Columbia Abridged

Columbia seems to be a popular travel destination lately.  Its popularity is quite deserving but one needs to map out the site visits and not take off on a whim. My trip to Columbia centered on three stops: Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin.

Bogota boasted beautiful colonial buildings in the Candelaria district, great museums such as the Museo del Oro and the Botero Museum and great restaurants. For an area to stay in, we chose the Macarena area for our rental apartment. It was a smart choice because it was within walking distances of many restaurants and had a few convenience stores scattered around. A great breakfast place to try is Azimos. It had great croissants, coffee and artisan products. The mural arts in Bogota are very much part of the City’s attraction. We had a tour seeing different styles, different messages and caught a glimpse of the culture of mural artists.



For restaurants, we had great meals at Tabula and its twin Donostia. The only glitch is that the restaurants, owned by the same owner and shared a common wall, also shared the wine list and the dessert menu. Tabula caters to more family style dining while Donostia gives us smaller dishes. A surprise winner is Salvio Patria. The food is lighter and finer in my opinion.

A short day trip from Bogota, the Salt Cathedral is a must see.  It is one of the only two existing Salt Cathedrals in the world. An entire Cathedral was carved from inside the salt mines. One approaches by the Stations of the Cross presented as carved rooms with different cross designs. Then the main nave can be best seen from a balcony above the narthex. The cross at the chancel is a clever design being a negative space instead of a 3 dimensional object. The side approach from the transept is a simple but nice set of stairs. The lighting is subtle and works in a humble way for a place of worship.


On the way back from the Salt Cathedral, one must stop by Andres Carne de Res  in Chia for dinner. The restaurant takes up about two blocks and is “crazy”- the only word that came to my mind when I stepped into it. There is not a wall or floor space that is not adorned by decorations. The person who pulled the setting of the restaurant must have had a great sense of humor. There are plates screwed to the ceiling, pots glued to posts, thousands of knick knacks found their places where they should not be. The menu is worthy of a Restoration Hardware catalog but much more colorful just like the ambiance of the space. The dessert menu alone is worth another return trip.

Next stop: Cartagena. One must stay in the historical town to fully enjoy Cartagena. The streets are named and meanders so much that one gets lost if it were not for the numbering system implemented later. The area is full of life, restaurants, shops, music, museums and sights. We had the best meal at Don Juan and not too far behind was a Xmas dinner at Moshi. Activities at Cartagena should include a boat trip to islands where snorkeling, swimming, and fresh seafood lunches are offered.


Last stop: Medellin. We only stayed one night at Medellin so I cannot give a full account on things to do in Medellin. The city is located in a valley and looks dreamy when seen from a higher altitude. The greeneries are more lush than Bogota. The Botero park and the Museo De Antioquia showed us the rest of Ferdinand Botero’s art collection. We had a good dinner at Bonhomia in the Zona Rosa. That area has great night life but if you rent anything nearby, be prepared to hear music till the morning hours.



I went on the trip without much expectations having not done the homework myself with all itineraries figured out by another traveler and was pleasantly offered new perspectives,  and sampled delicious meals. It was a treat to be able to visit both Botero museums and park and see a full range of his work. I was very intrigued by the level of modernity seen in the designs of gold work from the Gold Museum in Bogota. I also went shopping in the fabric streets in Medellin but was disappointed at the selection. The high end clothe boutiques however showed fine fabric design which I was not able to find in my short stay at Medellin.

I had a great time seeing the sites, loving the arts from the gold pieces found thousands of years ago to Botero’s sculptures and portraits and street arts, and appreciating the gentleness of the Columbian people. No wonder Columbia is “hip” nowadays.



Dordogne Detour

My two friends and I made it to Dordogne in last May. We rented a flat in Sarlat and used it as our home base from which we took day trips to different parts of area. We had a blast even when the GPS from our rental car took us the long way to get to our destinations. We named the GPS Georgette after the Jersey cow because she tended to take us to “greener pastures” where no road signs existed and we were required to go through someone’s private rear yard before hitting a somewhat legitimate road. After a few trials, we relaxed and trusted that eventually she would take us home and were delighted to see the real back roads of Dordogne.

