people waving to each other and calling out each other’s names. We spent just a few hours there, walking along the canals and eating a very nice lunch with some of the local beer, Quilmes. We chalked up one more Argentine adventure before our trip home tomorrow.

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Dia de Mercado

May 31st, 2010 — 6:53am

San Telmo Market

We had one of our usual slow starts to our day.  The rain had stopped and the sun was shining brightly for the first time we have been here.  It also turned out it was the perfect day to attend the San Telmo Market which occurs along Defensa from Plaza de Mayo all the way to the Boca district every Sunday.  We boarded the “Subte” again and off we went to Plaza de Mayo.

The market is really a cross between a flea market, an Easter parade, and a musical amateur hour.  You can find anything from key chains to antiques for sale.  The leather goods seemed to be the most useful things to purchase.  Most of them were handmade locally.  The street was also crowded with musicians ranging from a full tango band to lonely guitarists hoping you will buy their CD’s. And of course whenever you have a twelve block promenade of people all the ranks of society come out to look at each other.  Thankfully most of the people we saw were not of the tourist variety.

We also ventured by and eventually ate at a restaurant I had researched before we came down here.  Brasserie Petanque is noted for its French cuisine.  This being a city of mixed Europeans I wanted to try out some of the local translations of diaspora cooking.  The menu at Petanque could easily have been something right off the Champs Elysees in Paris.  I had my mind set on the rabbit in mustard sauce ever since I saw the menu on line.  Will had the rack of lamb which was grilled with some garlic, lemon and parsley.  Both of them were outstanding.  And the presentation was nothing short of magnifique! It was refreshing to see the attention to detail in the cooking.  Although the prices at first seemed a bit intimidating the bill was not the largest we paid since we have been here.

After the day at the market we made out way back to the apartment.  Around 9 PM we decided we should go out and get a little something else to eat.  All the restaurants around us close at 9 PM on Sundays so we stopped by a shop that was making empanadas and pizzas.  We order 2 cheese and ham, and 2 arroz con pollo empanadas for the ridiculous price of 12 pesos, or about $3, and took them home to consume with a nice bottle of wine.  After having the height of French cuisine in the afternoon, we finished our day with the lowly empanada, more commonly eaten by workers as a quick lunch.  We were no less satisfied with the empanadas.

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