Category Archives: Travel

Being Present in Newfoundland: Part 1

lighthouse at cape spearsYou know it’s been an awesome holiday when you leave thinking about how soon you can return again. We usually go to New York City each fall with our friends “The Grizzlies.” I have written about our previous sojourns to Manhattan with them in this space, here and here. This fall, Mrs. Grizzly suggested we stay in our own country and visit Newfoundland instead.colourful houses in st john'sFor some reason I have always attributed the quality of quirkiness to Newfoundland and it’s citizens. This most likely stems from hearing promotional ads on TV announcing upcoming stories on that night’s news. “That’s 10:00 tonight on The National, 10:30 in Newfoundland.”  Newfoundland’s time zone is just one of those unique things that makes it special.  It veers from the regular standard time zone system by a half-hour. No other state or province in North America deviates from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on the half-hour. Curious to see if my perception of “quirky” Newfoundland met reality, I told Mrs. Grizzly I was up for it!

I have never visited any other place where the locals are so friendly. Everyone we met was eager to share with us his or her opinion of what we needed to do, see, eat and drink. Upon arrival at our hotel in St John’s, the  receptionist at our hotel sent us off to a great lunch at The Merchant’s Tavern. Owned and operated by the team behind Raymonds restaurant, the talented duo of Jeremys, (Charles and Bonia) have done it again!

Newfoundland is blessed with amazing access to fresh seafood, wild game and produce. The Merchant Tavern has taken advantage of this and adopted a sustainable approach to dining, foraging and sourcing locally grown ingredients.

For my main course, I scarfed down possibly one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten: Ricotta Cavatelli with Braised Lamb and Merguez Sausage. Savory, a bit spicy and salty in the very best way possible, with fresh peas and mint to add a perfect verdant freshness, I will be thinking about this dish for a very long time. The nuggets of toasted breadcrumbs that topped the pasta stayed perfectly crunchy as they tumbled down to the bottom of the bowl and soaked up all the rich sauce.merchant tavern pasta 2
Our waitress heard that we were hiking to Signal Hill that afternoon. She suggested we take the trail that ends in the historic fishing village of Quidi Vidi. (Pronounced “Kiddy Viddy“, as much fun to visit as it is to say!) Her boyfriend works at The Quidi Vidi Brewery, where they make lager brewed with water from 25,000-year-old icebergs. Every Friday at 5:30 they host a kitchen party featuring a live band and fresh seafood chowder. The place was packed when we arrived and The Brew Crew band was in full swing.

Somehow, even with our bellies full of cod chowder and Iceberg beer, we still
managed to be hungry for dinner and headed off to The Reluctant Chef. They serve a five-course set tasting menu with optional wine pairings, carefully selected to go with each dish. No surprise here that we opted for the wine pairings, but truthfully, by the fourth course (and glass of wine), we were no longer able to discern whether or not the wines were oaky, flinty or earthy, nor did we really care. They all tasted good though! The Thai soup and the lamb were truly outstanding. The dessert was beauiful to look at but a little too bitter for me.

reluctant chef menureluctant chef dessert 2

The next morning, after fortifying ourselves with a hearty breakfast, we headed off to the St. John’s Farmer’s Market, where I had a chocolate dipped oat cookie, finished with a sprinkling of fleur de sel, that had my name all over it! I am still daydreaming about it. I plan to recreate it as soon as possible.
chocolate dipped oat cookiesWe headed back to Quidi Vidi for lunch at Chef Todd Perrin’s “Mallard Cottage“. Chef Perrin captured my attention on the first season of Top Chef Canada when he bravely cooked a “seal flipper slider” (on a chive biscuit) for the judges. (Spoiler alert, it didn’t go down too well!)

He has restored one of the oldest buildings in Newfoundland and created a charming rustic spot, featuring  an impressive brick and stone fireplace in the center of the dining room, that my husband, a card carrying pyromaniac, greatly admired. Chef Perrin is cooking Newfoundland comfort food taken to the next level.mallard cottagefireplacePulled pork on cornbread was sweet and tangy and served with fresh lettuces from Lester’s Farm, just across town.Pulled pork on cornbreadMrs Grizzly had scallops pulled fresh from the ocean.scallop saladChef Perrin reimagines traditional Newfoundland dishes, like the salt cod cakes that my husband immensely enjoyed. salted cod cakes and baked beansWe asked our waiter about the “Cake plate” on the dessert menu. He informed us that you can fill a small plate with as much pastry as you can manage, all for $10. We send Mr. Grizzly to the dessert table and he accomplished the task admirably. Our favourite was the caramel apple coffee cake. cake plate at mallard duckAfter lunch we waddled off to hike up to the Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site.cape spears 3Cape Spears 2Set high on a rocky cliff, on the most easterly point of land in North America, the Cape Spear Lighthouse provided an important approach light to St. John’s harbour for more than a century. Kind of cool to think we were standing where Canada begins (or ends, depending on if you are facing the ocean or the land!). Watching the waves crashing on the rocky shore, you can appreciate how terrifying it would have been to be approaching by boat at night.