The areas were full of medieval fortresses and hillsite dwellings. The first we saw was Maison Forte de  Reygnac. It was a “Chateau Falaise” built into an existing cave dwelling. The manor was fully furnished with articles used in the period’s daily life. The top of the building was left with parts of the prehistoric dwelling and a magnificent view.DSC_0187DSC_0194DSC_0197DSC_0204DSC_0210

The next day we trooped through the Cabanes du Breuil. These were wonderful 19th Century architectural exercises in stone building. The lower walls were stone with mortar while the conical roofs were dry stacked corbelled vault under stone roof tiles.


Dordogne was littered with gardens and castles though the castles were not as glamorous as the Loire Valley castles but nevertheless, they were worth a stop. One couldn’t skip the Chateau de Marqueyssac. The gardens were a tribute to the art of topiaries. The 150,000 boxwoods were cut and trimmed, some were grouped to resemble flocks of sheep, while some were of the geometric shapes served as garden ornaments. The property was beautifully situated, perched on a hill overlooking the Dordogne valley and river. A walk around the garden took us through different plant groups, different vistas and some water features.



Not too far from  the gardens of Marqueyssac was where you could take the barge trip- Gabares Norbert – down the river at La Roque Gageac. The languorous pace of the barge was a nice way to end the day after the energetic walk up above the hills at Marqueyssac.


Rocamadour was also a not to miss attraction. The village was also a pilgrim’s destination with the Grand Escalier, leading to the Chapelle de Notre Dame with the black madonna statue and the Romanesque-Gothic Basilique of St Sauveur. The town itself was also very picturesque as seen from afar and up close. One could also visit the Maison de Saucisse and shops selling the famous Rocamadour goat cheese on the way back from the church visit.


France was full of “most beautiful villages of France” but some were not as prosperous as Rocamadour. We went to see Autoire and it was quite desolate, at least when we were there.


Josephine Baker’s Chateau des Milandes. The highlights were the Art Deco bathrooms! The tour inside the chateau gave us a glimpse of Ms. Baker’s enormous attraction and what a life worth living!


Another castle to squeeze in the itinerary: the Chateau de Hautefort. The care that went to rebuilding the chateau after a fire was astounding. The garden won best supporting garden in my view but the entry court was no less of a bold move.



Alas, the Manoir d’ Eyrignac. A tour de force in garden design.


Castle visits were my thing so we went to see yet one more at the Chateau de Losse overlooking the Vezere river complete with moat and terrace with quaint gardens. This was a more manageable manor. One got to see how a minor lord lived.


The best town where we stayed was Sarlat La Caneda. We saw Sarlat on market days, Sarlat on slow days, and Sarlat in the early mornings. Sarlat had so many little streets, and gorgeous details including a remodel by Jean Nouvel at the Ste Marie de Sarlat Church converting it into a market hall.


One did not go to Dordogne and not think about food. Here was the Perigord, the Acquitaine, but most of all, Foie Gras Country. We went to different towns on its market day and got to sample canned foie gras, bought porcini mushroom products, fragrant oils, and fresh foie gras. Sarlat also boasted the premier Patisserie Mertz. We had milles feuilles, eclairs, and other goodies.



At the end of each day, exhausted from the day trips, overwhelmed by the beauty of the sites but at the same time sated from the leisurely pace that we took to savor it, we would ask ourselves: “who gets the milles feuilles after dinner?” and thought to ourselves how this could not be more perfect.





