About Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.


Latest Posts by Jessica Festa

The Awe-Inspiring Kiyomizu-dera Temple In Kyoto Japan

August 16, 2014 by  

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan‘s Eastern Mountain Area was established during the eighth century. Made of wood, the structure has burned down numerous times, although the building we see today — created without nails and featuring a thatched roof — was created in 1633.

The story goes that a priest named Enchin saw a vision that instructed him to “look for the clear water origin of the upper reaches of the Yodo River. This is how he found this place — sitting over a waterfall at the base of Mount Otawa — we now call Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, or Clear Water Temple.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Surrounded by forest you can take a nature stroll, drink from three crystal cascades for prosperity, enjoy aerial views of Kyoto city, or make a wish for good fortune by ringing a series of bells and calling for the gods. There are also 16 structural attractions to see on the grounds, some of which include the Hondo (Main Hall), Nio-mon (Gate of the Deva Kings), Uma Todome (Horse Stable), Shoro (Bell Tower) and Sanju-no-to (Three-storied Pagoda), to name a few.

My personal favorite Kiyomizu-dera Temple activity was finding out I was destined for true love. The task involved walking between two boulders — spaced about 43 feet apart — making it from one to the other successfully with your eyes closed. This can be tricky not only due to the loss of sight, but also because of how crowded the temple gets. Luckily when I did it everyone was too busy staring and laughing at me to get in my way and I made it to the other side. Looks like I’m ready for love.

Bonus: Follow the exit signs toward Sanen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Paths, where the houses and structures retain the same architecture since the Edo Period (1600-1867) . It’s also possible to walk to Kodaiji Temple and continue on to Gion, famous for its old world charm and talented maiko and geiko.

Have you visited Kiyomizu-dera Temple? What was the highlight for you? Please share in the comments below.

My trip to Japan’s Kansai Region was sponsored by the Japan National Tourism Organization. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated for it. All opinions are 100% my own.

The post Finding True Love At Kiyomizu-dera Temple In Kyoto, Japan appeared first on Jessie on a Journey.

New York Urban Art Meets a Chic Winery

August 15, 2014 by  

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brooklyn oenology

What do you get when you mix local artwork, New York wines, small-batch whiskeys, innovative pairings, sustainable cuisine and a lineup of community-enhancing programs? Brooklyn Oenology, or B.O.E., New York City’s first urban winery.

Located in Brooklyn’s creativity hub of Williamsburg, this woman-owned establishment was started by Alie Shaper in 2006 with the first vintages being a 2005 Merlot and 2005 Chardonnay. The main goal was — and still is — to promote sustainable, high-quality New York products. In their cozy tasting room you can choose to sit at the bar or a table to peruse an expansive wine list showing varietals and blends all sourced from New York — mainly Long Island and the Finger Lakes — with the option to have a taste, a glass or a bottle to stay or to go. Along with the 20+ wine choices, B.O.E.offers tastings of New York craft spirits and ciders, with everything from Kings County Chocolate Flavored Whiskey (Brooklyn) to Atsby NY Vermouth “Armadillo Cake” (Long Island) to Delaware Phoenix Distillery Walton Waters Absinthe (Walton).

As B.O.E. is all about creating experiences, tastings can be enhanced with a flights menu, farmstead cheeses and artisanal charcuterie boards, and interesting pairings like wine and chocolate or whiskey and pickles.

Brooklyn Oenology2

“From the beginning Alie Shaper created Brooklyn Oenology to raise awareness of the quality of New York wines in the vital New York City market and beyond,” says Craig Kayaian, B.O.E.’s sales and marketing consultant. “By bringing the first urban winery in New York City, B.O.E. offered New Yorkers a local wine experience complimentary to the wine regions around our state, and also to the culinary destination for which New York City is known, while providing a local, quality, interesting and ‘greener’ alternative to the wines from other global growing regions with which many consumers had previously been more familiar.”

Even if you don’t buy a bottle, you should make sure to check out the label artwork, which is created by local New York artists.

Says Kayaian, “Brooklyn Oenology creates a synergy between the creative talents of our local visual artists and the agricultural ‘artists’ in our State’s local vineyards.”

This is just one of the ways B.O.E. works to enhance the community, with others being their regular local artist exhibitions in the tasting room; monthly $1 oyster events; live music happenings; literary readings; and the hosting of a slew of local visiting chefs from superb venues like Mayanoki Sushi, Scharf & Zoyer and Brooklyn Cured.

Most recently, B.O.E. was chosen by the New York Department of Agriculture to operate  the first Taste NY Stores at New York’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy Airports. The initiative is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s program aiming to increase profits for local New York food and beverage creators. If traveling, make sure to check them out for a true taste of sustainable New York.

This article originally appeared on Drive the District

Head to Minneapolis’ For a Chinese Tea Experience

August 14, 2014 by  

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After water, tea is the world’s most widely consumed beverage and many countries have made it an integral part of their national identities, traditions and past times. What would an afternoon in England be without crumpets and high tea? How would old men in Turkey spend their day if they didn’t sip strong, black çay as they played backgammon in outdoor cafes?

How can you stomach spicy Indian curries meal after meal, without the promise of snack time washed down with shot glasses of creamy, ultra-sweet — but still a little spicy — cardamom-infused chai? Japan even developed a sacred ceremony around the preparation and serving of the grassy matcha tea. Centuries ago, Americans cared enough about tea to throw boxes of it into the Boston Harbor in protest of the taxation of their beloved drink. These days, in most United States households, you are lucky if you can find a single box of Lipton, collecting dust in the corner cabinet.

Pouring a steeping of tea during a Gong Fu Tea Tasting. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Pouring a steeping of tea during a Gong Fu Tea Tasting. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Cherishing Tea In The Present

David and Lily Duckler, co-owners of Verdant Tea — one of the top things to do in Minneapolis, Minnesota — hope to introduce Americans to the honest and simple offering of hospitality that accompanies a cup of tea. Today I’ll be experiencing this for myself, and hearing the story of Verdant. The Ducklers value transparent sincerity in all aspects of tea production, acquisition and enjoyment.

When you walk into their restaurant, you will notice three wall hangings with smiling Chinese people, picking, pouring or sorting tea. The Ducklers know all of these farmers personally, sourcing all their tea from these small family farms that grow the leaves using traditional, chemical-free agricultural techniques. These Chinese partners never dreamed of exporting their leaves, but were quickly convinced the Ducklers would respect and honor their product.

When asked about tea, Lily instantly smiles, eager to share its magical properties. “Tea is such a communal beverage. You pour a pot of tea and conversation just springs up around this vessel of a tea cup.”

Lily and David are not naïve and know that tea may not be enough to entice people into their restaurant and teashop. They offer a variety of flashier, locally sourced tea-infused treats to encourage curious passerbys to take risks and try something new. A menu of tea-infused beverages including sodas, kambouchas, cocktails and ice cream floats almost overshadow the simple hot teas… until you taste them and their subtle, humble flavor steals the show.

