Sunday, November 19, 2017

Weekend Cooking: A Taste of Tuscon

One of the things I really wanted to do when I was in New York was a food tour. There are so many interesting looking tours that are available - specific types of food, neighbourhoods and more - but we just didn't have time this time.

From New York we were flying to Tuscon to meet up with some friends for part of the weekend. I have known these girls online for many, many years since we originally met on the forums for author Sara Donati. There is a core group of about 10 of us who have stayed close over the years despite the fact that we are spread all over the world. There are members in the US and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France. I have previously met two of them on my last trip to California, but the third girl was one I hadn't met which was very exciting.

Originally when they were planning their girls get together they asked if I want to come to America and I was very tempted but had to say no because, well, it's a long way to go for a weekend, but by getting our dates just right I was able to be there for at least a full day before we flew back to Australia.

Given that we did only have just over a day, we wanted to make sure that we used our time wisely. Robert already knew what he was going to do. Tuscon is home to the largest plane grave yard in the world so he was going off to look at planes and helicopters. In the course of looking for what we were going to do I came across a walking food tour of Tuscon, and also the fact that Tuscon was made a UNESCO City of Gastronomy a couple of years ago, so this is what we did for the afternoon.

In the end, there were the four of us and the tour guides, so it was almost like a personal tour, something that was emphasised at the end of the tour. I had been talking about how we hadn't been able to find any traditional American apple pie. The tour had ended when the guide came back and gave me a back containing an apple empanada. She apologised for it not being pie but hoped it would do as a substitute.

So first, a don't do before embarking on this tour!

Don't visit a craft market and stock up on various different flavours of pie with plans to eat them when you finish the tour. You will be waaayyyy too full to even contemplate anything for dinner except maybe some nibblies much later in the evening, preferably after a spell in the hot tub. Visit the craft market by all means. Contemplate buying lots of different pieces of jewellery all you like. You just won't need the pie.

We met in a lovely courtyard area called Mercado San Agustin where there are various different shops including a Mexican bakery, some kind of iced confectionery place (Sonoran Sno-cones) as well as the first of five stops on our tour, Agustin.

Here we tried some amazing food, including some of the best calamari I have ever tasted, goats cheese brulee that was to die for and a new to the menu kale salad. The chef came out and talked to us about why sustainability was so important in the food world right now which was very cool. He was very passionate about the food he had presented to us and about this subject.

The next stop is my kind of place - brunch. Again the chef came out to speak to us and when he heard I was from Australia he was very enthusiastic because brunch is really big here and cafes and restaurants are constantly trying to do interesting things with breakfasty type foods. He said that he followed a number of Australian chefs to get inspiration We got to taste 3 tasters, and I have to say the Cinnamon Griddle Cakes were amazing. The others were good too.

Next stop we had sliders at a sports bar type place. Not your normal beef or pulled pork, but this time it was duck, which I have never had on a burger before. It was so good, especially combined with the house coleslaw which was definitely identifiable as coleslaw but also had a different taste to it. It was really fresh and tangy and went with the sliders perfectly. One thing that was interesting about this place was that they had a lot of flavoured vodkas available, some that I can imagine drinking but a few that I couldn't. Roasted Garlic vodka? Green pepper vodka? Anyone, anyone?

We were all full now but still managed to find space for some wood fired pizza. The pizza was great but it was the salad that was the surprise. It was fresh and delicious and it would have been good to go back and just have the salad by itself, which in itself is something that I would never have expected to say about a pizza joint.

Last stop was the ice creamery which is all natural ingredients and some interesting flavour combinations. For example, there was a bourbon and bacon ice cream flavour. The bourbon ice cream was really good, the bacon not so much, but that's probably because I don't really get why you would mess around too much with bacon by doing things like covering it in chocolate, putting it in cupcakes or ice cream.

It wasn't all about the food though. During the course of the tour we were also introduced to some of the history of Tuscon, and to some of the interesting buildings in town, including the movie theatre and an old hotel, and also some of the many murals that have been painted in downtown Tuscon over recent years.

One fun thing was that because it was close to Halloween the movie theatre was having a free showing of Beetlejuice. As we walked past there was a guy there all dressed up as Beetlejuice in the full costume. A bit later in our tour, we came across the guy again, but this time he was out walking around town with his wife. He was dressed normally from the neck down but he was still full Beetlejuice from the neck up!!

The tour was well run, a good pace and it was a nice touch to include an all day trolley ticket so that we could continue to explore the city if we wanted to. We chose to head back to Le Augustin for a cocktail to round off our day nicely!

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and one I would definitely recommend if you happen to find yourself in Tuscon with a few spare hours!

