Once Upon A Danish Yule

A Danish Christmas (or yule) is celebrated on December 24 in the evening (like the Peruvians). While there are many different family traditions, the evening will be something like as this…

It will be dark as the sun may have set around four in the afternoon. There may be a light layer of slush or sleet on the trees, glinting in the streetlamps. If you are lucky, there will be snow providing a soft sparkle to the night. As you make your way to the family celebration, you will walk the decorated streets, festooned with garlands of lights, candles flickering on window sills, and the smell of onions frying.

When you get to your destination, all dressed in red or green, you will be hugged and kissed by your hosts. Warmth will greet you as you enter the home. The windows and doors may be decorated with paper cut outs of Christmas elves, some of these may be less Disney and more Dickens in style and may, every year, be carefully preserved in tissue paper, to once again every year, get taped to the walls to tell their stories of tricks or goose chasing. The elves can be in sets of activities, some doing winter sports, or playing in a band, or cooking. Some are hand-made and others are bought every year and carefully cut out. The tree will be decorated with heirloom decorations (perhaps a small decorated bottle cap star that grandma made when she was but a wee thing) and tinsel. Some people even keep up the old tradition of live candles on the tree. img_1693

(The Danes, most of whom are Lutheran, may go to a Christmas church service. This, for some, is the only time of the year that they will go to church. Otherwise, the churches are used mostly for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals.) Christmas music will be playing everywhere and even the non-religious will still get into the Christmas spirit.

Perhaps you will be offered mulled wine, adding a smell of warm wine, spices, and raisins to the air. The dinner will include roast duck or pork roast with crackling (goose in old times, and in modern times, turkey). The meal includes small caramelized potatoes, chestnut colored and slightly sweet. There will be brown gravy, boiled potatoes, warm red cabbage, stuffing made of cooked apples and prunes, and there will be lots of everything. For Christmas dessert, the Danes eat rice pudding. It’s a rice, cream, and chopped almond dessert served with cooked cherry sauce (or strawberry — something to evoke the red and white colors of Denmark). The special thing about dessert is that the rice pudding is actually a game — one of the almonds is left intact and whoever finds it without chewing it, wins the “almond gift.” Many grandparents make special bowls for the grandchildren (usually for those under 15) who will then miraculously find an almond in their portion! In the old days, the prize would be a pig made out of marzipan, and indeed, it is still possible to buy or make your own marzipan pig to enjoy at Christmastime.

Another fun thing about the Danes is that they have a “practice” Christmas dinner on November 10, which is Saint Martin’s Eve, when one would eat a roast goose and thus practice making a Christmas meal. Really, it’s often just another reason to get together with friends and family and enjoy some “hygge” or coziness. In the time up to Christmas there will be many parties, including the Christmas lunch but I’ll blog about that later. Sometimes one is invited, or hosts, a Christmas decoration/craft party during which Christmas tree decorations are made, paper elves are cut, table centerpiece tableaux are made, and sometimes candles, cookies, and candy are cooked. Often mulled wine is served at these parties as well.)

After dinner which will include a few toasts (the Danes have a special ritualistic way that they toast including always make eye contact with everyone around the table when they toast. The clinking of glasses is less important). After dinner, there will be a break. Sometimes the break is to walk the dogs, air the room, or do some clearing up of the dishes. Then there will be coffee and brandy served, and people will move into position around the living room. But, first, there is singing and dancing!

Everyone holds hands and dances around the Christmas tree singing Christmas carols. Often it’s just the first two verses and in many families, the carols are chosen by the youngest person and all the way up to the oldest (everyone knows that grandpa likes a certain song, so out of deference, one does not pick that song!). Dogs are included so sometimes you will be holding a wagging tail… or the bark. Generally, the direction one dances around the Christmas tree changes with every song, and at the end, there is one particular song, “Now it’s Christmas Again” which is sung with such gusto that someone will peel away from the tree and lead everyone in a conga line around the house until ending up back at the sofas, where the coffee, brandy, and cigarettes (in the old days), are waiting.