Outdoor Sign. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Outdoor Sign. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Falling In Love With Tea

Believe it or not, the CIA played an integral role in starting Verdant Tea. David first went to China to study international relations with the intent of working for them. In his journey to become fluent, he became interested in Chinese literature and philosophy and flocked to teashops where he could find the nostalgic elements he read about.

“Tea caught my eye when I was there because I loved all the things I read about China. When you go there it’s very loud, noisy, changing all the time, corrupt and confused and big. But when you step into a tea market, it is an entirely different world. Here, people aren’t bartering with you and arguing with you. Instead the first thing someone says when they see you is ‘sit down, have a cup of tea’. You talk about literature, you talk about philosophy, you talk about taste- they all go together and you make new friends”.

David became so enamored with tea that he applied for a grant through the CIA to become fluent in the Chinese language by collecting folk stories about tea, shadowing farmers and translating documents. He returned to the United States to fulfill the terms and conditions of the grant, publishing papers and teaching classes on tea until he realized it wasn’t as much fun talking about tea as it was sharing it with people. This revelation sent him back to China to approach the farmers, who are now his friends, about buying some of the tea.

Small farmer partners hung proudly on the wall of Verdant Tea: the He Family, Master Zhang and Mrs. Li. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Small farmer partners hung proudly on the wall of Verdant Tea: the He Family, Master Zhang and Mrs. Li. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Remembers David, “Fortunately, these farmers were willing to share their tea- it wasn’t that they needed the business- it was more of a cultural exchange for them. We had our first tasting and sold all the tea and we began to think, ‘maybe this is something that people want’ because never before had people brought tea from farms of this size before- 10 to 15 acre farms, not nebulous third world plantations.”

At this point, David pauses to pour us a cup of Dragonwell green tea, one of China’s most popular varieties. He gestures to the picture on the wall of Mrs. Li and explains that she began learning about tea from her father, one of Dragonwell’s preeminent tasters and graders, before she was old enough to talk. The first batch of the spring picking of her tea is of such a high quality that wealthy people use it to bribe governmental officials, even though the light and delicate flavor is too subtle for most Americans to taste.

Mrs. Li's Spring 2014 Dragonwell Tea.  Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Mrs. Li’s Spring 2014 Dragonwell Tea. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

I always thought of tea as old, dried out and wrinkly leaves but Lily taught me that teas should be enjoyed fresh. Verdant is one of the tea only companies who dares to air ship leaves so this is actually possible- eight days after the harvest in China, the leaves can be in your cup in Minneapolis. of the leaves the farm, it can be in your cup. When I tried the tea, I tasted a joyful grassy flavor that made me feel like frolicking around a field, like Maria from The Sound of Music. With this tea’s crisp and refreshing flavor, you could feel the energy they absorbed from Longjing Village’s fresh air and sunshine.

With this cup of tea, I understand what made the Ducklers fall in love with tea in the first place. David articulates what I am feeling, saying, “Tea resonated with and inspired us because it is a very simple thing that tastes so good that grabs you and forces you to appreciate humble simple things. When you taste tea like that, other things you think about or when you taste something else or experience something else, you can appreciate really ridiculous things that usually won’t stimulate you. Tea in particular demonstrates our relationship with the world and people around us. If the land is polluted, the tea doesn’t taste good. If people aren’t treated well, they don’t pick it carefully, they don’t finish it properly and it doesn’t taste good. At the end of the day, tea is delicious because it was produced by people who care about their product, and care about you enjoying their product even though they haven’t met you yet”.

Beginning The Business

To encourage fellow Americans to fall in love with tea, the Ducklers started selling these freshly harvested, small farm teas through an online shop. The customers raved about the tea they received but the owners soon missed the human element of sharing tea. With the creation of Verdant’s flagship custom beverage, a chocolaty, malty chai that they sold at Farmers Markets, the Ducklers began to establish more local connections. The chai was microbrewed with Hu family’s best laoshan black tea and herbs, local The Beez Knees and Ames Farms fine, raw honey, herbs and unconventional additions like goji berry, holy basil, saffron and whole vanilla bean. The chai became such a hit at local coffee shops that Verdant needed a larger space to keep up with demand.

Eventually, the Ducklers bought an old warehouse to house their growing operation and wanted to honor the space by opening a full-scale teahouse. Customers loved lingering over tea but the owners soon felt bad about serving tea without having food to accompany it. “You need to serve the needs of your community. How can you be a person in the world if you ignore your friends and the people nearby?”

Initially, Verdant collaborated with the chefs at Birchwood Café, another one of the top things to do in Minneapolis and an 18-year-old establishment. They’ve always been transparent about open-sourcing ingredients for honest and local food. In creating the menu, the owners described their favorite Chinese street food items but encouraged their chefs put their own spin on it and create something new. So although China inspired the menu, Lily and David acknowledge that it is not a Chinese menu,

“Like with our tea, we’re not playing dress up. We are not Chinese and none of our Chefs have direct connections to China. Our main chef is a classically Italian trained chef who dabbled in molecular gastronomy so he’s very high end but he’s interested in creating honest food and that’s the feeling that we latched on too. The feeling of hospitality, creating the kind of delicious, human food that you’d make for good friends when you’re hanging out at home”.

Laoshan House Special is a complete, balanced meal with Chilled Verdant Soup (grilled asparagus & kale), three Gin-Cured Gravlax Sesame Rice Balls and "Ga La" Clams. All centered around one inspirational tea: fresh Spring 2014 Laoshan Green Tea.  Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Laoshan House Special is a complete, balanced meal with Chilled Verdant Soup (grilled asparagus & kale), three Gin-Cured Gravlax Sesame Rice Balls and “Ga La” Clams. All centered around fresh Spring 2014 Laoshan Green Tea. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

The menu continues to evolve but features slightly adventurous comfort dishes like “Tea Farmer’s Breakfast” (chicken or tofu potstickers, served with eggs scrambled with oyster mushrooms and stir-fried potato strings with kale and pickled peppers) and the “Laoshan House Dinner Special” (Chilled verdant asparagus & kale soup, gin-cured sesame rice balls and ga la clams with grilled baguette), paired with fresh 2014 spring harvest laoshan green tea.

Tea-Infused Cocktails

In addition to expanding their food menu, Verdant plans to unveil their new cocktail menu in the coming weeks. Henry and Lily brought out some samples, excited to see what I thought. I started with their take on an Old Fashioned, made with a roasted oolong-infused bourbon, saffron infused rum, custom bitters made from Japanese aloes wood and vanilla-almond saffron spice. It tastes like an Old Fashioned but infinitely more complex and I enjoyed the long, roasted aftertaste from tea.