Cake Repertoire

All through the years, I made cakes. I realize I can’t remember the cakes that I used to make. I find it useful to be reminded of some of the cakes I enjoyed making and savoring. So here are some of them….IMG_4051.JPGSponge cake with caramelized pear, salted caramel cream and rose buttercream

093Mont Blanc

IMG_2535Pave Royal

IMG_2308Tarte au Fromage

IMG_3521Mont Blanc

IMG_3559Pandan Cake



IMG_3566.JPGLychee and Coconut Gel Cake with Lychee Buttercream

IMG_3599Baked Cream Pie with Roasted Peaches

IMG_3130Onion Financiers

IMG_2104Black Sesame Charlotte

IMG_2044Raspberries Charlotte

IMG_2008Bread Pudding

IMG_0741.JPGLychee Panna Cotta

IMG_0639Green Tea Souffle

IMG_0312Salted Caramel Magic Cake

IMG_0309.JPGTarte au Fromage

IMG_0283Fruit Tart

IMG_0134Peach Tart

IMG_0130Pear Tart

IMG_0026Mandarin Orange Tart


So many recipes to try out, so little time, too many calories…








Conquest in Normandie

Normandie – the region begs to be travelled to and yet it took me this long to finally make it over there. When said and done, I admit I was thoroughly conquered by this lovely region complete with its happy cows (yes, I believe its cows are even happier than California cows), apple orchards and half timbered houses.


I felt that it was only appropriate that the first major sight we went to was Bayeux. We arrived late in the day to see the Tapestry with its great exhibit and thus was given our very first glimpse of the glorious history of Normandie. The nine centuries old Bayeux Tapestry in real life was more magnificent than any photo or history textbook could describe. One had to see in person the intricacy of the embroidery stitches, realize the length of the piece, appreciate the beautifully preserved linen, and revel at the animated faces of the characters and the almost comic like quality that exuded honesty and straightforwardness in the retelling of an epic story. The audio aide that was part of the exhibit gave a very thorough description of the scenes. Afterwards, we enjoyed a great dinner at L’Asssiette Normande and went to see an interesting light show at the side of the Cathedral.

Bayeux itself is a very quaint town. The Cathedral, rebuilt in the 12th century in Gothic style, was quite regal and majestic. One could spend an entire day at the town.




Our next stop was Colleville sur Mer to visit the Normandie American Cemetery and Memorial and Omaha Beach. The exhibit at the Memorial Pavillion was very well designed and informative. The most moving experience for me was the first time I saw the white crosses and stars of David laying across the lawn in an unending vista. I had approached them by the side and didn’t yet have the view of semi circular the colonnade nor of the reflecting pool nor of the mall. Just a view of sky, trees and white crosses. My mind quickly replayed images of young men on the beaches , on the sand, on the landing grounds without fanfare, without glorification. That was when the meaning of “so much owed by so many to so few” hit me. The definition of courage and valor had a new setting for me- that of a small stretch of beach facing a tall cliff between the sea raging behind and artillery shelling in front.




I was grateful to see the grounds so well taken care of. I was moved to learn about Les Fleurs de la Memoire Foundation which had enlisted French families to adopt the US graves and promise to visit the graves once a year to lay flowers on the graves.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant named La Maree by the boardwalk at Grand Camp Maisy, a nearby town and enjoyed a spectacular sunset. All throughout the trip, we sampled a lot of local delicacies and didn’t have a meal we didn’t like. There was always an apple tart ordered and well finished. We took a tour at a Calvados distillery. We had confiture de lait for breakfast on crepes, on bread and french toasts. We nibbled on caramels d’Issigny and thought the apple flavor caramel was a good combination. We had oysters and seafood platters and gorged on mussels and french fries. We encountered Camembert, Livarot and Pont l’ Eveque cheese done in a dozen ways – on croque monsieur, as desert cheese, in omelettes, au gratin… I came across a creamy cheese with truffles and had it for breakfast everyday until it was gone. I had a perfect Souffle au Calvados at Le Dauphin in Breuil en Auge. With regret, we missed out on lamb from salted marshes at Mont St. Michel. We were one day behind a tour of 300 people who ordered the entire restaurant’s larder.


Honfleur was our next destination. The old town was quite charming. The marche’ near the harbor was full of life. The wooden church Ste Catherine, built like an upside down ship’s hull, was simply beautiful in its structure and details.





On the way back  from Honfleur, we stopped by Deauville and Trouville. I imagined jersey dressed ladies walking out of Coco Chanel’s boutique and bathing houses…



There were many towns that were delightful and were perfect for overnight stays. We thought Pont L’ Eveque was such a town with the right amount of shops, restaurants and interest. We loved Beuvron en Auge and spent almost an entire day at Pont Audemer.


