Where I have been hiding…traveling

by Liz Caskey on August 28, 2015

Paris_New-York_MediterraneanI have been laying low on the blog in the past few months. Work has been busy coupled with a business trip to Lima and preparation to escape winter in Santiago during July and August. We decided to go mostly to Europe and a side trip to the US. We went to soak up some sunshine, get fresh air (something that’s been hard to come by in smoggy Santiago this winter), and find inspiration on the Mediterranean and in the streets of Paris and New York. Sometimes, I still think my head got lost in Paris’ deliciousness and beauty, and forgot to board the plane home.

We’ll always have Paris though. Our baby girl celebrated her first birthday under the Eiffel Tower as her parents drank champagne. She slept for all the official photos, of course! I suppose she’s technically now a toddler. She took her first steps in Jardin du Luxembourg, her first word was “alo”, and she learned to chew by way of Parisian baguettes so she is now eating the same food we do (huge fan of stinky French cheese).

We landed last week in “winter” in Santiago. Winter is relative here. It feels like a cool summer in northern Europe. Maybe, just maybe, I will need a scarf and trench coat. The trees are beginning to blossom as spring approaches. I still want rain and there’s none in the forecast. That being said, I love “jumping” seasons. It’s the perfect cure for weather boredom. Not only do you get to use a different wardrobe, I trade in all my seasonal vegetables, too. My body starts craving different foods. Those hot days along the French Riviera in early July drinking chilled rose from Provence and sipping gazpacho seem quite far away. Even more so when I consider the five pounds of duck thighs I just ordered to make homemade confit de canard this weekend for my husband’s birthday.

As we ground again as a family, I am finding my footing and settling back into “home”. It doesn’t always happen immediately. I am not one of those people who can just arrive, unpack, and pick up from where I left off. Too much happened in between. I slowly warm up, sipping the local flavor surrounding me. It’s grounding for me to catch up with my caseros in the market for long overdue visits. Talking about our lives, families, and vegetables makes me happy. I make plans to see friends for wine, coffee, even a detox at the sauna. I am getting back into my gym routine. Even in my daily outings to run errands or hitting the playground with my daughter, after being away, my eyes catch subtle details and differences I seemed to have glossed over before. I guess I really needed a vacation.

But, isn’t that what travel is about? Sure, the journey is always an adventure (especially when traveling with a small child on multiple long haul flights), but the act of distancing ourselves temporarily allows us to reinsert ourselves back into daily life and reconnect with renewed eyes and energy. That distance often allows us to make major life decisions, too. I certainly cannot lie that part of me was, and is, very taken with France. Besides Paris and its inescapable charms, I keep wanting to hit “rewind” for that and the Cote d’Azur again–and again. France certainly has je ne sais quoi–for me.
Earlier today when I headed out to my favorite coffee spot in the barrio, Colmado, I smiled when I heard a group of Chilean university students giving each other a hard time. In their funny local slang, one guy finally exclaimed, “Ya po’ huevon!!”, the Chilean equivalent of “Enough dude!!”. Oh, Chile. I am, indeed, home again.

I promise I will be back to posting very, very soon. Thanks for standing by.

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Chile’s Fashionable Beaujolais

by Liz Caskey on June 2, 2015


Style stays while fashion fades — Coco Chanel

Last weekend, I completely overhauled my closet. Purged, perhaps, would be a more accurate verb. It was a liberating experience that was severely overdue. I said tchau to holed designer jeans from my 20s, ridiculously tight shirts, and 3-inch stilettos that look great but really are stilts. My wardrobe needed a coherent fashion strategy bringing in a new “vintage” of pieces to reflect my current style (which is in love with Parisian chic).

Much like I get great satisfaction from tearing apart and rearranging my pantry and cookbook collection from time to time, I evaluated, consolidated, tossed, and ultimately found inspiration in the some of the great clothes I had completely forgotten about.  As the mound of trendy clothes grew, it struck me how disposable fashion is. Every year there’s a new “vintage” of colors, fabrics, and styles, similar to a new vintage of wine. Of course, there are the classics that stay stylish forever, just like those reference Bordeaux reds or benchmark Cabernets that seem to stay timeless as they quietly mature in the cellar. It’s not necessarily that one trumps the other. They serve totally different purposes but are equally enjoyed.