Then it’s gift time! But, there is no mad ransacking of the gifts in a Danish Christmas. Usually, someone (with able knees — so that they can crawl under the tree) will put on an elf hat and be the designated Santa Claus helper. The person will find a gift for the youngest person, read the gift label (“To Uncle Jens, Merry Christmas, you are wished a wonderful new year, with dearest love, your nephew Michael” or some such thing), and hand the gift to the person. Everyone will watch, cameras poised, for the look of delight when the gift is opened, someone will have the trash bag at the ready, another will have scissors or a pocket knife in hand ready to assist with a troublesome ribbon or dastardly piece of tape. Then, the person will look ever so pleased and say, “we agree to do the thank yous after all the gifts are opened?” And so on. This will go on until everyone is sitting with a neat pile of gifts, perhaps with wrapping bows stuck to their sweaters or hair, and looking happy. As the gifts thin out under the tree, the santa helper will make sure to hold back one gift for each person for the final round. After all the gifts are unwrapped, everyone gets up to say thank you and hug.

The next day, and certainly within a week, thank you cards will have been sent out. (Another thing about Danes: after a gathering, the next time you see someone, it’s important to say, “tak for sidst” or “thank you for the last time.”) Everyone goes to bed waiting to see what’s in their stocking in the morning.

Idealistic, right? That’s how it should be. Tis the season.

Merry Christmas! God Jul (pronounced “go yule”)!

10 Realities of Hotel Living

I have spent more than 300 nights in hotels in the past few years, and this experience has made me appreciate the joys of having a fixed home. Here are some of the experiences that I had while staying in hotels and being “on the road” for months at a time. It’s not all bad, and, it’s not all good. Even at the most expensive and fancy places.

Toe nails: There is nothing so sharp and hard as a toenail shaving. And they don’t shine like diamonds.

Beads: I have stepped on more random beads (is it Mardi Gras everywhere?) than I care to count. I suppose it’s the nature of them being round, usually small, and many.

Shampoo: All those little bottles. It gets tiresome.

Laundry: Some hotels charge $24 per shirt. There seems to be not consideration for those who stay in a hotel for more than a week, and do not have 30 changes of clothing with them. Traveling makes one miss doing laundry.

Take out: I’ve had lots of it. It can get tiresome not being able to cook for oneself.

Bored of the food: Related to the point above.

Microwave or stove: you miss a way to heat up food.

Tiny fridge: not the name of a band. Also, why? Why oh why are these tiny fridges so low to the floor?

Cameras: yup. They are everywhere.

No privacy: Living in a hotel, one is never really alone as there are constant knocks on the door.

Knock knock.

Peruvian Snack Foods = Carbohydrates!

On many a street corner, there are mini carts or “caritos” selling a massive array of fried carbohydrate snacks. It’s not simply a question of potato chips or peanuts. One day when visiting a typical liquor/corner store on Calle Preciados 130, (near the “Polvos Rosados” mall), I asked the owner, Edgar, to write down the names of some of the snacks.

Most are varieties of fried something.

 

 

 

Pollo a la brasa – La Granja Azul

I finally went to the place that started the craze for Peruvian rotisserie chicken, “pollo a la brasa” — La Granja Azul, out in Ate (over an hour outside Miraflores). In the Washington, DC, area, I had been to both El Pollo Rico and Edy’s Chicken (this one preferred by my Peruvian friends for the lucuma ice cream and fried yucca, and actually owned by a Thai lady), so it was fun to go to the source.

Granja Azul is a “country” restaurant, a type of restaurant that includes a play area for children and a gift shop. It’s a large rambling restaurant with heavy colonial style furniture and interiors. There is a courtyard that fits many extended family lunches. The menu includes the standard 80 sol all-you-can -eat menu of pullet/poulet (young chicken), fries, salad (iceberg in one bowl, tomatoes in another, and onions in a third), bread, butter, anticuchos (beef heart on a stick), chili sauce, and a small pitcher of mayonnaise (yes, you read that right). The picarones (Peruvian doughnuts) are not included in the menu.