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Weekend Cooking: Eating our way around America

In my last post I mentioned that my son has moved to Kansas to go and play junior college basketball. He has moved to a really small town in Kansas. It is only right that we make the effort to go and see where he is living now so that we can visualise where he lives, goes to school, trains and plays basketball etc. And, it's only fair that if we go to visit him, then should take the opportunity to go and visit a big city that we both (being the boyfriend and I) have previously said we wanted to visit. And finally it's only fair that we take the opportunity to catch up with friends as well. Given how fair that all sounds, we did it! And had a great time doing so.

We flew from Melbourne to Wichita via LA and Denver. This wasn't our original plan. Originally the plan was to fly to Kansas City via LA and San Francisco but there were issues in San Francisco so we ended up changing our flights. On landing in LA we had one of our stranger meals (deep fried ham and cheese sandwich on really sweet bread which was then served with jam/jelly. Having said that on the way home we had really great pizza in LAX and I also tried the Orange Chicken from Panda Express that my son loves there too. I may have also had my first and then last margarita in the airport, but there were also a few in between

Denver was where our food adventures started. I know that it is only airport food, but we had dinner in Denver at the Mexican restaurant and it was delicious!! I don't really know why but Mexican food and margaritas taste much better in the US than they do here. Maybe more authentic or less homogenised or something. I'm not really sure.

The town that the boy lives in is really small but it has some fast food options which keeps a teenage boy happy. The best thing we had there was at the sports bar where we had a philly cheese steak sandwich. So delicious!

We were also able to have soda's at an old fashioned soda fountain.

That was quickly surpassed though by what was probably the best meal we had in the US on this trip. One of the things we wanted to try was Kansas BBQ and we had it on the Sunday night we were in Wichita. Oh. my. goodness. The pork ribs were sooooo good.

On the not so good scale were the donuts we had there. They were advertised as one of the best places to get donuts in the city. If they were the best, I am concerned because I would much rather eat the donuts from the place about 10 minutes from my house. I was a little bit brave at the donut shop and tried to the pumpkin donut with spiced cream cheese frosting. The frosting was amazing. The donut...not so much. I know that at this time of the year the whole country goes crazy for pumpkin flavoured pies, coffee, and lots of other things, but it was really a bit of a no no to this Aussie who eats her pumpkin roasted or in soup.

We were hoping to go to the home of the first ever Pizza Hut but the building was in the process of being moved and so we couldn't find it! We did, however, get to drive through the university grounds.

We really enjoyed our time in Kansas and I hope to do another post to talk about the non food related highlights at some point, but we'll see!!

Our next stop was New York, the Big Apple!! And of course we had to do all the touristy stuff. For both of us it was our first time in the city and it was somewhere we had both wanted to go for a long time. With only a few days we wanted to see the sights, but also allow ourselves enough time to spend time in specific places as well.

First foodie stop.... cheesecake!! And the Red Velvet Cheesecake did not disappoint. Robert had an apple crumble cheesecake which was also really good. Whilst we were in New York, of course we had to have a hot dog (didn't really live up to expectations), we had pizza at Lombardi's, fresh bagels for breakfast, cinnamon scrolls, cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery (oh that frosting) and more.

 Our final stop after 3 and a bit hectic days in New York was Tuscon in Arizona. Talk about a contrast to New York! Tuscon is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy which was surprising, and we (my friends and I did a foodie walking tour which gave me some insight into why. I am planning to write a specific post about the Taste of Tuscon tour, but let's just say we had some really good food!!

The reason we went to Tuscon is because 3 people I have been friends with online for over 10 years had organised a girls weekend months ago. At the time, they asked me to go and had said that I couldn't because, well, it's a long way from Australia to Tuscon just for the weekend but the timing worked out well because we were in the country at the same time as the weekend, so I could go.

We spent time at a craft market where there were some interesting looking displays including a guy selling all different types of pies etc. We did get some to try but we ended up eating so much on the walking tour that I forgot to eat it! Oh well. Next time.

For breakfast on the first morning my friend cooked biscuits and gravy which was a first for us. The second morning we did bacon and eggs. A little more normal for us but still tasty.

One of my friends bought these delicious little morsels and I could easily have eaten the whole bag by myself. Instead a bought a few handfuls home and tried to ration myself to only a few a day but I wasn't totally successful.

You would think that being on our way home would be the end of our foodie adventures in America for this trip, but you would be wrong. In order to get from Tuscon we had to fly via San Francisco. The next flight was delayed (there's a pattern here!!) and so we had a few hours to kill so we ended up having clam chowder in sourdough bread which was really good, and just a taster for when we get to spend time in the city proper.

Our final foodie stop was at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in LAX where we had a delicious pizza. Happy eating at the airport indeed!

We don't need to talk about the plane food because it was suitably average but the airport food was pretty darned good.

The only thing that we had been really looking forward to that we didn't get to do was to have down town apple pie from a diner, piled high with whipped cream, but for some reason that was harder to find than we expected. It's on the to do list for next time. In the mean time, we are on a quest to find a really good American style apple pie. I tried a new recipe last week that was good without being amazing so watch this space as we continue this quest.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


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