For our last night in St John’s we had a wonderful dinner at Saltwater Restaurant. We really had no idea that Newfoundland is in the midst of an incredible restaurant renaissance. Meal after meal we were served rustic East Coast food, elevated from it’s humble roots. Comforting and familiar, yet completely new.

You really get to know your friends intimately when you travel with them. We had a 5 hour drive, early the next morning, from St. John’s to Farewell, where we were catching the ferry to Fogo Island. After dinner we stopped at the corner store to stock up on Mr. Grizzly’s road trip essentials. Twizzlers, All- Dressed Chips, Classic Cheetos, Jalapeño Cheetos, Peanut M&M’s, Beef Jerky, Peanut Butter Cups and a large bag of Sour Gummi Worms completed his shopping spree.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of Being Present in Newfoundland and find out how we survived our road trip.

A Surprising Dinner at Africa’s Top Restaurant (The Tasting Room)

Certain restaurant meals stand out in your mind for ages. Although it has been almost 30 years since devouring Emily Luchetti‘s Gingerbread Cake with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon at Stars in San Francisco, l vividly recall that heady aroma and taste of the molasses and spices as if it were yesterday. That cake blew me away. I had no idea that gingerbread could be anything but a cookie, and that it could taste so heavenly. (Sadly Stars closed down in 1999, but if you are a gingerbread lover, bake this cake!)

I am certain that the memory of the meal I had at The Tasting Room (Franschhoek, South Africa) this past March will remain strong in my cerebral cortex, long after the names of my kids and husband have totally escaped me. Dutch born chef, Margo Janse, celebrates South Africa through food. Her philosophy is to make fine dining approachable and not intimidating. Her dishes are whimsical, playful, consistently surprising, visually stunning and very delicious.

Before we went on Safari in Botswana and South Africa, we spent a few days in Capetown and then made our way East, to the wine region of Franschhoek. We spent the afternoon biking to several wineries. I must admit, I approached the biking with some trepidation. I love going to spin class on a stationary bike, but biking where there are cars makes me very nervous. And biking and drinking… well let’s just say, that seemed like an accident waiting to happen. We were assured that the roads were not heavily travelled by cars. I suited up and vowed to just have 3 sips at each winery.

My husband has been trying to get me to go outdoor biking with him for years. He was so thrilled that he snapped a photo of me in my bike helmet, standing next to my bike, and texted it to our kids. My eldest son responded with scepticism. He said, “Just because she’s wearing a helmet, doesn’t mean she actually rode the bike” We followed up with proof later that afternoon.proof of biking in franschhoekIt was actually a very easy ride, as there were almost no hills or cars. The scenery was breathtaking. These shots were taken by my friend Jack.view in Franschhoekbiking in FranschhoekWe checked into our hotel for a quick shower and headed out to dinner at The Tasting Room.

Our amazing travel agent, Linda, made all the arrangements for us. All we knew about the restaurant was that it was ranked “Top Restaurant in Africa ” and “53rd Best Restaurant Worldwide“.  We were told that they served an 8 course African inspired surprise (there is no menu to choose from) tasting dinner, with wine pairings for each course. We arrived hungry and very excited.

I’ll do my best to guide you through it. Ready? Oh, wait a minute, You just might want to unbutton the top button of your pants to make room for what’s coming. (FYI, I wore a jumpsuit to dinner, with an elastic waistband – a wise choice if you decide to eat here!)

I only brought my phone to dinner, so some of my pictures were not so great. Luckily, I found some beautiful images on two great travel blogs – SFO777 and A Table for Two to add to my own photos.