The chickens are on long spits rotating in a large oven and the chicken turner is happy to pose the chickens for a photo op.

The fries are delicious. I think. I may have been influenced by the 1.5 hour drive and hunger. The chickens are crispy and dry. Who can eat more than one?

I went on a day looking for sun. There was none. But I did enjoy the gift shop. And going to the pollo a la brasa source! From Ate (what a fun name!) to the world!

The Next Big Food Trend in Lima

Last year, I predicted that poke would be the new food trend in Lima. This year, I’ve seen the rise of food halls, burrito/tacos, shawarma, gluten free, and artisanal EVERYTHING.
Food halls: with the advent of Mercado 28, a food court with 10 or so restaurants and bars, is all the rage. It is a food hall, a concept that started trending a few years back in Europe.
Burritos/tacos: With the return of Taco Bell, the arrival is complete. It seems everything is in a flat bread these days.
Shawarma: shaved meat in a flat bread. Sort of a burrito on a upright rotisserie.
Gluten free: Yes. Also, keto, and other types of diets.
Artisanal (most of the artisanal bread is the antithesis of gluten-free): What goes around, comes around. In the old days, this was called home-made or hand-made. Now it’s artsy.
But, I’m predicting the new trend will be gourmet food for your dog. You read it here first! Event cookies that you can share with your dog! More and more restaurants are advertising pet friendly, but I’m predicting they will soon have dog menus too!

Seven Restaurants in Lima

Lima is a seventh heaven for food so perhaps that’s why there are so many restaurants with the number seven (siete in Spanish). Here is a list of the ones people ask me about:

Siete, Jirón Domeyer 260, Barranco (around corner from Isolina): high end restaurant.

Lima 27 and 27 Tapas, Calle Santa Luisa 295, San Isidro: restaurant and a tapas restaurant that is connected to the Lima 27 restaurant. (I didn’t like this place — the food was just odd in a not tasty way).

La 73, Av. el Sol 175, Barranco

Siete Sopas, Av. Arequipa 2394, Lince and second location at Av. Angamos 609, Surquillo: This is the 24-7 soup (they have nine soups — soup of the day and the two house soups — in the photo at top is the “sopa criolla” which has beef,noodles, and milk) restaurant chain by La Lucha Sangucheria. The location on Arequipa is the first. Their bread is kind of magical.

Croakers, Grunts, Small Fry, and Sea Bass – Fish in Lima

Lima is a city of fish eaters. The advice is to eat the freshest fish of the day. But, what is it? Usually, the waiter explains that it is a local white-fleshed fish. Here is list of some of the fish I’ve seen served in restaurants here in Lima. I’m not a fisher so most of my research is from the worldwide web and my local subject matter experts (who are better than Google!). Also useful sites were the FAO and this blog.

Corvina = croaker, grunt, or drum: used for ceviche and almost everything else.
Mero = grouper: also commonly used here.
Chita = grunt: usually deep fried whole so you can eat it with your hands.
Lenguado = Dover sole: delicate fish often used to stuff with crab meat.
Cabrilla = rock sea bass: like corvina
Ojo de uva (grape eye) = sea bass: used like corvina
Charela/Cherela = weakfish (probably in the croaker family): also used like corvina
Espada (and espadilla) = swordfish (and scabbard fish): firm dry fish
Pejerrey = smelt/silverfish: Young fish or “small fry” hence why it’s usually fried.
Lisa (mujol) = mullet: But not “business in the front; party in the back” kind of mullet.
Rodaballo = turbot: A flatfish.
Trucha – trout (This name is used for smaller river fish and for the larger, orange-fleshed salmon-like fish). Keep in mind that salmon in Lima is imported from Chile.
Atun – tuna
Most of these fish names change depending on where you are fishing, and on fashion. For example, corvina sounds better than croaker. I imagine that many restaurants in English speaking places will start using corvina rather than croaker on their menus.