Before the next cocktail, I cleansed my palate with a cup of Master Zhang’s Tieguanyin oolong tea that spiced up the beverage. This tea was made from the same leaves as the Dragonwell but for oolong teas, leaves are intentionally intently bruised to make the juices come out and the folds allow the leaves to oxidize with the air at different rates. The tea takes on a floral, juicy, complex flavor with “roasty toasty undertones” and I could taste the sparkling quality and juiciness that revealed how much Master Zhang loved to make it.

While I paused to appreciate the long finish of the oolong, David popped up to grab the next cocktail, and jokingly apologized with a glint in his eye, “since we’re not serving our cocktails to the public yet, today it seems that I only have the ingredients for our more exoteric ones”. He returned with a sandy colored beverage in one hand and a lit incense stick in the other, whose smoke he circled within my glass. He explained that they developed this drink to show off Japanese aloeswood that featured an aged tea pressed into wood and a sweet scotch. “I’ve never had incense-infused alcohol before,” giggling nervously as I took a sip, paused to think about the interesting flavor and nodded appreciatively.

Lily laughed and explained their philosophy behind their unusual concoctions, “With our cocktails, our goal is to always give people a worthwhile experience. We have things that are a little unusual~ we have, a cocktail with roasted corn and peated scotch, for instance. Some people may say ‘that’s too crazy’ but we want people to explore flavor at their own pace and show them that the world is wide and filled with many delicious things you can taste. Whatever doorway you need, we are going to find that doorway for you- that’s the first little bit. Chai is great and chocolate martinis are delicious but we think that you might want something that stretches you a but without making it scary”.

“So technically, it’s a really classy Old Fashioned. At its heart, an Old Fashioned is an alcohol, simple syrup and bitters and that’s all this is “ In addition to these more esoteric cocktails, aromatic incense-infused things Verdant has more accessible ones, including their version of a Dark and Stormy and the Sir Khan, a creamy, sweet rum beverage. “Keep things accessible, fun and inviting but invite people along this path as far as they want to go. Some people will start with Sir Khan and just stay there and say I love this fuzzy tire. It’s delicious, it’s so sweet and I’m going to drink this forever. But here, the journey can continue- there is no endpoint, just a horizon of more deliciousness.”

With that, she poured me a glass of a Rusty Nail, which had scotch, whiskey, local rosemary-fennel honey, shaken up with a couple drops of blue lotus tinture, which they explained was an extract of a lucid dreaming herb. This simultaneously savory and floral cocktail set off almost every taste bud on my tongue- sweet, sour, salty and a little bit psychedelic.

Homemade Tree Fort soda and Kombucha.  Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Homemade Tree Fort soda and Kombucha. Photo courtesy of Verdant Tea.

Non-Alcoholic Tea-Infused Treats

After surviving those crazy cocktails, I cautiously agreed to try the home-brewed kamboucha, slightly sweetened tea fermented using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Kamboucha is growing in popularity amongst health and wellness nuts, who rave about its probiotics and immunity-boosting benefits. I had seen pictures of the tea being brewed in garages with sponge-y brain shaped mother yeast colonies and swore I wouldn’t try it.

Most kamboucha producers focus exclusively on the health benefits; however, Verdant combines their best tea leaves with a yeast colony infused with Oregon pinot noir in a simple and non-threatening beverage. The base kamboucha was crisp and sweet and not at all scary. You can try their rotating flavors infused with natural juices, including Pink Robot Guava and Ginger Vesper Fruit.

To finish off this extensive tasting with dessert, Lily brought over some green tea ice cream made by the local Sweet Science Ice Cream, which shares the space with Verdant Tea. These ice creams are made in small batches with all-natural, organic, and local ingredients, and I could taste the sweet green tea we had earlier, complimented by the thick, creamy vanilla base. Just another example of one of Lily and David’s mantras: “It’s not complicated. If you combine two delicious things that are made by passionate people proud of the products they make, it’s bound to be delicious!”

In Closing

After visiting Verdant Tea, David and Lily convinced me that anything that tastes good has to come from a complete supply chain where people love what they do and are treated with respect. The final product celebrates this process. As the Ducklers pointed out, we’re lucky to live in a world where we can source the best ingredients from everywhere and we can be friends with folks in China as well as ones down the street.

To taste the difference of honest and open-sourcing of the best quality ingredients, buy fresh loose leaf tea from Verdant Tea’s online store. If you’re lucky enough to visit their Minneapolis tearoom, make sure to stay for a meal and check their calendar for special events, which include yoga and meditation classes to tastings of tea, chocolate, ice cream and more.

-By Katie Foote

 

Eating Caribbean Lionfish Could Help Save The Planet

August 12, 2014 by  

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lionfish

One of the sea’s gnarliest looking creatures, the lionfish appears like a crazy cross between a zebra, butterfly and Egyptian Pharaoh with bold stripes, a sourpuss mouth and ornate tentacles fit for Cairo’s ancient rulers.

Unfortunately, the appetite and hunting prowess of a lionfish is just as impressive as its venomous spikes and unmistakable patterns: A single lionfish can eradicate up to 90 percent of a reef’s marine species in just five weeks, according to the World Lionfish Hunters Association. This can cause huge problems, as reefs die, already over-fished species populations decrease, and destinations relying on dive tourism become less sought after.

This isn’t an isolated incident, as today the lionfish invasion stretches from Massachusetts to Venezuela and encompasses the entire Gulf of Mexico and every shoreline in its water. Luckily, those with an adventurous palate can help slow down the problem simply by going out to dinner, as certain restaurants cull and serve lionfish as a sustainable delicacy.

reefs

Underwater beauty. Photo courtesy of LASZLO ILYES.

How Did They Get Here?

No one knows exactly how the lionfish got from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, its native habitat, to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, where it is currently thriving. Dr. Thomas K. Frazer, a lionfish expert and director of the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, says the first confirmed report of a lionfish was in the Florida Keys in 1985, but most researchers believe the introduction that led to widespread abundance occurred in the mid 1990s.

Exactly how the lionfish reached the Gulf is a mystery, but there is a clue: because there is little genetic variation among lionfish living in the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean, scientists think the fish were introduced to the area at one specific point in time. While some suppose the fish got loose when the contents of a single aquarium in Miami blew into the ocean during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, others say exotic pet owners who either tired of their lionfish or could no longer raise them simply released their aquarium trophies into the ocean. Yet another theory holds that the fish got sucked up into the ballast water of large container ships and were later released into the Gulf.

lionfish

The huge stomach of the lionfish. Photo courtesy of Kara Wall.

The Problem

However they arrived, lionfish are doing tremendous harm to local coral reefs. They have no natural predators in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, and their stomachs can expand up to 30 times its normal size, allowing a single lionfish to cram in a tremendous amount of food. And they’re not picky eaters: Lionfish will devour almost anything that fits inside their mouths.

