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December 2012 Archives

December 31, 2012

All for that Sweet Tooth

By Neha Sharma

We are all familiar with that beautiful bakery aroma that in addition to tantalizing our taste buds is also often instrumental in bringing back nostalgic childhood memories from mama’s kitchen. And for anyone who has walked on London streets, it’s that same aroma wafting out of the supermarket stores like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s that engulfs you in its richness each time you walk past. Somehow I always end up spending most of my time in the bakery sections even if it’s just groceries on the shopping agenda. And I never come back disappointed -- which is not to say that I come back loaded with a month’s stock of those lovely cakes and puddings, but that each visit is a revelation that brings forth the richness of the food, the varieties in which it is baked, and the diverse places it comes from.

Take, for instance, Bakewell tarts. I’d often come across that name during my shop-browsing sessions, but wasn’t quite aware that the tarts actually are a variation of the Bakewell pudding, a specialty from its namesake village of Bakewell tucked in the English countryside of the Peak district. A chance visit provided me a glimpse into the town’s rich sweet heritage with those numerous pudding and tart shops staring at me from every nook and corner. I particularly fancied the Cherry Bakewells. That spongy icing within a pastry case and the layers of raspberry jam underneath it, coupled with a traditional cherry topping, made for my perfect teatime treat. The story goes that the recipe was accidentally discovered by a kitchen assistant who instead of stirring the egg mixture within the pastry poured it over the strawberry jam topping. For dessert hankerers like me that small mistake sure turned out to be a big blessing in disguise.

Another of my favorite picks is the hugely popular and much adored Krispy Kreme doughnut. I usually find the doughnut racks almost polished off when I visit Tesco’s. That hasn’t deterred me from trying them all out and zeroing in on my favorite -- glazed. The lightweight, sugar-crusted texture completely bowls me over with that signature softness that is so Krispy Kreme-y. There are several theories floating around about the origin of doughnuts, but for Krispy Kremes it’s the founders, based in North Carolina, who discovered the original recipe from a French pastry chef and gave it that secret twist. They have certainly come a long way toward mustering worldwide visibility, with ardent fans waiting in queues to welcome the openings of new stores. Being a fan myself, that doesn’t surprise me even a wee bit.

My penchant for sweets always has me prowling for that perfect dessert or pudding on my various travel and shopping sojourns. One such occasion took me to the ISKCON temple near Soho Street. The temple has its own branch of a vegetarian restaurant known as Govinda’s and is quite a popular haunt, especially among the vegetarian communities here. I had the traditional thaali accompanied by a lemon cheese cake for dessert. My choice of dessert was out of inquisitiveness, since I couldn’t quite visualize a cake made out of cheese. Well, the soft, creamy cheese topping over a crunchy biscuit base and the tangy, zesty lemon flavor left me asking for more. Needless to say, it now figures somewhere near the top on the list of my all-time favorites.

When it comes to cakes, there is another one that has me quite smitten -- the chocolate crispy that I first set my eyes upon in an office cafeteria. It’s true -- when you mix together chocolate and butter, the end product is bound to be good. But it’s when you add rice crispies to the batter that it becomes purely divine. The unique combination of a soft yet crunchy texture coupled with a chocolate topping touches my taste buds just right. And with a cuppa to accompany, things get even more pleasurable.

I would normally alternate between crispy cake and the caramel-seeded flapjack from our cafeteria’s gourmet kitchen. The classic flapjack needs no introduction -- it’s delicious and filling be it as a snack or a breakfast replacement for the good old porridge, and it dons the kitchen racks in most English homes. But what made this flapjack stand out was the caramel spread and red raisins topping. Not only does it add to the taste, but it looks gorgeous.