The Rise of Artisanal Bread in Lima

This year I see the rise of artisanal bread. Last year, I predicted the popularity of poke. I predict next year is the bubbling of kombucha and homebrews: from kombucha, beer, wine, and other concoctions.

In one year, the trend went from zero-carbohydrate to full-on gluten party. For many years, San Francisco has been famous for its sourdough bread. But sourdough or “masa madre” (mother yeast dough) is one of the most natural ancient forms of raising agent. It occurs naturally if you leave some flour out in the free air. The sourdough made in Lima is less sour than the bread in San Francisco.

There are several artisanal bakers in Lima who give lessons on making bread and sourdough starter. They even give classes in English. Amelia of Buda Bakes (uses sourdough for pizza bases, pretzels, and babka to name a few) and Francisco of Masas Salvaje (they have nine varieties including Andean grains, kiwichi — don’t know what it is either!, parmesan, chocolate, and turmeric) are two that I can think of off hand. The extremely stretchy artisanal bread at El Pan de la Chola is one of the reasons that El Pan de la Chola continues to maintain its place at the top of my list of best restaurants in Lima.

Lima’s bread artisans make good use of Instagram and Facebook to share visuals of their bread as smello-vision and toucho-vision has not been invented yet. One of the delights of bread is that warm bready aroma and squidgy stretchy texture.

M’s Adventures Lima Edition Nueva Andina Cuisine Tour – 3 Days

Bites to whet your appetite at Statera

Five years ago, I visited Lima for a weekend. My friend and her family, are my experts on Peruvian food and culture. She turned the weekend into a Peruvian food tour. Now that I have lived in Lima for a few years, here are my recommendations for a three-day food tour of Lima. Of course, if you plan your travel here around reservations at Central or Maido, then do that or go to one of the other places on my list of 100 places to try. This list is focused on showing your visitors some of the variety and best of “nueva andina” cuisine.

Must Do

El Cacaotal, Jr. Colina 128A, Barranco: Closed on Sundays. Grab a coffee or hot chocolate at this premiere chocolate “library” of Peruvian fine chocolates.

Dinner (open from 7:30 p.m. except for Cosme that is open from 6 p.m. Reservations are better but not requisite. Merito does not take reservations, show up at 7:20 p.m. and stand in line)
Statera, Av. Mariscal La Mar 463: The former R&D chef at Central, who also worked at Noma, opened his own place. All the inventiveness and intellectual complexity of Central but without the prices and hype.
Cosme, Tudela Y Varela 160-162, San Isidro (the other side of the street is Miraflores): Cozy and delicious.
Jeronimo,
Merito, Jr. 28 De Julio 206, Barranco: Venezuelan chefs who worked at Central = haute cuisine with a Venezuelan influence.
Half a fish at La Picanteria.
Lunch (these cevicherias, like all traditional ceviche places, are only open for lunch and sometimes breakfast)
La Preferida, Calle Julian Arias Aragüez 698, Miraflores: This original location is very local to this upper-middle class neighborhood. No tourists.
La Picanteria, Calle Santa Rosa 388, Surquillo: Internet-famous. Lots of food tours go here. Pick the fish and have it cooked two ways. Family style eating. Also serves non-fish.
Al Toke Pez, Av. Angamos 886, Surquillo: the chef is famous for being a Ph.D. who has chosen to honor his father’s culinary tradition (his father opened Matsuei) by opening a hole-in-the-wall.
Breakfast
El Pan de la Chola, Av. La Mar 918, Miraflores: Still my number one restaurant. This is consistently good food, good service, and world class
Cordanos, Jirón Ancash 202, Cercado de Lima: If you are touristing downtown, this former political moshpit near the main square, still serves atmosphere with good food.
La Isolina, Av. San Martin 101, Barranco: This place is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The owner is the son of Isolina, who opened La Red. La Isolina serves her recipes. The son has now opened Las Reyes in a tribute to his mom and her sisters (as in “the King girls”), all good cooks.
Las Vecinas, Jirón Domeyer 219, Barranco: Just down the street from La Isolina. Gluten-free, vegetarian, healthy, and all those other feel good options. Cute interior too.
Markets
Here is my list of eco-bio-farmers’ markets. If you want to buy the plates that you ate off of at the fancy places, shop at Jallpa Nina or Dedalo.
Ham and cheese with avocado added, at El Pan de la Chola.