After my closet clean out, I needed some kitchen therapy so I prepared Sunday lunch for my in-laws visiting. As I chopped and stirred, it occurred to me that trendy fashion could be likened to Beaujolais, an easy-drinking French red wine meant to be made and consumed in the same year. Those classic pieces (like the Little Black Dress) would be those special bottles from a great vintage carefully tucked away in the wine cellar. I raided our cava de vino searching for a yummy red to compliment the simple but flavorful dishes made with fall vegetables. I was in the mood for something fruity and easy drinking yet I not loving Merlot, Malbec or even Pinot Noir. Instead, I decided to do something decidedly local and opted for the Reserva del Pueblo País from Miguel Torres. Many call país the Beaujolais of Chile. This particular país, made with carbonic maceration, had lovely black cherry and strawberry fruit and low alcohol to boot.

País arrived in Chile with the Spanish conquerors and for most of its life was the basis of Chilean wine until producers began importing French cuttings in the mid-19th century. After that, it was relegated to local bulk and all but forgotten. However, times are changing and a small group of innovative vintners are reviving and finding renewed allure in this simple red. It all got started several years ago with a Frenchman in the Maule Valley, Louis-Antoine Luyt. He made his first país, Clos Ouvert Uva Huasa, a simple, fruity red with earthy flavors. It caused a major buzz among the local wine community and shortly after the comparison with Beaujolais began. Similar to Beaujolais, país also has very thin skins and its purpose is to be consumed as a joven, fruity wine.

No long ago, we had sat down with the head winemaker at Miguel Torres, one of the wineries blazing the trail with this grape, to better understand its terroir and nuances. The majority of país is dry-farmed in the Maule and lesser-known Itata Valleys to the south. Torres works with small growers (all fair-trade) who grow the grapes to their specifications and after make the Reserva del Pueblo wine and their delicious rose sparkling. Vintners have discovered that país does incredibly well when made with carbonic maceration—the same exact method use to make Beaujolais.  That is, whole grape clusters are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment (versus pressing for the juice first and then fermenting). The carbon dioxide gas permeates the grape skins and stimulates fermentation on inside each single grape, rather than the whole juice. The resulting wine is very fruity and low in tannins so it’s earthy, food-loving, got good acidity and usually lots of personality. Since it’s low in alcohol you can drink it like water, or drink/wear without any long-term commitment, just like this year’s fun trendy clothing accessory. No doubt, next year, there’ll be another vintage.

Here are a few recommendations of país, ranging from big and small producers, to try on:


Miguel Torres, Reserva del Pueblo

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and maybe a tad of cherry mingle with something spicy like cloves. Love serving this wine chilled. Goes brilliantly with vegetarian dishes, soups, Jerusalem artichokes, Indian (or anything etnic/spicy) or just as an aperitif in the summer when it’s too hot for any other red. Great price point, fair trade, and low alcohol. Fun in a bottle, wee! Being exported.

Louis-Antoine Luyt, El País de Quenehueao

The nose is chock full of red fruit which continues in the mouth. It has a grapey-ness to it even though it’s quite dry in nature. Earthy but not too tannic, it is begging you for some choripan off the grill and chancho en piedra (country tomato salsa). NOW.

Maitía

Coming in magnums, this wine combines old-vine carignan and país, along with some Cabernet Franc from the Maule Valley. Simple, easy drinking and fruity, it’s just juicy red fruit that (scarily) drinks like water (just be warned there is, in fact, alcohol in it). It does have some structure so it works beautifully with grilled fare, roasted veggies, hummus, or a nice tray of artisan cheeses.

Marqués de Casa Concha Pais Cinsault

One of Concha y Toro’s winemakers, Marcelo Papa, has spearheaded efforts for this unique wine made with dry-farmed país grapes west of Cauquenes city in Chile’s 7th Region. Paired with another regional variety, Cinsault, hailing from the“deep Itata” Valley, the wine is fresh with raspberry and red currant aromas and a crisp, light body. It’s a delight to drink and fortunately is being exported (like Torres).

