Friday, April 4, 2014

Bienvenidos a Ica, Peru!

My friends and I decided to book a day trip to Ica, a small city four hours away known for pisco brandy vineyards and sand-surfing. I was nervous about sand-surfing (I can't do sports) and super excited to see my first vineyard. The bus ride there was superb, almost first class compared to Greyhound back home. We got spacious full reclining seats, pillows & blankets, a decent meal with coffee, and a good film.

Ica is in the middle of the desert rich with indigenous culture and tradition. It's very dry, incredibly flat and surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It felt like a place where time stood still. Our first vineyard, Bodegas Vista Alegre, was like a beautiful Spanish hacienda and was founded in the mid 1850s and is still run by the same family to this day.


copper pot still or alembic, part of the pisco distillation process

 After a couple pisco tours we went for a lunch feast at El Catador restaurant. My friend Isabel ordered a braised beef dish that looked sooo good, I almost broke my no meat rule. I did pick at her beans and noodles, which were fantastic. I couldn't get enough of the cebiche; it's the perfect balance between sour and spicy and super healthy. And it always came with canchas, a special type of popcorn made from an Andean corn variety called chulpe. It's salty crunchy on the outside and popcorny on the inside and went really well with beer.

Our final vineyard, Tres Generaciones, was really fantastic because it uses very old distilling techniques. The distillery is mainly used by local producers who create small quantities of wine or pisco.

where grapes get crushed
where the juice gets filtered through and the skins left behind
ceramic pilars where wine gets stored for aging
the condenser coil, part of the pisco distillation process
where pisco gets stored for aging

Several tasting shots later, we were off to the Las Dunas for some sand-surfing. Thank God I had a nice pisco buzz going on. I had no idea how insane the sand buggy ride would be.

The sand buggy was equipped with seat belts that resembled upside-down roller coaster harnesses... why I wondered. I was already nervous because I suck at sports, so this didn't help. Our driver raced off to the dunes and took us on the scariest ride ever! We went up and down these massive sand dunes at full speed with an old rickety engine spitting oil and steam, while we lifted off our seats. I was so terrified and just imagined our buggy tipping over and us rolling around in the sand.

To my relief the sand-surfing we did was nothing like real surfing. Instead, we laid across our boards on our stomachs and sled down head first. Our first dune (pictured here) was so high and so steep, I chickened out. Once upon a time I used to be fearless and would have loved this, so I was kind of annoyed by my inner wuss. With the help of my friend I mustered up the courage to sled down and it was really, really fun.


After the dunes, we headed back to Lima and flew out the following day. I had such a great time and wanted to say thanks Ica for the good times and to my girlfriends for making Peru so memorable. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bienvenidos a Lima

Our move to Rio was my first trip to South America and I'd been dying to travel to this part of the world for years, but it was always too far and too expensive from England. Not anymore! So when my girlfriends from Cali asked me to join them on a trip to Lima, Peru, I said hell yeah! It was actually pretty spontaneous, which made it all the more exciting.

First, lets talk food. OH MY GOD IT'S GOOD. Peruvian food is so diverse, it's a mix of indigenous dishes like papa a la huancaina and fusions with other cultures like tallarines. I loved the varieties of corn and potatoes and the rich sauces. It was so refreshing to see vegetables play an important and colorful role in Peruvian food. 

We went to this restaurant called La Onceava in Barranco, a cool neighborhood with Victorian architecture, lots of entertainment and oddly interspersed abandoned streets. We ordered many traditional dishes like cebiche, tallarine, tiraditos and causas. Everything was fresh, delicious and beyond this world. 

tallarine verde con langostinos
more cebiche

We ate up a storm and got really drunk. We arrived in Peru during the elections during which the country imposes a strict no drinking policy EVERYWHERE. However we were armed with charm and managed to convince our waiter to serve us pitcher upon pitcher of the famous national drink, the Pisco sour. That thing was tasty and absolutely lethal. By round two it was clear that we were drinking and the only ones in the restaurant.

Pisco sour with a side of cebiches, tiradito de pulpo and causa de cangrejo

We stayed at Casa Andina in beautiful Miraflores, which was the best location. It has gardens aplenty like El Parque de Amor, is close to the Costa Verde, has great shops like ArtesanĂ­as Miraflores and great restaurants.  

Costa Verde

The beach is lined with Tsunami evacuation signs and with good reason. Peru has lots of earthquakes and shortly after taking this photo, we felt the ground tremble. Although it was a minor earthquake, it was very strange and kind of scary.

I only went for 4 days, but managed to cram in a lot including a trip to Ica, home to many Pisco vineyards and massive sand dunes. Stay tuned for more photos from that trip.

Monday, March 24, 2014

In the Kitchen: Arroz com Castanha de Caju


A few weeks ago our friends invited us to this great seafood restaurant called Bangalo in Barra da Tijuca. We ordered their most popular dish baked octopus which was fantastic, but it was the cashew rice or arroz com castanha de caju with prawns that really won me over. It was amazing, full of different flavors and I loved the crunch from the cashew nuts. The rice was also seeped in a red buttery jus and it was lovely, but I imagine not very healthy.


I've been thinking of that rice ever since and the other night I decided to create my own heart healthy version served with a light squid stir fry. Serves 4 diabetic portions of 1/2 cup each. 

Arroz com Castanha de Caju
1tbs olive oil or coconut oil
1 fish bouillon cube (vegetable works just fine too)
1 cup of wholegrain brown rice
2 cups of water
1/4 cup of fresh cilantro
salt & pepper
1/2 yellow onion roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
1/2 cup roasted unsalted crushed cashews

Heat up the oil and gently stir fry your onion and garlic until soft. Add the rice and toss it around so that it's nicely coated in oil and mixed in with the garlic and onions. Let it toast for a few minutes until it starts browning a little, then add the water and bouillon cube. We have strong concentrated bouillon cubes here and for me, one is more than enough. If yours is a bit weaker than double up. Let the water come to a boil, then reduce down to a simmer and cover. Leave for about 15-20 minutes or until rice is fully cooked and liquid absorbed.


Once your rice is cooked, give it a taste to see if it needs any salt and pepper. Add the coriander and cashew nuts just before you are about to serve. 


Squid stir fry with vegetables
olive oil or coconut oil (I used olive oil butter here)
1 1/2 cups of chopped squid (for vegetarians substitute with firm tofu, seitan, etc.)
1 red chili minced
1 garlic clove minced
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper thinly sliced
ground coriander
ground cumin
ground paprika

Heat up a large frying pan or wok with a bit of oil and sautee your onions on medium heat. When the onions begin to soften, add the garlic and chili and cook for a few minutes. Then add your red bell pepper and season with salt and pepper. When the red peppers start to break down, remove all your veggies from pan and set aside.

Using the same pan, add a couple tablespoons of oil and start sauteeing your squid. Add a generous dash of paprika, coriander and cumin. Squid will release a lot of water whilst cooking, so cook on a medium to high heat. Squid cooks quickly too, so keep a close eye on the texture and color. They will start changing from translucent to white as they cook and you want it to be slightly firm, but not tight, hard and chewy.

When the squid is almost finished, toss back in your cooked veggies and reheat along with the squid until fully cooked. This meal was a success and the rice delicious. And we gobbled up all of the rice between the two of us. Doh!

Fun reads for this post:
Apparently all cashews are cooked, even raw ones, because the shell is super poisonous!
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