Trujillo in a Weekend

The city of Trujillo, an easy hour flight north of Lima, is a great weekend destination. Trujillo is called the city of eternal spring. In the depth of Lima winter, I went looking for some spring. Flying up on a Friday evening, the pickup from the airport was easily done by the hotel located on the central square. The airport is located 20 minutes from the city and you even pass one of the tourist sites on the way in — Chan Chan — before passing a modern mall and convention center.

The archaeological site of the Huaca of the Moon and the Sun is a mere 20 minutes outside of the city so easily visited. The new site called “El Brujo”, is only 63 kilometers to the north but due to the road conditions, it takes 80 minutes. I’d recommend going to these two sites in one day, with lunch in the coastal town of Huanchaco, eat at Big Ben.

Then go for a walk along the Huanchaco malecon (boardwalk – sidewalk) and take your selfies with the reed boats, “caballitos de totora” — reed horsies, so called because the fishermen ride astride the boats, instead of sitting in them. Back in Trujillo, enjoy, on Saturday evenings, the free marinera (a type of dance) performances in the main square, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Join in! Then walk down to one of the famous restaurants for dinner. The photo of the Waldorf salad is from the famous restaurant with the balcony, El Celler de Cler.

On Sunday mornings, the main square is blocked off and the town dignitaries walk about in a procession. This is a good time to get photos of the square. Later, go to Chan Chan.

When you buy pottery reproduction souvenirs, make sure that the item is stamped as a reproduction so that you aren’t accused of buying cultural patrimony. The reproductions are some of the highest quality I’ve seen, as souvenirs go.

Then back to Huanchaco for lunch. The whole malecon is shoulder to shoulder with restaurants. Try the special “aji de gallina” of this area, made with crab. Or stick to ceviche which will be some of the best you’ve had.

Then, catch your flight back to Lima.

Physical Therapy By A Lima Anatomist

“I don’t mind if I scream out in pain as long as I feel better the next day.” Does that sound like a good recommendation for a massage therapist?

If you’ve read my bio page, then you know that one of the things I “collect” like stamps — are massage, physical therapy, experiences. So, when I heard about this “don’t mind if I scream” therapist, I took the endorsement and whatsapped her during dinner! After all, my physical therapist, Kharla, left me, so I’ve been trying out different therapists. I’ve tried Thalia, Silvana, Luz, and others whose names I can’t recall. I’ve been having Luz do my massages but she puts skid marks on my walls to gain traction enough to dig deep into my corpus. Something keeps me from scheduling her on a regular basis.

After a few weeks with no physical therapy, my neck and shoulders start to make me walk like I’m carrying a sack of coal. So, tonight was the night to try the “no pain, no gain” therapist. Gisell arrived a few minutes after the appointed time. She is cuddly-looking woman with a sweet face. I asked her about the price for an hour massage. 120 soles for the “strong” and 100 for the “light” massage. I went for the strong. After all, I haven’t actually met too many therapists who could actually hurt me, at least not for more than a few seconds (other than that sadist in Queens — a whole other story)…

But, sh^&$@^%#*%&@sus (pardon my F^&&!#), did I meet one who can put a hurtin’ on! I told her that my neck and shoulder hurt. She proceeded, for the next hour, to try to squeeze, push, extrude, shove, bump, pull, yank, and extract the flesh, AND the marrow, from between my bones and ligaments — through my vertebrae! As I was wide awake and following every thumb scoop, I learned a lesson in anatomy (I did have to stop her orbital massage as I wasn’t sure if she would change my vision). At one point, I would have giggled but I couldn’t.