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El Arte de Desenchufar

by Liz Caskey on March 18, 2015

Desenchufar in Spanish, literally, means to unplug. A cell phone, a TV, our brain, or the art of disconnecting, for a little while, from life. In the past months, we had been running around like mad men busy with work, baby, and life so we decided it was high time for an escape to the dune-lined beaches of Uruguay. In actuality, besides the beaches, we were really craving Uruguay’s low-frequency rhythm that would help us reboot our system. Uruguay is a place that automatically slows you down upon landing. Its people have an endearing informality and laid back nature that puts you in the perfect frame of mind to desenchufar and be content with the lingering we so desperately needed. Desenchufamos (we unplugged) on the beach, over a sunset, over a glass of wine.

After an epic journey from Santiago (twelve hours door-to-door with airline delays), we landed in Montevideo in the late afternoon and drove a hundred miles up the coast towards the glitzy, Miami Beach style high rises of Punta del Este, where the Rio de la Plata and the Southern Atlantic Ocean meet. To the northeast, the low headlands stretch for twenty-five miles along a single coast road that connects the beach communities of La Barra, Manantiales, and José Ignacio. Each village feels more low-key than the last until the (paved) road stops at Laguna Garzón, three miles beyond José Ignacio. Here, only the bold cross the laguna by a tiny ferry to continue on to the windswept beaches of the Rocha province extending to the border of Brazil.

We arrived at our “home”, Estancia Vik, as twilight disappeared.  After getting bebe to bed, we were famished and split a well-earned chivito, Uruguay’s signature steak sandwich with the works (ham, bacon, cheese, fried egg, caramelized onions, and roasted tomato). The rustic yet smooth Tannat worked perfectly with the meatiness and soothed our minds as we began decompression. The next morning, we would be rewarded with the sweeping views of the campo, the verdant countryside. The campo is the term for grassy lands that make up much of Uruguay. They seemingly emerge from the dunes that line the shore to form a single, pastoral whole. The tail end of summer (late February) is my favorite time on the Uruguayan coast. The weather is stable, sunny, and warm yet the crowds have dissipated and there’s still action.

We awoke to blue skies dotted with pillowy, soft clouds and miles of bucolic, rolling grassland edged with coronilla trees, grazing horses, and the gleaming Laguna José Ignacio below (which Vik guests can kayak as activity while on the ranch). Estancia Vik is built on a scenic bluff overlooking the campo the whole way to the sea. This handsome whitewashed stucco’s architecture has integrated the gorgeous landscape and into a view at the turn of nearly every corner. At breakfast, we munched on medialunas (the local croissant) smeared with dulce de leche and strong espresso. We  were ready for a dosis of the local beach scene in José Ignacio. Luckily, we had the perfect starting point: reservations for lunch at La Huella.

José Ignacio is a village renowned as a summer playground for South America’s wealthy. However, there are no extravagant mansions or glamorous bars, only simple whitewashed bungalows and low-slung cottages. There’s no advertising anywhere—no billboards, no Coca Cola signs on the beach umbrellas. It’s all understated yet perfectly tasteful and simple. There’s the postcard perfect landmark lighthouse, a testament to the village’s humble origins as a fishing village where fishermen still launch their boats from Playa Mansa and bring in the delicious mussels, brotola (local cod), and chiparones (baby squid). The village’s grassy plaza is far from showy with modest bushes and some swings for the children. There is no dramatic landscape–just the endless stretch of pristine beaches and the azure Atlantic.

We settled into the terrace of La Huella overlooking Playa Brava with heavy waves crashing and red flags flapping in the wind. La Huella is an institution in these latitudes. A legendary beach shack-cum-restaurant that’s tucked away into the dunes, it’s a place that invites lingering all afternoon (or evening) long. We ordered a bottle of the local Albarino whose zesty acidity was the perfect complement to the Capresse salad studded with colorful heirloom tomatoes and soft, tangy, handmade mozzarella. I had been craving this salad, this wine, this landscape, this breeze, this vibe for weeks. It truly was soul food. A parade of dishes followed, which we devoured, slowly, like grilled baby squid and bean salad and brotola with roasted root vegetables. The dishes were simple, perfectly prepared, and reflected the unpretentious, honest nature of Uruguayans. In fact, much of Jose Ignacio’s allure lays precisely in its casual charm. Here, the food scene is fervent yet they are simply executed projects, often started by chef in his/her own home/garage/garden.