Here’s the problem: When lionfish feed on fish that graze on algae, corals may become overgrown with seaweed and die. In fact, according to Neil van Niekerk, manager of Little Cayman’s Southern Cross Club — a Little Cayman hotel passionate about preserving local reefs — and coordinator of the island’s lionfish culling efforts, studies have shown lionfish can reduce local biodiversity by up to 80%, killing herbivorous fish that keep algae from overtaking coral, as the green non-flowering plant grows infinitely faster. If these corals don’t receive enough light they will die, and because algae are taking over the reef there is no room left for new corals to settle.

Additionally, Dr. Frazer explains that because lionfish aren’t endemic many local fish don’t recognize them as predators, leaving them more vulnerable to attack. To top it all off, a female lionfish can have up to 2 million babies each year, making it difficult to reduce the population through hunting alone.

lionfish cull

Southern Ocean Cross Club community cull

Community Efforts

Still, in places where people rely on coral reefs for their livelihood – both through fishing itself and by bringing in tourists eager to snorkel and scuba dive – there are serious efforts underway to get the lionfish population under control and save the reefs. Nowhere are those efforts more advanced than on the Cayman Islands, which is home to 365 official dive sites recognized by the destinations‘ Dive365 Program, all marked by moorings.

All three islands — Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – have culling programs to get rid of lionfish by brute force. Of the three, Little Cayman’s eponymous Community Cull is the most comprehensive eradication effort. The four companies that offer diving expeditions to tourists take turns providing a boat and resources for the hunt each week, where divers head underwater with spears to catch the lionfish — which eventually get turned into a tasty meal — before reporting the data.

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute and the University of Florida manage the program and audit the results. With local culling programs like this, the reefs have the potential to remain intact and biodiversity and biomass strong.

Furthermore, people can become further educated about lionfish and their negative effects, an important part of the process to recovering the area. While it’s difficult to quantify because a lionfish invasion in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico has never happened before, researchers believe the numbers of native fish on reef sites where lionfish are removed regularly (culled) are about double that of unculled reefs.

But ultimately, hunting alone isn’t likely to solve the problem, experts say. “People can try to remove the lionfish in a concerted manner,” explains Frazer. “It’s unlikely we’re going to get rid of lionfish as their numbers at this point are too great; however, people can identify important areas of impact and manually remove them. We want to organize these efforts in a way so we learn something about how to better manage lionfish along the way.”

lionfish

Lionfish dinner at Michael’s Genuine

Eating For A Cause

That’s where a little market-making goes a long way. If a concerted effort to get rid of lionfish isn’t enough, why not make them into a sought-after delicacy and hope the resulting demand is enough to reduce the population? And while over-fishing is usually something to worry about, here we’re looking at a fish that people can hunt and eat as much of they want. At Southern Cross Club they serve lionfish any style, although mainly as tacos. According to van Niekerk, most guests who sample the white, flaky fish love the fact it has no inherent fishy flavor, but instead absorbs the tastes of whatever it’s cooked with.

Michael’s Genuine Food & Beverage, one of the Cayman Islands’ best restaurants, has also signed on for the lionfish cause. Named one of the Top 50 New Restaurants in 2013 by Bon Appetit magazine, restaurant owner and chef Michael Schwartz is a James Beard Award winner. His menu consists of dishes made with fresh, local ingredients, including lionfish. The mild yet firm-textured fish — think the flavor of grouper with the feel of whitefish — can be prepared in various ways, although Michael’s Genune Chef de Cuisine Thomas Tennant recommends fried, which preserves the moisture in the fish. He also enjoys serving it as a ceviche, as the delicate texture of lionfish in raw form is not “tiresome for the palate.”

It all started when Michael’s Genuine was approached by Jason Washington of Ambassador Divers, a 5-star PADI IDC scuba diving operator on Grand Cayman, and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, a government agency responsible for managing the Cayman Islands’ natural resources, who told them about the lionfish issue and asked them to showcase it as a viable food source.

“As the owner of Ambassador Divers I felt it was my duty to help try and solve the issue of the invasion,” explains Washington. “I knew if I could create a demand for the fish, we would have a better chance of not being completely over run by the invader.”

lionfish

Lionfish ready to be sliced and cooked. Photo courtesy of Michael’s Genuine.

Washington approached Chef Tennant, who agreed to cook the fish caught during a series of lionfish tournaments spearheaded by Washington, and serve it to the public, free of charge, to help raise awareness. At this time it was early 2011, and nobody on the island had eaten lionfish before; however, during the event they offered about 600 fish, which ended up being a success. It was the beginning of what led to 14 local restaurants in the Cayman Islands serving lionfish.

Michael’s Genuine had already been using invasive Casarina wood to stoke their wood oven, so it was logical to take on another sustainable effort. While much of the staff also participate in culling efforts and the restaurant pays divers for the lionfish they catch, Chef Tennant believes their most powerful approach is education.

“The most influential ways that we help to control the population is to create a demand for the fish and lessen the demand for endangered and threatened fish by not serving them,” he explains. “By not serving Nassau grouper, we can educate our guests on the cause and effects of their decisions when making their dining choices. Through education, we can make positive choices that impact our marine environment.”

Skeptical Diners

Of course, patrons were skeptical at first, mainly because they didn’t understand the difference between poisonous fish, which contain poisons and can be harmful when ingested or touched, and venomous fish — like lionfish — where the poison must be injected; however, once people began sampling the seafood and realizing they weren’t going to die, it became one of the Cayman Islands’ most popular food items. According to van Niekerk, he would give lectures each week to guests and offer free lionfish samples of the lionfish. Now, they have trouble keeping it in stock, despite the weekly culls. Chef Tennant agrees it took time to educate the public and get them used to the idea of eating lionfish, but now that they do, it’s in high demand.

“The amount of people who order lionfish on a daily basis varies from day to day,” he explains. “What I can tell you is that on average, in a good weather week, we will receive 80 pounds of fish per week. We constantly sell out. People who try it, love it. Those who are curious will order it. Guests will tell everyone that they ate an invasive fish and feel great about it.”

lionfish

Cutting up invasive lionfish to be eaten as a tasty meal. Photo courtesy of Michael’s Genuine.

As it turns out, when it’s on the plate instead of gobbling up endemic species, there’s a lot to like about the lionfish. It’s high in heart-healthy, disease-fighting omega 3 fatty acids, and the chefs send the bones, head, and scales to be used can be used for healthy composting at local farms. It’s even considered a delicacy, due to its sustainability appeal as well as the fact that the method of catching the fish is challenging, diving for them with spears instead of fishing with a rod.

But chefs who prepare the fish also need to be a little bit brave. Lionfish have 18 venomous spines that can cause extreme pain, possible necrosis and often secondary infections which require antibiotics. In fact, it’s not uncommon for those who have been stung to say they’ve contemplated “cutting their arm off with a machete,” according to van Niekerk. But restaurant patrons need not worry,, as local chefs perfectly fillet the fish to remove the spines, and from the restaurant tables the diners only thought need be whether to order it fried or grilled — hold the venom.