Afterwards (no arm, hand, or feet massage), I asked her where she had learned her technique. It turns out that she also studied anatomy! She said that she had to do it deep to relieve the knots and pain in my shoulders…

If you want to try the p(g)ain, her information is:

Gisell (does not speak English): 966 291 877

100 soles for gentle one-hour (not sure if that’s possible)

120 soles for deep-DEEP one-hour

She doesn’t bring her own massage table as she normally does her work on a normal mattress and with a pillow as a bolster.

Next time, I’ll have her do a finger massage. That will be interesting research…

Water. Normally, I think all that “toxins leaking” is hogswoggle, but…

Paying the Help and Tipping in Lima

As I mentioned in my posting about what I like about living in Lima, I wrote that I would blog about domestic staff. One of the nice things about life in Lima is the affordable help. Most people use the term “empleada” as the term for domestic help since traditionally one’s domestic help was a “female employee” and some refer to them as a maid. I use the word cleaner if they are someone who comes to clean or “ama de llaves” (homemaker of the keys) if it is a female housekeeper. Expats pay between 60-150 soles per day, average 70-90, soles per day. Some pay up to 180 (Peruvians may pay less). Domestic help sometimes lives in the home, but these days, this is becoming rare even for the Peruvian households to have live-in help.

I think that payday is twice a month or per day (if part-time). If the employee works full time, then they must have a contract and insurance. If they are part-time, they don’t need insurance. Twice a year, in July (to be paid by early July) and December, there is a bonus payment. The bonus is half of a month’s salary (there may be some calculation for how many years they have been employed, but I think that’s a percentage as well). Some people pay for a uniform for their staff. These days, the uniform seems to be a polo shirt and khaki pants (not distinguishable as a uniform — at least to my untrained eye — I guess it’s sort of like “gardening clothes”).

The doormen (porteros) also receive a bonus in December. Commonly, a Christmas Panettone (a type of sweet bread) is given in December. Or money. One can give them something in July as well. Or, one can give them nothing. It’s not required.

I0DmnsiiIST8Cnfhw1U8OZk0mpRbN3nQJjpmYPpm4mN7tT-JasCUvsKdVNiVB_o-jcy_nbY-FX-qeULl3e7OqjDVn1BfY47aAsag0Kv1vDzbqRNTqgs2Ru54hHAG5pADJvWs_V6Y8fvyYwAjQMWJS19qXjWv0TQECScmHYAPjzp8-WRxrrgnBeSVk8UEa06_r4muQqVa0Kdt_4k8voRL-_703I-FLik

Tipping: Generally, tipping has become common at higher end restaurants. It’s 10 percent. At the local places, just a few soles if you thought it was good service. No tipping in taxis. That said, if you have parked somewhere, generally you tip the parking attendant or the person who has flagged you in (and kept an eye on your car…). Just a few cents like 50 cents or a sol. Some stores, like Wong, have bagboys (they are always young men) who carry your groceries to your car or house (yes! if within a certain distance), but they don’t need a tip and the ones who carry your stuff to your car will actually refuse a tip.

Soe2bOn3N7n0Af6PZBrPmejKS9Xr4vZGlR5Cj_GPboAOuXt-l_eKN5a4f_I1a9wV6alMG1gB-HWRpuZKppYV8LA6j_LdJIDNaZlRrwkJi0ugEOD5bCP9tcwBburFhgZkjrdbNl13c5O3FkdDW0LbSMYmVlUrDnfnLwAeBusUSgMzRy-i96LksIYmvAAgpbcGLh88BYOW-H4jO6JQlb754naCR4HrJvG.jpg