I was fortunate in that I got to experience the Easter fanfare whilst in London. Easter is a time when all you see and hear about is the famed Easter egg and its legacy hunt all over the city. The egg hunt is a traditional game where the egg is considered symbolic of a stone on the tomb from which Christ arose. (Just like a bird hatching from an egg, Christ arose from the grave.) It also gives us foodies another excuse to gorge on some delicious chocolate; the hunt for my Easter egg took me no farther than the shop next door -- Golden Vineyard in Greenwich. A huge egg swathed in nothing but chocolate with a milky white texture tucked within it just melted in my mouth. In hindsight, it was a wise decision to have bought only a handful of them as not only were they irresistible, but quite addictive.

Scottish shortbreads, chocolate brownies, and oat-raisin cookies are some of the other treats I got introduced to in London and quite came to relish. But if I were to pick the best of the lot, it would have to be the heavenly Strawberry Trifle from Sainsbury’s. A chance encounter with this trifle that I just happened to pick randomly from the racks one day unleashed a treasure house of some of the best savouries all tucked inside a small cup. A layer of that delicious English cream as a topping, with a creamy custard layer underneath, alongside crumples of cake and a layer of strawberry jelly... one minute it was soft and creamy and the next minute it went all tangy. Not only did it leave me overwhelmed but also quite guilt free since it was a touch less sweet than most of its counterparts.

In our quest for healthy eating we sometimes tend to completely cut out these sweet savouries from our lifestyles. I am no exception. But what I have also come to realize is that at times it doesn’t really harm us to take a breather. Life, after all, is too short to miss out on these little boons and the sweet pleasure they have to offer.

Hazelnut shortbread, here I come!

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Welcome, Solo Women Travelers!

By Gail Lee Knight

ITWPA Member

As a solo woman traveler, do you yearn to visit foreign lands but hesitate to do so because you don’t know anyone at your desired destination, or you are unsure if it’s safe to “go it alone,” or you don’t speak the language? A solution may be “Women Welcome Women World Wide” (or 5W), a network of single women globetrotters.  

Women Welcome Women World Wide, founded in 1984 and based in the U.K., enables women from any country to explore the world confidently and safely, making friends and sharing new experiences along the way. As explained on their website, 5W is an “organisation for women, by women and about women, which fosters understanding and friendship around the world.”  

As of March 2012, active membership numbered 2,360 women from 87 countries, ranging in age from 18 to 80.  Membership is open to any woman, “regardless of nationality, religion, or home circumstances,” and although there is no specific membership subscription fee, a donation of £35 (or $55) is requested to help defray the administrative and maintenance costs of their website and to allow less affluent women from other parts of the world to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this group. To learn more, visit http://www.womenwelcomewomen.org.uk.

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Amble at Hahndorf B&B, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

By Matt Palmer
ITWPA Member

German heritage, old-world tree-lined streets, a bustling tourist presence, and local business diversity. Having lived in the Adelaide Hills area for the past few years I felt it necessary to visit one of the local Hahndorf bed and breakfast establishments and hope for a memorable “in town” experience. I most certainly found one.

Amble at Hahndorf B&B was established in July 2008 by Di Meyer and Roger Brock, owners and hosts of four variations of B&B bliss under the “Amble at Hahndorf” banner.

I had the honor of experiencing a weekend at one of the Amble at Hahndorf accommodation options called Amble FERN, a contemporary-styled studio, well-appointed and accommodating up to four people. The first thing that captured me was the outlook over the front porch to the front fern garden, taking me to a place of retreat and oneness with nature immediately. On entering the studio, I was greeted with a pleasantly neat presentation with particular attention to detail which instills a warming sense of “welcome” from the moment you step inside the door. The studio was filled with lovely natural light and the living area with its open main bedroom presented a cosy, yet roomy, space to let the world go by. I was transformed into R&R mode within minutes of arriving.

The kitchen bench displayed the local directory of attractions and local business suggestions as an accompaniment to the already-established focus of “local support” from Di and Roger. In addition, a vast array of provisions greeted me on that same kitchen bench, namely Cocolat truffles, Beerenberg jams and sauces, breads, muesli, and cooked breakfast provisions of bacon, sausages, eggs, tomatoes, fresh orange juice, and creamy milk, all locally sourced and proudly recommended by my hosts.