One couldn’t go to Normandie and not see Rouen. The Rouen Cathedral was such a monument that inspired many paintings by Monet and Pissaro. This building survived fire, lightnings, and was the tallest building in the world from 1876 to 1880. Richard the Lionheart’ heart was entombed there. This was a church with impressive credentials!




The well reviewed shops at Rue du Gros Horloge didn’t disappoint. We had macarons at Grand Mere Auzou and I discovered an ingenious savory combination for macarons: foie gras macarons.



D Day for our Normandie trip was Mont St Michel. We made a point to arrive there before 10 to avoid the crowd and good thing we did.  From the top perches, we could see the salt marshes extending uninterrupted to the horizon. I was overwhelmed by a sense of humility being surrounded by the calm vastness blurring the line where the sky met the salted water. Through the winding walks and steps, we toured the abbey among the simplicity of the abbey’s hall, the bareness of the courtyards and stone walls contrasting nicely with intricate quoin vaulted ceilings and ornate column capitals.






Other notable towns we visited were as memorable. The houses were the typical half timbered houses. Some had bricks, some had plaster between the timbers. My eyes never got tired of the textures, the colors and the shapes.







We left Normandie with a greater appreciation of the glorious history that people have managed to record and preserve, a deeper gratefulness for the young men whose lives were struck short for the humane continuation of that history and an unrelenting reluctance to go back to our everyday routines.  If only time stopped when I caught this image…



Simply Shaker

Last year I had the chance to visit one of the few remaining Shaker villages in Massachusetts, the Hancock Shaker  Village.  The village boasted one rare building form in its round stone barn.  The siting of this barn construction was just ingenious. The walk through really gave me a glimpse  of the  spirit of the community.  The variety of building materials and the variations of the same simple forms in buildings and details were proofs of how creativity in its streamlined discipline could be divine!


This was the third community out of the 19 major villages that was established in the United States. The thousand acres property existed as a working community from 1791 to 1960 when it became a museum. The inhabitants were dairy farmers who made quite a good profit with the garden seed selling business.  At its most prosperous time, the village owned 3000 acres and had 300 occupants.

Its most outstanding structure was the 96 ft diameter round stone barn that one could see imposing its presence over today’s 5 acres site open to visitors. The design was a most effective solution to having 70 cows being fed and milked, having hay stored and distributed while wagons would be driven in one way and ridden out another way without ever having to back up.  It consisted  of four concentric rings for ventilation, hay storing (up to 400 tons of hay), hay distributing and cow feeding.  A clever entrance was introduced to the second story of the barn via an exterior ramp. The structure was completely exposed on the inside with the rafters radiating from the cupola, the balconies support, and the floor gridded to allow the sweeping of cow manure down to make compost.








There was a sample garden on the site showing the variety of crops, flowers and vegetables that were planted by the industrious villagers. The Shakers were major medicinal herbs suppliers in the 1800’s. Their community had a catalog offering some 300 herbs with almost 200 fluid extracts in the forms of essential oils, vegetable extracts, fragrant and distilled waters and ointments.3ae13fc0e86fc362115ca445601d110b

The brick dwelling, the community’s dormitory, was another marvel with indoor piped water, dumbwaiters, slanted windows for more light, all the while maintaining separation between the sexes in their daily activities and sleeping accommodation.



The accessory structures to support the villagers’ livelihood were the ones I was  most drawn to.  There was the ice house with its triple pane windows. The simplicity of its design involved a basement to keep cool and a ground level access to retrieve ice.  Careful thermal management went into an upper food storage area with vents from the ice storage below and a cupola to let the warm air out completed with double hung doors.


The use of exterior cladding materials were quite inventive and varied from building to building.  The recurring building form of a rectangular shaped house with the gable roof presented itself in a myriad of variations of the theme.  There were brick over a stone base, siding over brick, small bevel siding over large coursed siding, and yellow, white, red painted walls etc…







Here was a community that gave us the circular saw, the clothespin, the Shaker peg, a wheel driven washing machine, packaged seeds and numerous inventions.  All in all, the lesson was quite implicit in its message: there will always be individuality in a entity which aims for conformity and is even singular in its goal.