Additionally, because chefs are eager for people to eat the invasive fish, it’s sometimes priced cheaper than the other seafood options, although because of the work that goes into preparing lionfish this is not always the case.

“Lionfish, in my opinion, are quite tasty and would be a welcomed selection by many on a restaurant menu,” says Dr. Frazer. “In the short term, this may be one strategy to help reduce the numbers of lionfish that occur on coral reefs and other habitats. With that said, the hope is that lionfish numbers will ultimately be reduced so that they are not abundant enough to be available for restaurants to serve.”

So eat it while you can!

lionfish

Hunting for lionfish. Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife.

Working For Your Food

For adventurous travelers who want a more immersive experience, a lionfish cull and cooking excursion is an option. Ocean Frontiers, a dive and snorkel shop and dive boat operator in the Cayman Islands, hosts a Red Lionfish Hunt. During the excursion, divers (you must have made a previous dive in the Cayman Islands to participate) will separate into teams led by a Divemaster to go on a one-tank dive to help cull lionfish from the reefs, while learning how to properly remove them. Back on the boat, the lionfish are weighed to see who caught the most, smallest and largest lionfish.

Next it’s on to the fun part: an exotic and eco-friendly meal of grilled lionfish. This allows for a more immersive experience where you’ll truly see — and taste — firsthand the lionfish epidemic.

While the Caymans is by far and away the most active in its lionfish population-control efforts, there are also a number of U.S.-based projects. Throughout Florida and the Caribbean the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, an organization focused on marine conservation, hosts Lionfish Derbies where people compete to collect and remove as many lionfish as possible, snorkeling and diving from sunrise until 5pm using nets and spears.

According to Lad Akins, the Director of Special Projects for Reef.org, the derbies provide an opportunity to educate the public while combating the problem, as even those not hunting for lionfish are invited to watch the fish being brought in and prepared by chefs (as well as sample some for themselves). As for the divers, teams are trained on lionfish culling the night before, and prizes are awarded for shortest, longest and largest quantity of lionfish. A bonus is these lionfish derbies also provide samples to researchers, who can examine their stomach contents and answer questions about genetics, reproduction and other biological issues.

lionfish tacos

Lionfish tacos. Photo courtesy of Southern Cross Club.

The Future

So what does the future look like for reefs affected by invasive lionfish? According to Dr. Frazer, there is hope, although it’s anyone’s guess how long it will take. Looking at the successes on Little Cayman, we can at least now see it’s possible to carry out culling and removal efforts and achieve success. For example, in 2012 Dr. Frazer along with five other researchers collected quantitative estimates of catch per unit effort (CPUE) — calculated by taking the number of lionfish removed and dividing it by the sum of the diver’s bottom times in hours — and analyzed dive sites around Little Cayman between January 2011 and June 2011.

Each fish collected was measured and also had its stomach contents analyzed. Three focus sites for the study were Bus Stop, Mixing Bowl, and Blacktip Boulevard.  Seven research culls were performed at Blacktip Boulevard, during which the number of lionfish was reduced from 175 lionfish per hectare to 13 lionfish per hectare. Additionally lionfish culled in January 2011 measured 95 to 395 millimeters in length, compared to a shortened 140 to 295 millimeters — 83% being smaller than 220 millimeters — in June 2011.

coral reefs

Vibrant coral reefs. Photo courtesy of Jim Maragos.

What’s positive about this is smaller lionfish not only eat less, but tend to eat shrimp rather than fish (many of which are already threatened or perform essential ecological functions that promote the health and integrity of coral reefs). Bus Stop and Mixing Bowl were researched during one to three dive trips, after which time the lionfish problem was considered by locals to be under sufficient control that the use of community resources to remove lionfish weren’t warranted in those areas.

It’s also worth noting that, according to Dr. Frazer, thousands of fish have been removed around Little Cayman Island, most notably its Bloody Bay Marine Park, and sightings nowadays are much less common than they once were. In the control areas outside of the park, this is not the case, with high densities of lionfish and dropping numbers of native fish species.

“I think the potential to manage the lionfish — at least at a local level — shows we can protect some of the most valuable coral reef areas. Over time as we learn more about the lionfish we’ll also learn how to better manage them. It is also possible that native fish will learn to prey on lionfish and help in that regard. I believe this is something that’s already beginning to happen in some locations.”

In the meantime, heading down to the Cayman Islands for a lionfish cull or delicious lionfish dinner offers a unique dining experience not available in most restaurants around the world.

Have you tried lionfish or taken part in a cull? Please share your experience in the comments below.

top photo — Photo courtesy of Florida Fish & Wildlife.

Travel Ideas: From Shabushabu to Soba Japan’s Kansai Area

August 9, 2014 by  

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Throughout Japan, you’ll find mascots for the different cities and regions. Here I am befriending the very friendly and excited (she grabbed my arms and started jumping up and down at one point!) mascot of Kyotanabe city in the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture.

I recently took a trip to Japan, exploring the Kansai Region’s many food and cultural offerings. Aside for Kyoto, I had never really heard of the other places I went to, adding an element of excitement to the visit. After spending time in spaces like Uji, Nara, Amanohashidate, Izushi and Osaka — as well as Kyoto — I’ve come to realize Japan has much to offer beyond what you usually hear about. To provide insight into what I’m talking about, here are eight reasons why Japan’s Kansai Region should be your next trip.

1. You Can Find True Love At Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple in Kyoto’s Eastern Mountain Area was established during the eighth century. Made of wood, the structure has burned down numerous times, although the building we see today — created without nails and featuring a thatched roof — was created in 1633. Surrounded by forest you can take a nature stroll, drink from three crystal cascades for prosperity, or make a wish for good fortune by ringing a series of bells and calling for the gods.

My personal favorite Kiyomizu-Dera Temple activity, however, was finding out I was destined for true love. The task involved walking between two boulders — spaced about 43 feet apart — making it from one to the other successfully with your eyes closed. This can be tricky not only due to the loss of sight, but also because of how crowded the temple gets. Luckily when I did it everyone was too busy staring and laughing at me to get in my way and I made it to the other side. Looks like I’m ready for love.

Bonus: Follow the exit signs toward Sanen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Paths, where the houses and structures retain the same architecture since the Edo Period (1600-1867) . It’s also possible to walk to Kodaiji Temple and continue on to Gion, famous for its old world charm and talented maiko and geiko.

2. Cultural Immersion At A Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony In Uji

While Japan in general is known for its rich tea culture, not many places is this more true than Uji. Located on the outskirts of the city of Kyoto, Uji is lush with green tea fields, while its streets offer free green tea tastings, green tea ice cream, green tea infused foods and liqueurs and, my personal favorite, Japanese tea ceremonies. I experienced the ceremony at the city-run Taiho-an (2 Ugi-Ttogawa), a wooden pavilion building complete with an interior of tatami mats, shoji doors, flower arrangements, sandalwood incense and changing seasonal accents.