We spent the afternoon contemplating the coastline from Playa Vik’s stunning infinity pool. As the water appeared to plunge into the Atlantic below, with the tiny outline of Punta del Este high rises in the distance (nearly 40 kilometers away), the landscape begged further contemplation and introspection. Our seven month old played happily next to us, taking her first splashes in the pool like a natural mermaid. As sunset approached and thunderclouds built in the distance, we returned to Estancia to put a very tired and happy girl, and parents, to bed.

The next morning, we said adios to the “family” at Estancia Vik (who made our stay feel so homey) and moved to the Vik’s newest hotel overlooking Playa Mansa, Bahia Vik. Recently opened in November 2014, this member of the Vik family feels more like an exclusive beach resort. The individual suites cluster around the sleek lodge with stunning views of the gleaming ocean. The more private bungalows are nestled in the dunes further out. Each suite was individually decorated by a local Uruguayan artist, a unique touch in every Vik hotel.

We lunched barefoot at Vik’s beach club restaurant, La Susana, digging our toes digging into the warm sand while savoring chilled (Chilean) Sauvignon Blanc, grilled fish, and fresh salads. Afterwards for dessert, we ordered the delectable Vikaccino, a play on the afogatto, vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso and dulce de leche. We went for a long, long walk in the late afternoon along Playa Mansa, letting our daughter put her tiny little feet into the ocean for the very first time. At first she was reluctant. After she stood mesmerized as the water came and went. The sun sunk into the cloudless horizon painting wisps of pink, red, and purple tones across the sky. That night we sat out on our terrace with a friend while Micaela slept, savoring the sweet, sultry, salty night air and the constant hum of the waves crashing nearby. We sipped a favorite Tannat and savored artisan cheeses along with a locally made prosciutto. With the lack of light pollution, the stars in the sky over José Ignacio twinkled and the Milky Way galaxy was visible. Life was good. Daily reality was, thankfully, very far away.

That’s how the days roll in José Ignacio. There’s nothing to do, really, other than disconnect and eat well. This is a place with a languid pace of late breakfasts and lazy lunches, naps by the pool, walks on the beach, extended conversations over clerico (the local sangria), and the constant of Mother Nature with her soft wind touching our face, the sun kissing our skin, and feeling our toes in the sand and sea. In this setting, we reconnect with nature, and ultimately, ourselves. Yes, el arte de desenchufar, the art of unplugging, is all about recharging our batteries and feeding our souls on a very primal level. How wonderful that there’s a magical little place where not only we can do that but also indulge in life’s luxuries in style, and oh-so-deliciously.

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Ingredient: Harina Tostada

by Liz Caskey on November 25, 2014

On my weekend market trip to La Vega, I was pushing past the crowds jammed into the tight aisles lined with dried fruits, nuts, and ridiculous amounts of junk cereals like Fruit Loops when I sensed a toasty, nutty aroma in the air.

Harina Tostada.

Arriving to the corner, I saw the large, green machine, responsible for toasting the wheat berries to perfection, and after, grinding them into a soft flour. A long line of patrons patiently waited for this humble culinary gift.

I breathed deeply. The smell of harina tostada always reminds me of freshly ground peanut butter.

Harina tostada is very traditional in the rural areas of Chile where it’s mixed with milk and sugar and consumed as a cold or hot beverage. Some people even make it into a thick mash and toss in some chicharones (pork crackling). However, what’s even more popular, especially as we head into summer is the uniquely Chilean love of dusting this flour on top of juicy, fresh watermelon.

Yes. Just toasted flour and watermelon. It is quite unusual but, somehow, works. When you dig in, don’t forget your three wishes, another funny local tradition of how to eat your sandia (watermelon) and toasted wheat.