The first dish that landed on our table was “Onion-Lime Chips with Black Pepper Snow. “Crunchy, salty, tangy and completely addictive. I am still utterly befuddled by the fact that the black pepper snow was white!lime-onion chip with black pepper snowI have often thought of restaurant bread as a harbinger for the rest of the meal. When I took my first bite of “Cornbread in a Can“, I was filled with great hope that the rest of the dinner would be just as delicious. The cornbread was baked in a beautiful Lucky Star Pilchard can. The waiter tipped the tin upside down the cornbread slid out. We slathered it with the whipped salted browned butter and there was silence at the table while we all chewed in wonderment.cornbread in a can 1cornbread in a can 2Then the waiter arrived with what looked to be a tray of miniature desserts. Surprise! Turned out to be “Prawn and Avocado Cupcakes, Rooibus Macarons and Barley Madelines”.faux dessertsOur faux desserts were followed by “Confit tomato and potato tumbleweed“. The potatoes had been shredded and then formed into a hollow round sphere and deep fried. Need I say more?confit tomato and potato tumbleweed 2The next course was simply called “Broccoli, Broccoli, Broccoli“. Three different preparations of broccoli that equally thrilled the carnivores and omnivores at our table.broccoli broccoli broccolijpgFoie gras molded to look like chocolate, topped with edible gold leaf”. Really!!foie 2jpgUp next: “Paradyskloof (a nearby town) quail, amasi, sweet corn, granola.”QuailOur very sweet waiter noticed that my friend Ed was not eating all his food. When Ed explained that he was getting over a stomach bug, the waiter smiled and said he had just the thing. He returned with a pot of Buchu tea. Buchu is a herb that grows in South Africa. It is said to have excellent detoxing abilities when steeped in hot water and served as a tea. herbal teaCheese course: “Dalewood huguenot matured cheddar, rusks, mebos custard, currants.”cheese course
Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, dessert arrived at the table. The waiters silently placed a bowl containing what looked like a giant white snowball in front of each diner. They instructed us not to start eating, just yet. They left the room and returned with glass beakers filled with what looked like caramel sauce. In a totally synchronized move, the waiters poured the sauce on each diner’s snowball. Here’s what happened next:

The snowball was actually a white chocolate dome coated in finely shredded coconut. The hot baobab caramel sauce melted the chocolate to reveal a scoop of coconut ice cream inside. Magical!

This was truly a very special evening. There was one more surprise in store. I had sent the chef a recipe for my husband’s favourite birthday cake. They lovingly baked it for him to help celebrate. It was almost as good as mine!birthday cakeIn my next post, I’ll share with you how to recreate that cornbread in a can!

Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars

with coffee 625 sqThe first time I had one of these breakfast bars was in Botswana. It was day 1 of our Safari adventure and we were out on our inaugural early morning game drive. The wakeup call came at 5:00 am and after I sipped my coffee and watched this breathtaking sunrise, we were ready to roll. (I must note that many of the spectacular pictures in this post come from my very talented friend Edward.)SunriseWe followed our Ranger, O.T. and his trusty sidekick, Tracker Bashee out to the jeep.O.T. and BasheeWhile most Safari goers are anxious to see the “Big 5″, our group was much more intent on observing  zebras and giraffes. There is something about the patterns on their bodies that I find mesmerizing.

The spot pattern on each giraffe is unique, much like a human’s fingerprints. Their unique patterns are how giraffes recognize each other. We learned that here are about 9 different subspecies of giraffes. Each subspecies have very distinct colouring and patterns. Here in Botswana we saw the South African Giraffe.  They are characterized by rounded or blotched spots, on a light tan background, running all the way down to the hooves. This sub species is also found in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Giraffe 1While most would consider the lion to be the “king of the jungle”, I respectfully disagree. Giraffes literally kick ass in the jungle and in the bush. An adult giraffe really has no predators because her long strong legs are used for kicking and the force of them can actually kill a lion. The only way an adult giraffe would make herself vulnerable to prey is if she lay down, because it would take too long for her to get back on her feet should a predator approach. And so giraffes sleep standing up. Luckily they only require less than 2 hours of sleep a day. The only other mammal I know of who can sleep standing up is my husband!

Amazingly, they remain standing even when giving birth! A newly born calf must endure falling, head first, almost 4 feet, to the ground. Sadly only 50% of baby giraffes make it to adulthood. While adult giraffes are too large for most predators, the young can fall prey to lions, leopards and hyenas.2 giraffes 1Although there was no Starbucks in the bush, O.T. came prepared and pulled out a French press and we had a morning coffee break under a shady Acacia tree.french press coffeeMy girlfriend Sandy always travels with empty ziploc bags, so I wasn’t too surprised when she whipped a bag of what looked like granola bars, out of her back pack. We have travelled together before and she never gets on a plane with less than several hardboiled eggs, a large handful of toasted almonds and a peanut butter sandwich. She likes to be prepared! She had taken the bars from the breakfast tray at the Lodge that morning. Although not a huge fan of granola bars, I was starving, so I took one.