It’s a budget-friendly travel experience at $5, and you’ll learn how the tea ceremony is about more than having a healthy drink, but offering guests impeccable service and visual enjoyment through decoration and smooth tea-making movements, because you never know what tomorrow may bring. English services are sometimes offered, although you’ll need to make a reservation in advance, although I recommend bringing your own English-speaking guide.

3. A Surreal Experience Strolling Through 5,000 Shinto Gates At Fushimi Inai Taisha Shrine In Kyoto

At Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine In Kyoto, one can easily spend over four hours exploring the offerings of the religious site. There are numerous opportunities for making wishes for the future — like ringing giant bells and writing on small wooden torii gates — as well as opportunities to have your fortune read by choosing oracles at random and purchasing an amulet to ward off evil spirits.

One can also hike to the top of a mountain in a unique way. From the entrance of the Shinto shrine to the summit of Mount Inari one will gain an elevation of about 550 feet (168 meters) — the mountain is 765 fee/233 meters high) — with 5,000 bright orange torii gates lining the paths. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha,” they show the pathway with a girl sprinting through the arches. The trail is about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) round trip, and worth it for the surreal experience of walking under the bright-colored entryways the whole time, passing small shrines and taking in aerial views of Kyoto city. Tip: Bring lots of water, because there aren’t many places to purchase it onsite, although there are a few at the bottom of the attraction.

shabushabu

Shabushabu. Photo courtesy of Drew Bates.

4. Delicious Shabushabu

One of the most interesting restaurants I ate at during my trip to Kansai was at Gion Gyuzen (323 Gionmachikitagawa, Higashiyamaku) and partaking in some traditional shabushabu. Upon entering the restaurant I was asked to remove my shoes and was escorted to a private room with sliding doors and a low table adorned with two hot pots filled with water.

Soon, plates of Kobe beef, pork, octopus, jellyfish, Japanese pumpkin, prawns, crab, scallops, sweet potatoes, enoki mushrooms, sprouts, konnyaku (glass noodles), Chinese cabbage, onion and more were brought in an unlimited fashion for myself and my dinner companions to cook ourselves in a hot pot. It’s particularly fun saying “shabushabu” quickly, over and over, until your food is ready to be smothered in your DIY sauces and eaten. Tip: Save room dessert. The restaurant serves a decadent banana crepe stuffed with vanilla ice cream and thick whipped cream and topped with chocolate and caramel sauces.

train journey

A shot from my scenic train journey from Kyoto to Amanohashidate. Photo courtesy of Jessica Festa via a Nokia Lumia Icon.

5. Ambient Cycling Boating And Chairlifting Amanohashidate

Touted as one of Japan’s top three most scenic spots, Amanohashidate, a beautiful 2.2-mile (3.6-kilometer) natural sand bridge — is the perfect spot for enjoying a number of scenic activities in the outdoors. Start with a filling bamboo-steamed Seiro-mushi Japanese lunch at Hashidate Daimaru, which also has a store offering free mochi and sweets samples as well as a bike shop. If you’re coming from the train you’ll make your second left (there are only two before you hit the water and the street begins to curve) and the venue is located in front of the gate of Monjudo.

Make a left out of the shop with your bike to Amanohashidate (the sand bridge), shaded by 8,000 pine trees and hugged by water on both sides — the Miyazu Bay and the Aso Sea. The trail is 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers) long, and features a number of attractions like the Amanohashidate Fuchu Beach, Amanohashidate Shrine and a rotating bridge called Kaisenkyou.

You can drop your bikes at the end of the trail at Kasamatsu no Sato Bike Shop before making your way to Kasamatsu Park — about a five minute walk — where you can take a cable car of chair lift to the top of the observatory 427 feet (130 meters) above the city. Interestingly, from above the landscape looks like the Chinese character for “one,” which is why some people call it Chinese Character View.

Make sure to try your luck at throwing a clay pigeon through a suspended aerial hoop, as well as bending over to view Amanohashidate through your legs — said to look like “a bridge to heaven.” It’s pretty spectacular, and even if you don’t think so you’ll at least have a laugh doing it. End the day with a ferry ride from the Tango Ichinomiya Boat Dock back to where you started, not only scenic because you see coastline and traditional Japanese architecture, but also fun as you’ll hand-feed seagulls shrimp chips — a scarier feat than it sounds especially when they’re launching themselves at you to get the food.

6. Onsen Hopping

During my trip through Kansai I stayed at a traditional ryokan, complete with kaiseki-style meals (many courses with lots of small Japanese tastings); a guest room with tatami flooring, sliding doors and futon bedding; the chance to wear a kimono 24/7; and…an onsen. I’ll admit I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect before experiencing the onsen myself. Bathing naked with strangers? How is that relaxing? I’m going to be too busy trying to cover my hoo-ha to unwind.

Luckily the baths are separated by gender, and after experiencing it for myself I understand why people enjoy it so much. Nobody cares that you’re naked, and the purely relaxing experience of the hot mineral water soaking your skin (the onsen I was in also had a hot man-made waterfall) will make you forget your sans clothes in front of strangers.

If it helps, just remember you’ll never see these people again anyway, so who cares? I recommend having this experience in Japan’s Kinosaki Area, known for its abundant hot springs and ryokans.

You can read more about my first onsen experience here.

me soba

Me, learning to make soba in Japan.

7. The Chance To Learn How To Make Soba From Scratch

I love all carbs, but I’ve always had a special affinity for soba noodles. So you can imagine my excitement when in Izushi, a town known for its rich soba noodle culture and unique way of eating the dish, I was able to learn how to make them.

Irusaya Restaurant (98-10Uchimachi), once a traditional Japanese house, was the location of the class, which involved finger-mixing 80% buckwheat flour, 20% wheat flour and water, kneading it, cutting it and boiling it to create the delicious healthy noodles beloved by locals and visitors alike. What’s interesting about Izushi’s soba culture is it’s prepared, served and eaten differently than in other parts of Japan.

For example, in Izushi soba is served cold rather than hot, and on many small locally-made ceramic plates rather than large dishes. When it comes time to eat the soba, one starts with a salty soba sauce base and can choose to add yam puree, minced green onion and wasabi, or a raw egg to create a dipping sauce for the noodles.

At the end of the meal, the hot water used to boil the soba is added to the sauce to be drank as a digestive soup. Getting to actually make the soba and be guided through the eating process was a unique cultural experience. Bonus: Right across the street at Kano Farm they sell buckwheat soba ice cream, made from scratch with their own cow’s milk.

8. Dance…With Deer

In Nara Park, you’ll be truly immersed in a fantasy-like world — beginning with over 1,000 friendly deer. Being from Long Island where it’s forbidden to touch and feed wild deer, it was amazing to me that in Nara deer are protected and visitors can pet and feed them. From February 1 to March 16 and certain dates in August every day from 9:30-10am visitors can enjoy a free calling and feeding show (it’s $200 if you’d like a private/group show at another time).