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Soccer, Wine & Killer Pasta in Apalta

by Liz Caskey on September 16, 2014

In late June, we decided to ditch the smoggy air in Santiago and head south to the clean breezes of the Colchagua Valley for one of our last (adult) weekends as a couple Little One’s due date arrived. That Saturday in Colchagua was cold but clear, typical of central Mediterranean Chile in winter. We made record time driving, only two hours, on a nearly empty road. Between the cold and Chile playing in the World Cup at noon, nobody was venturing out. Of course, when we’d planned our weekend away, I had never even glanced at a World Cup game schedule. Who knew the Chilean national selection would be playing a deciding game against Brazil?

There’s nothing like soccer to bring the country to a grinding halt. Banks and businesses close. There are no taxis, no cars on the road, and life pretty much is on hold until the game ends. Then, either delirious celebration ensues or deep mourning follows, usually with copious drinking with either result.

We arrived at the Lapostolle Residence in the micro-appellation of Apalta, located at the winery’s showcase winemaking facility that was built in 2004-2005. Here they produce their finest labels, Clos Apalta and Borobo in the state-of-the-art facility buried six floors into the steep hillside (mostly of granite). The Residence has four standalone casitas, each decorated individually and named after a grape varietal that often goes into the Clos Apalta blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. On this visit, we had Merlot, the villa decorated with pink accents, perhaps the most romantic in color scheme (how fitting). The terrace and picture glass windows peered out over the valley with the Andes in the distance. That night we’d cozy up by the roaring fireplace on two armchairs as the temperature plummeted.

By the time we checked in, the match was tied. We settled in for an aperitivo in the form of a dainty empanada stuffed with chard, zesty cheese and tomato and a glass of their silky Casa Grand Selection Sauvignon Blanc. We monitored the game on my iPhone (no volume). Outside, we spotted another couple moseying around the garden. As the server placed down a smoked salmon croquette, she casually mentioned, “They’re Brazilian. They went for a walk while Brazil beat Chile”. Oh really? To their chagrin, Chile had some plans in store for the Brazilian soccer team that day.

Sitting down in the dining room, we turned off the game since soccer does not make for fine dining ambience. From the kitchen, we heard a muffled voice on the radio that squealed with excitement every time the Chile team entered Brazilian territory. As the game elapsed into overtime, it became senseless to try to pretend anything else could happen while La Roja, Chile’s national selection, was playing. Then the game went to penalty kicks and we could no longer stand it. We had to watch.

There we were…a gorgeous view of the vines, savoring a fabulous lunch, and about to witness World Cup history. The young Brazilian couple at the next table, who I secretly came to loath, was growing visibly tense. They anxiously sipped their wine. With each penalty shot, tension grew. The Brazilians seemed incredulous that maybe, just maybe, this was not a shoe in. Maybe their victory was not so assured. I was trying to control my enthusiasm. Chile had a real shot at winning, of making that dream real. In the end, two missed penalties by Chile sealed their fate and sent the Brazilians on their way. As we say here…UFFFFFF!!!!

At mid-afternoon with only a couple hours of daylight left, we headed out into the vineyard for a walk and rendezvous shortly after at the biodynamic garden with the chef, Rodrigo Acuña.**(see note below) Rodrigo took over the reigns of the kitchen at Residence, now a Relais & Chateaux, and has transformed the gastronomy to something truly extraordinary. Working closer with the agricultural team in the biodynamic huerto, garden, he focuses on seasonal, home grown produce and exalting its purity in the kitchen with refined techniques. There’s a deep understanding of flavor, texture and how to contrast those highs and lows to create umami in nearly every dish without being too fussy. It is stripped down cuisine that in its simplicity is elegant.

We foraged some herbs in the garden and he showed us where they’d harvested fresh peas that morning for the pasta. He invited us into the kitchen for a demo of how dinner would be made—saffron agnolotti stuffed with those fresh peas. For dinner, he mounted this sublime pasta with a perfectly seared filet of Patagonian hake. At dinner, the gracious Casa Lapostolle staff indulged us witha delicious Cuvee Alexandre Pinot Noir 2006 from their cellar. Even after eight years, it was very bright with oodles of red fruit like cherries, fresh acidity, and some complex notes on the back of the palate that were “earthy” but did not overwhelm the dish. Very delicate wine to accompany this equally delicate pasta.