These are not your mama’s granola bars. They were unlike any I have ever tried. Usually I find them too chewy and a little gummy in the center. These were outstanding! Crunchy around the edges but just a little bit chewy in the center, these bars were crammed full of oats, dried fruit, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and coconut. They were the perfect snack combo to munch on in the bush. They instantly became our favourite Safari treat.pretty little bowls with mise en placeAfter our coffee break we hit the trail again. Bashee, our tracker spotted a “dazzle” of zebras in the distance so we sped up to see them at a closer range. “Dazzle” is the collective noun for a group of zebra. No two zebra are exactly alike, stripe patterns are like zebra fingerprints. Each zebra has its own unique pattern of distinctive stripes. Their stripes act as ideal camouflage. The wavy lines of his pattern blend in perfectly with the wavy lines of the tall grass. You would think that black and white stripes would stick out like a sore thumb in green grass, but luckily lions, the zebra’s main main predator, are colour blind. Zebra foals are born with brown and white stripes which turn black and white within a few months.

O.T. explained that there are two basic types of zebras, white skinned ones with black stripes and black skinned ones with white stripes. He asked us if we could identify which were which. Can you tell the difference?Ed's B&W zebrasAs we all started peering closely at the zebras, he and Bashee started laughing at us. No such thing! That’s what passes for humour here in the bush.

When we got back to the Lodge, I headed straight to the kitchen to see Chef Elizabeth. She   joked that she is the secret ingredient in these bars, but I finally wrangled the recipe out of her.chefI am the magic ingredient
I will warn you that these granola bars are not remotely healthy, so if that’s your thing, check out these from Bobbi over at “Bob Vivant”, or these from “Minimalist Baker” or perhaps  these from “Oh She Glows”. Chef Elizabeth’s are more like a special cookie treat, but they were so very delicious. Sweet, salty and crunchy, the perfect combo!

I needed to see if I could recreate them at home.sifting flour
adding liquid ingredients
press into pan
in glass cloche 2With my morning latte and breakfast bar, I can close my eyes and pretend I am back in magical Africa

Click here to print recipe for Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars.

stacked up

The Big 5 Before 10!

I am very blessed to have just returned from an amazing trip to Africa with a group of 18 friends. (Several of the photos in this post were taken by my very talented friends) We spent a few days in Capetown and then visited the wine region of Franschhoek. Then it was time for Safari! We visited 2 different game reserves. The first was in Botswana, in the Okavango Delta region. The second was in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa. Safari life has a rhythm all its own, unlike any other type of holiday.

Many African animals are most active during the crepuscular hours (from the Latin meaning Twilight, it refers to dusk and dawn). What this means is that your day begins with a 5:00 am wakeup call! We quickly jumped into our clothes and downed a cup of coffee before setting off on our first game drive of the day.

Our Land Rover was captained by Ranger Ross and his able sidekick, Tracker Johnson. The tracker sits high up in the jeep and is constantly scanning the landscape looking for animals. He also scans the ground, looking for footprints and other clues in the sand. It blew my mind that he could accurately identify the species as well as determine exactly how long ago the animal was there by identifying the freshness of the animal droppings. The animal’s footprint also tells you which direction he was headed in.Ross and Johnson examining tracks Land Rover 1The goal of most neophyte Safari goers is to check the “Big 5″ (elephant, lion, rhino, cape buffalo and leopard) off their must-see list. The term “Big 5″ originally referred to the difficulty in hunting and bagging these large animals, mostly due to their ferocity when cornered and shot at. More recently it has become a marketing term used by safari tour operators.

The rhythm of the Land Rover, bouncing up and down on the uneven terrain is a bit hypnotic and I must admit, during the early morning hours, I nodded off a few times. But I was jolted awake on our second morning when we almost ran over a herd of elephants crossing the road! There were over 40 elephants, all lined up, crossing the road. They stopped in the middle of the road and started putting on a show for us. They were really quite playful and it almost seemed as if they were performing for us.After about 20 minutes the alpha female shook her ears and trumpeted quite loudly, and the whole herd gently ambled off. 


Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups. When a calf is born it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Each herd is made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. They are guided by the oldest and largest female of the herd. The babies are mothered by all the females of the herd.