During this time, an individual from the foundation for the protection of the deer in Nara will blow a French horn, causing about one hundred deer to come sprinting from the forest. When they arrive, the horn blower hand-feeds the deer acorns and you can give them deer cookies made of wheat and rice bran (about $1.50; you can purchase from stands around the park). It’s amazing how friendly the deer are — although definitely don’t taunt them with food or you will get bit! I ended up in a dance with the deer as I twirled dropping cookies from above my head.

From there the fantasyland continued as I walked down a long pebble road shrouded in Japanese cedar trees and lined with 2,000 stone lanterns toward the Kasugataisya Shrine, deer — thought to be the messengers of the temple gods — strolling toward me. I thought I’d died and gone to Nirvana.

Have you visited Japan’s Kansai Region? What were your most memorable moments? Please share in the comments below.

My trip to Japan’s Kansai Region was sponsored by the Japan National Tourism Organization. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated for it. All opinions are 100% my own.

 

Saratoga New York in the Summer, A Great Choice for a Long Weekend

August 8, 2014 by  

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In late July, I visited an old friend in Saratoga Springs. After spending my days drinking wine and (unsuccessfully) betting at the track, exploring lush green parks and  savoring free samples at artisanal shops — and my nights restaurant and bar hopping — there’s no doubt I will be returning soon, especially as it’s so easy to get to from my home of New York City.

Getting There

Whenever I’m traveling on the East Coast, the first method of transportation I check is Megabus. I’ve never been disappointed. While certainly not the most luxurious way to get from Point A to B, it’s comfortable enough. And at $35 total for a six-hour round-trip ride from NYC to Albany — located near Saratoga Springs — you can’t complain. That being said, you may regret not having a car once up there if you don’t have a friend to chauffeur you around. If you don’t want to rent a car, try to get a hotel/hostel right in the city center — many of the activities, restaurants, bars and attractions are walkable — and then you can take cabs or buses as needed, which are relatively affordable.

Note: MegaBus does have an NYC-Saratoga Springs route, but it doesn’t run as frequently as the NYC-Albany route.

The Savory Pantry

Photo courtesy of The Savory Pantry.

Do

Saratoga Race Track 

From mid-July until early September, the Saratoga Race Track is the main attraction of Saratoga Springs, with admission being $5 general admission or $8 for the clubhouse with seats. Get there early to claim a spot on the lawn or some picnic tables and bring a picnic lunch — complete with wine and beer — and enjoy the atmosphere. You can bet as low as $1 on the races, which makes it accessible even to those who aren’t quite sure what they’re doing (like me, who bets on horses based on how “fun” their names are). Tip: Instead of paying for parking in the lots park on one of the neighborhood side streets for free.

Savor Free Samples

Walk around the artisan-filled town of Saratoga Springs and you’ll have the chance to savor an array of free samples and talk with local purveyors. Start at the Saratoga Salsa & Spice Company where you can try salsas, sauces and even a unique salt you put in your beer. From there, venture to Saratoga Olive Oil to sample over 50 different infused and varietal olive oils, dark and light balsamics and sea salts, with some choices including white truffle olive oil, wild mushroom and sage olive oil, black cherry balsamic vinegar, traditional 18-year old balsamic, Vermont maple balsamic and smoked bacon Cajun sea salt.

If you’re interested in learning more about the oils, they offer tours of the shop. And at The Savory Pantry, newly opened in July 2014, the focus is handcrafted artisan food and drink products, with the chance to savor free samples like raw wild black sage honey, cookie spread, pesto sauce, white truffle almond butter, coffee-flavored caramel and more.

Nature Walk In Congress Park

Congress Park is a pristine park full of attractions and things to do, like sipping from natural mineral springs, riding a whimsical carousel and seeing the many ducks at the pond. There’s also a pool, the Saratoga Springs History Museum, the historic Canfield Casino from the 1870s (a National Historic Landmark) and lots of open green space and paths for picnicking and walking. Events like concerts, organized runs and shows happen here frequently. After walking the park exit onto Union Street to see the many beautiful Victorian homes.

crab cakes

Lillian’s Restaurant crab cakes

Dining And Nightlife

For a delicious and budget-friendly brunch, Lillian’s Restaurant is highly recommended. All of their hearty dishes are under $15 and are served in an ambient Victorian era space. Some menu highlights include a panini with baked Virginia ham, Swiss and Dijon; steak teriyaki marinated in Asian rice wine sauce; and vegetarian ravioli tossed in sweet red bell pepper pesto. You can also opt for their $20 buffet menu including fresh fruit with yogurt, fresh baked pastries, almond French toast, eggs Benedict, crispy bacon, sausage, an omelet station, potatoes, juice and hot beverages.

If you like seafood, The Merry Monk is known for its mussel menu, with some choices including Thai with coconut milk, red curry and ginger; Bisque-style with lobster cream and sweet paprika; and Americana with crispy bacon, shallots, blue cheese and white wine. They also serve a wide-selection of craft beers from around New York, as well as the usual American bar food fare.

saratoga city tavern

Photo courtesy of Saratoga City Tavern

For a fun night out, Saratoga City Tavern has five floors of unique offerings, whether you’re looking for an ambient rooftop experience, relaxed library room with a pool table or a hard core dance club. If you just want to dance, Thirteen next door is a true club.

If you want something relaxed the Henry Street Taproom focuses on farm to table food, charcuterie and American craft beer, including sours, IPAs, stouts, ales, wheats, lagers, Belgian-style beers, wheats, ledgers and gluten-free beers. All of their staff are cicerone-certified, and can help you create the perfect pairing.

Have you visited Saratoga Springs? What was your experience.

top photo courtesy of Beverley Goodwin.

Behind the Scenes: The Magic of Seaweed

August 8, 2014 by  

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seaweed

You’ve seen it on the beach. But did you also know you could enjoy it on your plate?

If you wander down the aisles of any major supermarket, you could be forgiven for getting the impression that we are a nation obsessed with foods that claim to have special healing, weight loss or energy boosting properties. Goji berries, aloe vera, guarana, quinoa are now household names, and are transported at great expense from the ends of the earth to make us slimmer, stronger, healthier and more virile. However, there is a food group – much closer to home – that is packed with nutrients, abundantly available and best of all, free.

The food is seaweed, found right the way along our shoreline and available to be harvested with the most minimal amount of effort. You might well already be familiar with the Nori, used in Sushi rolls, but there are many other types that are equally delicious and by virtue of growing in the sea, naturally absorb many of the minerals from seawater. You’ll find Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Iodine and Magnesium all present plus high concentrations of Vitamin C and B, lots of amino acids and a high fibre content. And to top it all off a very low calorie content.

