Casa Ordonez-Just Like the Good Ole Days

I often receive social media posts in regard to how it used to be, when I was a child and growing up. Most of us yearn for a different time when things in the world were more stable and interaction with others brought smiles rather than grimaces. Kim and I were fortunate recently, to “go back in time” and experience a boutique hotel in Cuenca Ecuador named Casa Ordonez.

The building that houses the hotel is 123 years old and has been in the family the entire time. The general manager and all around wonderful human being is Alberto Ordonez. He oversees the present day establishment that was his grandfather’s home until a few years back. Alberto is a master at customer service and exceeds all expectations one might have of staying in El Centro, in Cuenca Ecuador.
The matriarch, Ms. Ordonez, still frequents the hotel daily and greets all guests with hugs and friendly smiles. You feel like you are at your Mother’s house and she makes every effort to insure your comfort and well being. Even though her English is limited her message is always conveyed.
Maria Ynez is Alberto’s sister and greets most guests as they enter this special place and directs them to the local establishments as needed. Maria delivers any help a guest may desire with a warm smile and gentle disposition. She holds the hotels third successive TripAdvisor award in a row, received while we were staying there recently.
The others that have been employed for my various visits; Edwin, Rene and Elva greet you daily at the wonderful breakfast and do not miss a step when serving or helping you. They and the rest of the staff have all been trained very well in customer service and dealing with guests.
The accommodations and facilities are outstanding. One feels that they have been transported back in time to another place. You cannot help but slow down, rest and enjoy the camaraderie generated by the Ordonez family.
Individuals, both Ex Pats and locals tend to wander in during the day and the compassion bred by Alberto and family is contagious. It is normal for Alberto to sit for hours with friends and customers and insure they are entertained, knowing full well he has tasks to attend to later. On our last day Alberto, who normally cooks breakfast daily, made breakfast burritos for us to honor our visit and the fact that we were from Texas.
I have stayed all over the world and have not encountered such warmth and appreciation from a owner of a hospitality location. Comfort, satisfaction and service is guaranteed at the Casa Ordonez  and you will never be disappointed mi amigo! Saludos and Safe Travels!

Graffiti in Cuenca is Art

I have had this discussion with many individuals and the line is usually drawn between age groups. I personally think that some of the graffiti in the world is magnificent art and have always felt this way. I promised a blog on Cuenca graffiti and here goes!

My apologies as this was shot out of a moving car. The left side is more in focus. It was the first day going into Cuenca. Arbitrary photo!
We walked to the stairs between Calle Larga and Doce de Abril. This stairway is alive with wonderful art!
It is fine art in most cases, where the “taggers” haven’t overlaid the original work.
I love the creativity behind the scenes and the art is so colorful!
I couldn’t take enough photos. I will have to share the complete album later as there is no way I can post all of them in this blog. #LovedIt!!!
This was one of my favorites and not just because Kim was in the photo! It was a couple of blocks off Calle Larga near Tres Estrellas.
This was on a wall in the San Francisco mercado, when we were shopping and saying good-bye to our new friends from Tampa, Laura and Emory! Great people!
This one we ran into on Luis Cordero between Calle Larga and the Rio Tomebamba. The guy in the sandwich shop next to it, will try to sell you everything on his menu! Good luck escaping.
This one was a favorite and is in black and white only. It was in a hallway leading to a hostel in Cuenca. I hope that these artists one day can gain the recognition they truly deserve and place their art on canvases for all eternity. They are truly talented! Peace and Safe Travels mi amigos!

Living La Vina

I know. I know. Its not “Living La Vina”, but “Living La Vida”. I felt compelled to use the wordplay. My apologies to Ricky Martin. In a way when you visit La Vina in Cuenca you are living the life!