Some masterful tracking by Johnson revealed two female lions, up on a ledge. Ross explained that lions are very social animals and travel in a group known as a pride. These lionesses were part of a pride of 17 lions, known around here as the “Mhangene” tribe. 2 female lionsWe soon spotted one of the male members of this tribe. Male Lion 3And not too far away, we discovered the rest of the pride, lazing around.sleepy lions After we left the lions, we came upon a “crash” of white rhinos, just leaving the watering hole. Ross explained to us the sad plight of rhinos in South Africa. Rhinos are being poached for their horns. The demand for rhino horn stems from the age-old myth that they can be used to cure cancer. One horn goes for over $25,000 on the black market. Rhino 1We checked # 4 , The Cape Buffalo, off our list just before 9:00 am. Johnson spotted a large herd of them off in the distance and our Land Rover became the Safari Ferrari as we flew up to catch up with them. They kind of reminded me of my Marlo Thomas Barbie doll I had when I was a little girl!Ed Cape Buffalo 1The final member of the Big 5, the leopard, is one of the most elusive animals to spot. One of the other Rangers from our group radioed Ross to let him know where the leopard had just been spotted. (bad pun, I know!!). We quickly drove to the location just in time to see the leopard. She was just chilling in the lower branch of the Ebony tree, her happy place.  Pat's leoplard in tree 1 Pat's Leopard in tree 3 Pat's leopard in tree 2 She climbed down, proceeded to walk towards our jeep and then crawled under the vehicle and came out the other side. We all stopped breathing for a minute! Then she just ambled off, with a quick glance back at us, as if to say, “You guys coming, or what?” Ed Leopard 1Ross explained that this female (her name was “Hlaba’ Nkunzi) had recently given birth and she was probably on her way to check on her cubs. Once female leopards give birth, they must protect their babies by hiding them away to provide safe shelter from predators for the first several months of their young lives. This female had actually hidden her cubs underneath the Lodge’s General Manager’s house.

Later that day, mom was spotted wandering through our camp, on her way to visit her babies. Two of my friends got pictures of her outside their rooms. Leopard at mar's poolLynnie's leopardIt was only later in the day that we realized what an incredible morning drive we had just experienced. We thought that spotting all those animals in one short drive was the norm. Our Ranger explained that many Safari goers never get to see the Rhino or the Leopard so we were extremely fortunate.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Adventure when I share with you one of our favourite Safari snacks!





The best thing I ate today in Puerto Vallarta

This week, while on a family vacation in Mexico, we took a food walking tour in Puerto Vallarta. We had signed up for “A Three Hour Tour.” Luckily this tour was on land and not on the high seas! We met our guide, Ricardo, at the entrance to the restaurant Mole Rosa. He promised us an adventure and lots of little tastes of the local food of the region. A little humour and a few short history lessons would be thrown in for extra flavour. Here are my favourite bites of the day.

Our first stop on the tour was Taco Robles, a birria taco stand. Birria is Spanish for slow braised meat. Large pieces of meat, originally made with iguana, but now, made with goat or beef, are smeared with a spicy adobo rub and steam-baked overnight. At Taco Robles, you have a choice of either goat or beef. Lined up three deep, this is arguably the most popular taco stand in Puerto Vallarta. Their tacos are a well known hangover remedy!Tacos Robles 2Ricardo had us pegged as less than adventurous eaters and ordered the beef ones for us. I was mildly insulted, but kept it to myself! The beef tacos were packed full of meltingly tender beef, topped with onions and cilantro.  The beef was muy flavourful, redolent of of chiles, bay and cinnamon. Robles serves their taco “dorado” style, basically meaning fried. They use two corn tortillas for each taco. The inner one is soft and pliable, to hold in all the juices, and the outer one is crispy from being fried in the birria fat. taco robles platterRicardo gave us a crash course in choosing the best taco stands. Obviously, the biggest problem associated with taco stands is hygiene, since they do not have running water. Here are his top 3 tips:
1. Make sure that that the person who handles the money and dirty dishes is NOT the same person who handles the food.
2. Check to see if the paper or plastic plates are reused or are covered with a fresh plastic bag for each new customer.
3. Generally the stands with the biggest lineups are usually a safe bet!