Amble FERN is complete with a main king bedroom which can transform into singles for larger groups (up to four), a second bedroom with two singles (also able to be converted into a queen for couples), separate shower/spa and toilet/vanity rooms, and a spacious living and attached open kitchen area overlooking the front porch and fern garden. A private courtyard complete with gas BBQ and outdoor seating allows you to relax outdoors in proximity to the garden area and take in the meandering bird life.

The inside décor is of a contemporary/modern feel offering a touch of sophistication, and a common “fern” theme is visible from both within and outside the studio in keeping with its title.

I was privileged to share in some quality time with my hosts, Di and Roger, and get an insight into how their desire for presenting a memorable B&B experience had come about, and what their vision is for their business. I was pleasantly infused with their belief in the satisfaction of their clientele and in the old-world values of attention and interaction to make sure every visitor who comes to Amble at Hahndorf has a positive experience.

Saturday morning, I “ambled” to the main street of Hahndorf to sample some of the local attractions, with a visit to Udder Delights for cheese tasting and coffee (just down the corner from the accommodation). On Saturday evening I visited The Mustard Seed Indian Restaurant for a wonderful meal and excellent, informative table service by the young waitress.

I also had the opportunity to view the three other accommodation options available to visitors at Amble at Hahndorf.

The “amble” theme is carried through into Amble WREN (an intimate self-contained cottage for two), Amble OVER (a stylish upstairs apartment for two with rural and garden views from two balconies), and Amble INN (a fully-furnished log cabin-style house for larger groups -- up to six -- featuring three bedrooms, a full kitchen, and an open living area with raked timber ceilings and lead light windows giving that “lodge” feel). Each offers its own experience, with unique presentation and attention to detail.

In association with the accommodations themselves, Amble at Hahndorf is complemented with a very “amble” style garden setting with places to have some privacy, relax, and be one with nature. To the rear of the property you can also venture to the adjoining paddocks and feed the neighbor’s horses, sit and look out over the rural setting, or take in the active bird life.

Overall, Amble at Hahndorf presents a very memorable stay, and whether you’re a couple, family, or sole traveler passing through the Adelaide Hills or in Adelaide visiting, Amble at Hahndorf is one not to miss for a genuinely hospitable local experience.

To make a booking with Di and Roger to stay at Amble at Hahndorf, visit their interactive website at http://www.amble-at-hahndorf.com.au. Links to the local attractions and food and wine suggestions for Hahndorf and the Adelaide Hills region are also provided.

[The writer offers a full collection of images that are available on request for interested editors.]

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Get Smart in Vermont

By Gerald F. Sweeney

How did a pleasant weekend jaunt last year into the rolling Vermont hills turn into the development of a million brain cells? It all began with a plan to enjoy a relaxing weekend in a beautiful New England inn with the added attraction of hearing an academic recitation by one of my grandkids. What I wasn’t expecting was a mind-blowing experience. But I quickly felt the synapses of my brain firing up when I attended the Spring Symposium at Middlebury College.

This year on Thursday evening and all day Friday April 18 and 19, hundreds of young scholars will again be challenging me to learn. The undergraduates will present hundreds of mini-lectures on subjects that last year ranged from Deviance, Perception and Disorder to The Political Arena of War. My reward for attending will be to again confirm my fervent belief that the new generation will not only prosper but exceed expectations.
The Symposium began last year on Thursday night with multiple presentations of music, dance, and dramatic performances, these after a keynote speech by a recent school graduate who was heading up the auto bailout team for the Obama administration. In my day, Middlebury was renowned for its language programs. Now their reputation is spread across a dozen fields.
After a big country inn breakfast on Friday, there was a choice of attending any combination of forty morning and afternoon sessions broken down into fifteen-minute presentations by students on cultural, political, scientific, and environmental questions. Subjects ranged from Writing for Social Change to Gender in Practice: Roles, Laws and Stories. There were talks on art history, observations on China, and even a session on Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, all thoughtful explorations of a variety of subjects across the intellectual landscape.