Counter Striking Stools

I have done quite a few kitchens now and the one thing that I strive for in all my kitchen designs is the island with seating on one side. It is as simple as that. Give the kitchen an island with seating on the long side away from the center of the kitchen triumvirate (range, refrigerator and sink) and voila, the first step to successful kitchen planning. When a kitchen project is done and it’s time to decorate, the first question had always been what kind of stool would go with the island. Counter stools generally come in two kinds: with back or backless.  If there is enough room, a stool with back is more comfortable.  When there is barely enough space to walk around the island or when the kneespace is too shallow, a backless stool is in order. Below are images of some of my favorite kitchen counter stools. I won’t have too much explanation for these stools as they would speak for themselves.

511dca1bd2fbe304a3661f34a4af73a02edbbeb4ab5dae65e90193a6fb5d9353Henson Wood Stools

0f5a3c5fff3d35f3214ab4e3eeebe93ede1b59efc2f8bbb5a9b7fe4e09218e0fSimple  iron zinc stool from India.


aba5eb18f7ab952dd33e10e4ebd1dc49Rustic counter stool from West Elm

c9103cb2deb208330f8cd5c6fe65f3721f13bf01d93b0f62d28fd09f9c4a0aafChase stool from World Market



Backless counter stool from AG Modern

Calligaris_Online_Bar_Stool_CS1002e30ca7c6fe6e7208ca0521e89cccca6bCalligaris On Line Counter Stool



Marius counter stool

bdfc64a5aee7e3cfdee630bd8f0b83bdOviedo counter stool from Restoration Hardware.

b2ca694f41d195c5b8a793c334b896abYvonne Potter stool.

a6e1f2cf344bdac6c320992e7e621f3eeva_stool_1_bontempi_mediumBontempi Eva stool


calligaris-even-leather-counter-stool-9Calligaris Even Leather stool

cb6fda779bed757b975fa9e989f84541Hay Hee stool

mood-stoolb5b28b5652e9ccadc28d981debc035dbCalligaris Mood Stool

picturecalligaris_air_counter_stool_cs57_01_1Calligaris Air Counter Stool.

c9b2202bd97c93699b1be1d14666f38c628d1f4a03c46e6622e3c13dfbfbcaefCherner Counter Stool.


15df08c0bd7a52b6821f5870fcaeede8Series 7 Counter Stool.

a768d7d5ac71dd89afbb03a3f8971d2481856b020c1c1abb7cfe2afd0255f87bOnda Stool


lem-stool-wood-seat-2.jpgLem Piston Stool

dc65495fed48fcd028d91e36fad00384knoll-jamaica-barstool_im_366Jamaica Stool.

82b45b37c869f00b08c3b73a32db9415705859Radius Counter Stool.

And then, there is always those wood block stools. Quite heavy to maneuver but, hell, they look good!


Click on photos for source.


Halloween Eye Candies

Hallloween treats for those who have to curb their sugar intake like me tend to be feasts for the eyes only.  I scoured the internet for the most creative plays on the theme.  We, the “grown ups”,  have our own delights in the fun of coming up with ghoulish, freakish, devilish but goodish edibles.

Here are my kind of treats.

Speaking of eye candies…

These ones give me the frights.

Finger food…

Mummies from Mommies…

Unwrap me…

Dappling in apples….

Bite me…

Itching for witchings…

Hats off!

Mulling over skulls…

Webbing from Charlotte…

A host of ghosts or is it the ghost of the host?

Smashing ghosts.

Don’ t forget to invite a few of our favorite characters…

Can a grin be any wider?



When in doubt, resort to packaging…

Go for pumkins with characters or are they cataracts?

Containers and cutouts.

Blackened food.

Rustic in black.

Candles go a long way.

Eeries in blues.

Basic Jack.

Sometimes, the thing to do is to invite yourself to a tete a tete with Miss Havisham…

Happy Halloween!  Cook up a hoot of a time!

Photo sources: click on images.