I was anticipating our second stop, Cesar’s Coconut Stand, with great excitement. In business since 1984, Cesar lops the top of the coconut off with a razor sharp machete. A veritable Mexican Zorro! The clear liquid was then poured into cups for us to sample. Full of magnesium, potassium and electrolytes, the coconut water tasted so pure and fresh, a far cry from the stuff we buy in a can back home.cesar with machetteWhat he did next really surprised me. He scooped out the flesh of the coconut, cut it into strips and then stuffed the coconut into a plastic bag. He added a squirt of fresh lime juice, some brown sugar, a pinch of cayenne and tiny dash of salt. Then he shook the bag to distribute the seasoning evenly all over the coconut. The Mexican version of Shake ‘n Bake! We all sampled it and most of us discretely deposited the remains in the garbage can when Cesar wasn’t looking. I guess it must be an acquired taste. I prefer my coconut baked into a macaroon.cutting out flesh Fseasoned coconut flesh FOur next stop was at Tacos el Cuñado. According to Ricardo, they are the top carne asada taco stand in town. “Carne asada” is literally translated as grilled meat. It refers to thin marinated beef, usually skirt steak, that has been grilled. Tacos El Cunado 2Ricardo explained to us that while cuñado means brother-in-law, the reference is usually an insult. In guy code it is interpreted as a brother-in-law that is mostly hated by the husband and all his brothers for being an idiot. The exchange might go something like this:

Brother 1: “Oh man, my wife is making me take el cuñado with us to the hockey game”
Brother 2:  “Dude, that sucks big time. That guy is such a dick, I can’t stand him.”

This place has been in business since 1968. It is currently run by the original owner’s son, Jorge, and his brothers. I do not believe there are any brother-in-laws working there with them!! In addition to the skirt steak tacos, they also do pork tacos. Both are served on soft corn tortillas. Lined up on the counter are an assortment of salsas or topping your taco. They are arranged in order of heat, from “salsa for wusses” all the way up to “a fiery habanero” that would put hair on your chest. I tried the Vallarta style guacamole which was blended with a mildly spicy tomatillo salsa.

To put out the fire in our throats and bellies, Ricardo took us to for a glass of “tuba water.” Created by a sweet little old man by the name of Conception, tuba water is made from the sap of the coconut palm, lightly fermented and mixed with palm sugar, walnuts and diced apples. He serves it chilled and it was smooth and very refreshing. The only tree I have ever had the sap from is a maple tree, but palm sap is quite yummy too! I bet it would be great on macadamia coconut pancakes
Tuba 1Tuba 2Then we treked off to the charming family owned restaurant Mole Rosa.mole rosa signSpecializing in various moles, Chef Gunther treated to a sampling of chicken enchiladas covered in three varieties. This is one of the most beautiful plates of food I have ever been presented with. three molesThe “mole rojo” sauce on the left is made from a Guajillo and Ancho chiles, garlic and it is finished with a tiny bit of mexican chocolate. The “mole verde” in the center was my favourite bite of the day! Made from green tomatillos, ground coriander seed, Serrano and jalapeno peppers, and roasted pumpkin seeds, this was light and really fresh tasting. This mole is not simmered for hours with tons of spices. It’s characteristic fresh taste is derived from the addition of herbs at last minute of preparation. The “mole rosa” on the right is made with Serrano and jalapeno peppers, pine nuts, white chocolate, aniseed and roasted beets which create the most gorgeous shade of pink. It was quite earthy tasting with a hint of sweetness.

At Gaby’s Restaurant we all trooped upstairs for a bowl of Tortilla soup. Garnished with fried tortilla strips, avocado and cotija cheese (a hard crumbly Mexican cow’s milk cheese), we all licked our bowls clean.tortilla soupWe finished the meal off with a shot of tequilla. Apparently I have been shooting tequilla incorrectly all my life! The lick of salt, shot of tequilla followed by the wedge of lime is for gringos! Ricardo taught us the proper Mexican protocol. You begin with a shot of lime juice to cleanse the palate. Then you follow that with a shot of tequilla. The chaser is a shot of Sangrita. Sangrita, (literally “little blood” in Spanish) is a mixture of tomato juice, orange juice, lime juice, worcestershire sauce, tabasco sauce and salt and pepper. sangrita 2Sangrita was my daughter’s favourite taste of the day!

Our final stop on the tour was to Orgullo Azteca Candy Store, a veritable Mexican Willy Wonka Factory! The shop was started by two partners who wanted to teach future generations all about the joys of traditional Mexican candies. They started small, with a tiny cart, then moved into a store across the street and now have four stores in Puerto Vallarta. candy store 1candy store 2We got to sample many local treats but my favourite were the candied pecans. candied nutsVallarta Tours was the perfect way to get to know the people and taste the local flavours of Puerto Vallarta. If you are visiting the region and have a spare afternoon, Ricardo would love to show you his town.