Saffron Agnolotti stuffed with Pea & Smoked Salmon Puree
Recipe courtesy of Casa Lapostolle Residence

Ingredients:

Agnolotti:
100 grams flour
1 egg
1 drizzle of olive oil
Pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tablespoon warm water
Pinch or two of salt

Filling:
¾ cup fresh sweet peas, shucked
100 grams smoked salmon (no skin), flaked or chopped
80 grams fresh ricotta
100 grams cream cheese (substitute: mascarpone)
2 eggs
1-2 tablespoons minced chives
20 grams minced Moroccan preserved lemon (substitute 2 tablespoons lemon zest)
Salt & pepper to taste

Beurre Blanc Aromatized with Truffle:
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup fish stock (substitute: vegetable stock)
150 grams chilled butter, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon black truffle oil
½ shallot, minced
Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

Steep the saffron in hot water. Sift the flour and make a well. In the center, add the egg, salt, olive oil, and saffron. Knead until you get a soft, uniform dough. Let rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.

In the meantime, make the filling. Blanch the peas in boiling water for 3-4 minutes and refresh in cold water. In a bowl, puree the peas and then add the ricotta, cream cheese and mash with a fork until you achieve a consistent paste. Fold in the chopped salmon, chives, eggs, and lemons. Mix well and chill.

For the beurre blanc, in a small pot combine the white wine, stock, and shallots. Reduce volume by ¾ to concentrate flavors. Strain stock and return to a clean pot and begin to reheat on medium. Add the cubes of chilled butter, whisking vigorously until emulsified. Whisk in the cream, truffle oil and season to taste.

To roll out the pasta, follow the instructions on the machine for the ravioli thickness setting. This will require about 4 passes or so through the machine. Once rolled out, you will have a long strip of pasta about 4 inches wide by 12 inches lengthwise. To form agnolotti, place a long line of filling 3 inches apart in the center. Fold top of pasta down to bottom and pinch closed. Press dough flat between lumps of filling. Using a pastry cutter, cut half moons using folded part as flat side of moon. Continue until pasta and filling are finished. The pasta can be prepped and kept in the refrigerator on a tray dusted with flour.

To cook, drop into boiling water, lower heat, and cook at high simmer until tender. Drain agnolotti and place in dish. Drizzle with beurre blanc, chopped chives, and serve.

4-6 portions (depending if main or appetizer)

**Since writing this post, Chef Rodrigo has since left Lapostolle and crossed over the hills to the new hotel and winery, Vik Millahue, as their head chef.

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Introducing Baby Micaela

by Liz Caskey on August 5, 2014

Today marks two weeks since Micaela Lauren Ramírez Caskey arrived in our lives on July 22, 2014 at 12:50pm. It’s been simultaneously the fastest and longest two weeks of my life filled with more adrenaline, love, and emotions than I have ever experienced. How do I write about something like this and a little person I have only known outside my womb for half a month? Her arrival has changed everything in our life—for the better—although we are certainly adapting to the changes and lack of sleep.

The birth itself, without going into too many details, was beautiful and exactly as we’d dreamed and planned for. Completely natural with no anesthesia, drugs, nor intervention, I labored at home with my husband and doula before arriving fully dilated at the hospital to welcome our baby girls into my arms shortly after.  I was blessed with a fast labor and supported by an amazing birth team. Micaela came into this world with her eyes wide open and that first, sweet glance made us melt—like she was always meant to be ours. Truly love at first sight. I am still wrapping my head around the experience that was completely transformational in so many ways.

Our parents have been present to savor these first weeks of her life as new grandparents and help us manage life in “baby time”. Some days are fluid, others less so, but I learn so much about myself through this little miracle that is our daughter. Sometimes her eyes remind me of my own, other times her gestures look exactly like her uncle…her delicate little lips are painted like a rose and a carbon copy of my husband’s and I could spend hours watching her “smile series” as she falls asleep.

The best part? This is only the beginning of our adventures together as a family and exploration of the world.

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