Of all the varieties of seaweed found on UK shores, only a handful are really worth bothering with. These include Laver, Sea lettuce, Dulse, the Gutweeds and to a lesser extent, Kelp. We’ve experimented with quite a few in our time but have come to the conclusion that the softer more delicate varieties like the ulvas taste the best. These bright green seaweeds are easy to find and don’t need too much preparation before they can be cooked. While the bright green seaweeds are the best for eating there is also something to be said for the achievement of making Laverbread, which involves a marathon 5 hour cooking session, which is not just delicious but research shows can be used to treat flu.

seaweed

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina

When it comes to collecting seaweed, you should first make sure you are allowed to do so. If in doubt, ask the landowner for permission. Look for a rocky, rather than sandy beach, as this will save time later when washing what you collect. Try to avoid pulling up the holdfast, the part of the seaweed that is attached to rock. Instead use a knife to trim away what you need. At this point a word of warning, no matter how hard you try there will always be sand mixed in with what you collect. This will need to be washed out before you eat it, otherwise you’ll get that dreaded crunch between your teeth. Rinse the seaweed in rockpools as much as possible, or pick seaweed that is already in water as it is likely to be less sandy.

As well as sand you’ll also find lots of other goodies mixed in with seaweed. Some like sandhoppers are welcome bits of flavour and protein, others like bits of shell and stones are not. Before you cook with the seaweed take the time to rinse it again, fill a large bucket or sink with water and swirl the seaweed around to dislodge anything in-between the fronds. Use several refills of fresh water to ensure the highest chance of success.

Now decide what to do with it. Bright green seaweeds can be dried and deep fried for a couple of seconds to make a real crispy seaweed, then sprinkle equal amounts of salt and sugar over the top for seasoning. Those big kelp fronds can be used to season soups and stocks, simply add when cooking and remove before serving. Laver can be cooked down to a paste and teamed with bacon and oatmeal for the quintessential Welsh dish Laverbread. You can also dry the more delicate seaweeds and add to salads or use as garnish, they have a characteristic taste of the sea.

One of our favourite recipes when we were on the road filming the Three Hungry Boys was the seaweed rosti. This hearty dish is quick and simple to make with very few ingredients and definitely fills a hole. See recipe below.

seaweed

Photo courtesy of Vegan Feast Catering.

Ingredients

- A 50:50 mix of grated potato and seaweed. We recommend either sea lettuce or gut weed, avoid the stringy tough seaweed.

- Enough flour (about a table spoon per potato) to bind the mixture

- 1 egg per 2 large potatoes

- Salt and pepper

- Oil for frying

- Try a chopped red chilli or some paprika for extra flavour and colour.

Instructions

1) Peel and grate the uncooked potato. Set aside.

2) Using an equal amount of seaweed (to potato), boil in salted water in the largest pan you have for 1 minute. This softens the seaweed but also allows any sand or sand hoppers to separate and fall to the bottom.

3) Remove the seaweed using a slotted spoon and drain excess water, use kitchen tool to absorb the last of the moisture.

4) Place potato, seaweed, flour, seasoning and extras (egg, chilli, paprika) into a bowl and thoroughly mix. Add extra flour if too wet until a firm patty can be formed.

5) Make patties as thin as possible (1cm is ideal) and fry in oil until golden brown on each side.

6) Serve while still hot with either sour cream or mayonnaise, this also works really well with smoked mackerel (line caught of course).

This article originally appeared on Sustainable Food Trust by Trevor Brinkman.

Top photo credit: Photo courtesy of Mike Taylor.

 

A Guide to Traveling With Disabilities

August 8, 2014 by  

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Photo courtesy of Teresa Robinson

 

As I was planning for a trip toBig Bear in Southern California for a leadership retreat, I asked the teacher who was coordinating the trip if the campsite was accessible for those traveling with disabilities. I require wheelchair accessibility, such as ramps, flat surfaces and accessible bathrooms. Her answer was yes. Upon arrival I quickly noticed that my definition of accessible was challenged. My eyes fell upon a small brown building that read “handicap accessible bathroom,” but the bathroom was raised from the ground by a large slab of cement. Sure the bathroom was accessible, but there was no way for me to get up the slab of the cement to the bathroom by myself.

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude”-Scott Hamilton.

I could have gazed up at that high-rise bathroom and felt conquered by my disability, but I chose to change my attitude about the situation. With help from friends, I was lifted up the cement slab and made it just in time. I’m telling you this not to share a funny memory, instead to show how I was not prepared for my trip.

Do Your Research

One aspect of traveling is exploring the unknown, but when traveling with a disability it is crucial to make sure you have a solid foundation of knowledge to help you make the most of your trip. When planning for an upcoming trip, I make sure to cover the five essentials: who, what, when, where and why.

Heard of the saying, “Only you know yourself the best”? Well, it’s true. You know your disability and what limits you are willing to test when traveling. Come up with a list — mentally or on a piece of paper — of what accommodations you may need while traveling. Your list may include breaks for resting, accessible showers or medical supplies you may need to bring with you. Whatever it is, make sure to evaluate yourself and to be honest about your expectations.
What will your trip consist of? Will you be hiking through a national park or road tripping along the coast in search of beautiful beaches?

Do your research on your planned activities. By research I mean to call places ahead and ask specific questions about accessibility, such as if the national park you are visiting has paved trails for those who need wheelchair accessibility. Showing up at your destination and discovering that you are unable to physically hike the trails could add unneeded stress to your trip.

Timing

When will you be traveling? The time of the year you’re planning for is very important. Check the weather. Will it be over 100 degrees, or will it be non-stop pouring? The weather could really alter what you are able to accomplish on your expedition. Whether or not the weather is a crucial factor, depends on your disability. Since I am in a wheelchair, traveling when it is pouring down rain would make getting around very difficult. Knowing the weather of your destination ties into Step One of knowing yourself and what you are comfortable with.

Photo courtesy of Le Portillon

Photo courtesy of Le Portillon

Your Destination

While all these details matter, but what really matters is where you are going. Knowing the location of your destination guides you towards the answers for the other four steps. For instance, if you are traveling to a historic location such as Europe, it is important to note cobblestone streets or historic buildings were not built with accessibility in mind.

Packing your bags and picking a spot on the map is exhilarating, but your plans can crumble when you get to where you’re going and realize it is not accessible. Or maybe research leads you to believe a destination is accessible, but once you get there you realize “accessible” can have different meanings — such as my accessible bathroom on a high-rise slab. This is why researching and planning ahead for your trip matters. Personally knowing that you can be independent while on your trip allows you to feel safe to take more risks and be the adventurous traveler you have always imagined!

This is the first article in an original Epicure & Culture series, The Wheel Deal, which looks into how to travel and have immersive experiences around the globe with a physical handicap. We hope you feel inspired to see the world, despite any physical difficulties.

Do you travel with a disability? Please share your stories and tips in the comments below.

Contributed by Katie Estrella from DiscoverKatie.

 

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