Meanwhile in the massive lobby of the academic center were forty additional student exhibits with broad viewpoints on questions relating to overfishing, renewable energy, and how to start a food business. The atmosphere was electric with the energy of hundreds of serious young men and women sharing their knowledge.
For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was surrounded by a real intellectual community.

I stopped at one point to have a conversation with one of the professors, exclaiming my sheer delight in the proceedings. I asked him how these fired-up students reached such an elevated intellectual plateau and he said that the school set high standards for individual achievement. Then he said, “When we see that they’ve reached their potential, then we set the bar higher.”

Places to stay:
Middlebury Inn: Charming inn with day spa, afternoon tea service, computer stations. Doubles start at $169
Inn on the Green: 1803 inn on the Historic Register. Doubles from $139

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Blink and You’ll Miss It

By Raquel Neofit
ITWPA Member

Hidden away near the Transylvanian border of Muntenia is a royal secret loved by Romanian city dwellers as a quiet weekend escape.

Welcome to the Bastion.

The first thing I noticed on this relatively small mountain was how deeply I began to breathe. The fresh, pine-scented, cool air from the Carpathian mountain ranges was like that first inhale of spearmint chewing gum on a bystander’s breath and a welcome treat after the heavy air of Romania’s capital, Bucharest.

The next item on my radar was a coat of armor, so typically Romanian in stature, standing proud and almost defiant in her cobblestone courtyard. These really were the first things I noticed -- we missed the turnoff and had to circle back three times. (I did mention it was hidden away!)

I refer to the Bastion as female because that’s the impression she gives me, stately and demure.

The courtyard leads to twelve natural-themed double rooms, comfortably rated at three stars. Our room sat snuggled beside the gurgling, busy stream of Peles Brook Valley.
In eras long gone you’d be sleeping in the royal stables. Now it’s comfortable rooms, a café that serves deliciously steaming lattes, and a linen-lined dining room with a life-like Napoleon painting gazing royally upon diners as they devour hot breakfasts of continental sausages, collapsing, herb-filled tomatoes, and eggs over easy.

Above these stately abodes is a place you can let your hair down -- Club Crazy Horse. (It was, after all, the stables!) Dance the night away to eighties pop or lounge in a comfy armchair between raising your cue in a game of pool.

But the royal secret I promised you is the real drawing card here: possibly one of the best-preserved castles in all of Europe. Peles (pronounced pel-esh) Castle was built in the eighteenth century and is an extravagant blend of Italian Neo-Renaissance, Spanish, Elizabethan, Hungarian, Swiss, and Turkish influences and houses rare gilded-leather books, sculptures, intricately-woven tapestries beside stained-glass windows, and a fully-equipped armory.
A quick glance to the right and you’ll find Pelisor, a smaller replica of Peles Castle, in all her splendor.
Meander down towards the sparkling stream and you’ll come across small huts where market stall holders gather on weekends. It’s one of the best arts and craft markets Romania has on offer.

Then, as you make your way over a small wooden bridge, perusing traditional Romanian clothing, sheepskins, and Romania’s signature pieces -- handmade wooden musical instruments -- you have two choices: you can continue around a cobblestone path, past a flower-covered monastery, and down the hill into Sinaia, or head back in the direction you came from, save the small town for tomorrow, and rest in time for dinner at the Cutitu d argint just down the mountain.

Step back in time and prepare your senses for a knightly feast -- eat your fill of an array of succulently-spiced lamb, juicy pork, and tender beef all served on a full-size sword! It’s a set price menu and a great way to sample local Romanian cuisine, all beside a roaring open fire.
Beside Cutitu d argint is the Bastion Pension, a cheaper option for accommodation in Peles Brook Valley, still set in the Bastion complex and only a couple of minutes’ walk to all this mountain hideaway has on offer. Go to www.bastion.ro for current prices on everything the Bastion has to offer and make sure you check out opening times -- they tend to change.

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About December 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Travel Post Monthly in December 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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