How to Cook and Eat a Padrón Pepper

Eating a Padrón pepper is a little like playing Russian Roulette, less than 10 percent of the peppers are spicy, but watch out if you bite into one of the spicy ones! Called Padróns because they originate in northwest Spain in the town of Padrón, these small peppers are green and less than 4 inches long.

I first discovered them on a trip to Santa Barbara, a town with many Spanish influences, including the architecture.

Padrons

Simple and easy to cook, these little chili peppers make for an easy side dish. The best way to prepare Padróns is to saute them dry or in a little olive oil before adding a little sea salt.

Sauteed Padrons

Look for Padróns from May to September at farmers’ markets and at places like Whole Foods. But be sure to buy them green, if you wait until they’re red, 100 percent of the peppers will be spicy!

Trip taken August 2013.

Advertisements

When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

IMG_3321

Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

IMG_3334

Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

IMG_3332

Exploring Colleges: UCSB

People often ask me, “How did you study when you lived by the beach?”

When I went to UCSB (the University of California, Santa Barbara), I did bring my books to the beach on occasion, and I may have opened a book once or twice. But I didn’t really study at the beach. If I wanted to study, I went to the library or stayed home. When you live by the beach, the beach becomes a constant, and it’s easier to just say no. That is, if you’re not a surfer.

IMG_1147 The UCSB campus is dramatic. Located on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the campus smells of salt air and the sounds of the ocean, and the sight of surfers is only a short walk or glance away.

Surfers

Most of the 22,000 students (about 18,600 undergrads) live on campus or in the sleepy neighboring Isla Vista (IV), an unincorporated ½ square mile area 8 miles north of the city of Santa Barbara.

IMG_1143 Walkers give way to bicyclists on bike paths that pervade the campus; 53 percent of the students ride their bikes to class. There are seven bike path rotaries, an on campus bike shop, bike lockers and bike parking lots and even bike air pumps scattered around campus.

IMG_1131 Having a bike makes it easy to get to the beach. And to class.

Davidson Library

UCSB offers more than 200 majors, degrees, and credentials in five different colleges. The most popular majors include: biological sciences, economics, psychology, communication, political science, chemistry/biochemistry, environmental studies, English, sociology, physics, computer science, history, and film and media studies.

In spite of the school’s proximity to the beach, US News and World Report recently rated UCSB as number 11 among public colleges and universities in the nation. The campus is home to 11 national institutes and centers, and its faculty includes five Nobel Prize winners for landmark research in physics, chemistry, and economics.

Student at the beach

Obviously, there are some people who study and study hard. The question is, will you be one of them?

Trip taken August 2013.

Searching for Fish Tacos

What I remember most of my college weekend in Ensenada are the fish tacos. From a small taco stand on the street, my American quarter bought me a corn tortilla filled with fried fresh white fish, shredded green cabbage, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, lime, and a white creamy mayonnaise-like sauce. I bought several tacos over the next two days, amazed at the freshness, the flavors, the price and have been searching for a similar savory experience ever since.

Perhaps I’ve been eating in the wrong places, pseudo Mexican restaurants catering to their American clientele, mainly on the East Coast. Fish tacos in flour tortillas with cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce and tasteless red salsa is more common than not. My kids groan at my disappointment. I am too picky and should know better than to order fish tacos in New England.

It was time for a trip to Santa Barbara, a town near enough to the Mexican border to have the real thing, and while I paid more than a quarter, each taco on my trip far exceeded my culinary expectations.

First stop: Spencer Makenzie’s Fish Company: a small beach takeout and eat-in restaurant in Ventura, California, 30 miles south of Santa Barbara. My friends and I ordered the “giant fish taco” with grilled fish and requested corn tortillas instead of flour. Chopped cabbage, cilantro, delicious and only $4.99. It wasn’t giant, but I was happy; my friends were disappointed. There are better tacos around the corner they told me. We’d go there another day.

IMG_1049

Second stop: On the Alley: a small takeout place on the harbor in Santa Barbara. The menu was promising. I ordered two: the Baja Fish Taco (beer-battered fish, avocado, pickled onion, queso fresco, and salsa blanca) and the Shrimp Taco (seared shrimp, ponzu-marinated slaw, queso fresco, salsa blanca, and mango salsa) served in corn tortillas. They were both so good, the perfect blend of flavors and textures, and only $3 each.

On the Alley

 

Third stop:  Natural Café: a restaurant specializing in healthy, local, and green living with several locations in southern California. Although we ordered at the counter, here our food was brought to the table. I chose the Cabo Fish Tacos: two tacos for $8.59. These tacos were different than the others in flavors and textures. Instead of grilled or fried, the fish was sautéed in a tomato-based salsa. The addition of coarsely shredded carrots reminded me of a salad. Would I go back? Yes, but not for the tacos.

Natural Cafe Fish Tacos

Fourth stop:  Beach House: takeout on the Ventura Pier; a fish taco mecca.

IMG_1230

Six fish taco options plus a shrimp taco and a calamari taco. After much deliberation, I chose two, the Baja Fish Taco ($3) and the Early California Taco ($4). I sat at a counter inside while watching the surf through the window, enjoying the many flavors of my tacos: the tangy and sour of the lime, the distinct flavor of cilantro, the spicy chipotle sauce, the finely shredded cabbage and the flaky grilled fish. Yum.

Tacos at the Beach House

Fifth stop: Blue Plate Oysterette: a full service restaurant on Ocean Avenue near the Santa Monica Pier. The question, should we eat at Blue Plate Tacos or Blue Plate Oysterette? My friend and I were advised to eat at Blue Plate Oysterette where we were told the fish tacos were the best. We sat outside at this sidewalk café, warmed by propane heaters and Mexican blankets, and enjoyed being waited on. We ordered the fish tacos: spicy aioli, grilled mahi mahi, purple cabbage, chopped cilantro, and lime; these fish tacos were some of the most delicious, the biggest piece of fish, and the most expensive ($15), if not the most authentic tacos we’d had all week.

Blue Plate Oysterette Fish Tacos

I will return; there are so many tacos I didn’t try. And now, after a few months back in New England, I haven’t given up hope of finding a good fish taco closer to home. I ate a surprisingly delicious salmon taco at an autumn fair in September and a tasteless one at a Mexican restaurant last weekend. I’m still looking, but if I want a sure thing this far away from the border, I stop at the fish market, start up the grill, and make my own fish tacos, just as I like them.

Trip taken August 2013.