The first thing that happened on our initial visit was Monica, one of the wonderful owners approached me, gave me a hug after I mentioned I had been there before and talked with Eugenio, her husband. She stated Mi Casa es Su Casa and I know she really meant it!
You instantly feel relaxed and accepted. There is a European influence to the food, the service and the decor and you will fall in love with the owners and the food. Monica informed me that Eugenio was in France. My Spanish is not the greatest so we miss-communicated about not being able to see him. We sat in the front dining room.
We were served bread, a very spicy aji salsa with onions and a wonderful Basil/Olive Oil sauce. We waited for our food and the aperitivo was perfect. Then came the vegetarian pizza con jamon (Ha, a little oxymoron for you!). The waiter was prompt and the service was impeccable. We left very satisfied and stuffed from our dinner.
We returned a few days later and to Kim and my surprise Eugenio greeted us with open arms and Monica gave us a warm welcome back. She struggled in telling Eugenio that I was writing a blog now and stated I was a block writer. I had to laugh!
After exchanging hugs and greetings with Eugenio and Monica, we sat and decided we needed another pizza. This time rather than jamon we decided we would add camerones. OMG it was delicious. I even remembered to take a photo to share with you
We struggled to finish this “Grande” pizza pie and I almost felt bad cutting into this artistic presentation. You can plainly see the zucchini, asparagus and shrimp on this pie. I cannot offer a better restaurant to dine in if you visit Cuenca, than La Vina.
Eugenio and Monica Rota treat you like royalty and the food is so delectable. Maybe one of these days, on a visit to Cuenca I will only visit once…Not!!!  Great food. Great Owners and Great Service!

A Taste of Luxury

Upon our return trip from Cuenca to Austin, Kim and I stayed at the Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil again. Upon check-in, we were given warm, mint scented towels and fresh juice to take away the humidity and heat of the city. This time we stayed in the Oro Verde Suite and were delightfully surprised at the glamorous and stately attributes of the suite.

We met and talked with Mr Xavier Polastri, the “Gerente de Recepcion” or the Front Desk Manager. Not only was he very gracious, but he showed us to our suite personally and ensured us that our every need would be met.

He gave us the key, made sure we were comfortable and bid us a pleasant stay. I thanked him and stepped back to take it all in. Kim decided to rest her weary bones and stretched out on the couch in the living area of the suite. I had to step into the guest bath.
Notice the fresh red roses on the dining table. I had to look at the rest of the suite and started to venture into the other rooms when the doorbell rang and an attendant brought a bottle of wine, two glasses and a handwritten thank you letter, from Mr. Vasco Baselli, the “Gerente General” or the General Manager of the hotel. I cannot remember the last time I received a handwritten note and one so warmly written.
Additionally, we were brought a bowl of fruit, chocolates and personal service for our IT issues. We settled in and decided to try out the private dining area on the eighth floor, stocked with all kinds of tasty snacks, sandwiches, cheeses, fruits, breads and pastries. We loved the offerings and satisfied our hunger. Returning to the suite I had to take advantage of the wonderful bath facilities with multi-head shower and huge tub.
I wanted to spend the entire night in this fascinating shower. After being totally spoiled in this unbelievable shower I continued to the vanity. The exterior double sinks had every accessory one could fathom. Any toiletry you forgot was in place.
It was time for bed as Kim and I had an early 3:00 AM wake up call to make the shuttle and return flight to Austin. Kim remarked that the bath and bedroom area was larger than ours at home. It was very spacious and nicely appointed with a huge king size, palatial bed.
The wake up call came at exactly 3:00 and sadly we were leaving Ecuador returning to reality, jobs and our lives in Texas. The Hotel Oro Verde is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World  and I feel positive that the guest treatment would be comparable, in any of the chains many luxury hotels around the world.
We were treated so kindly and the generous management of the Hotel Oro Verde is to be commended for such excellent customer service, cleanliness and a desire to please their guests. I have never been treated so royally and have stayed in major hotels across the world. Thank you sincerely for a “Memory Making” visit.

El Chorro de Giron Waterfall

Earl and Max decided to tour this waterfall and three towns surrounding Cuenca. The towns specialize in certain crafts. It is more economical if you can share these tours and we discussed tagging along. They agreed to let us accommodate them. We were not sorry we went along. Its about a hour ride from Cuenca and you stop at the Battle of Tarqui National Monument, dedicated to the brave 4,000 men, who defeated the 8,000 Peruvian soldiers, to liberate Ecuador.

The battle was February 27, 1829. It is located near the town of Tarqui. There are 73 steps leading to the top. An interesting tidbit. The 4,000 men were retreating rapidly, until a 16 year old fearless soldier attacked on his own. The other soldiers turned and charged to save the brave young lad and eventually conquered the larger army.

We drove through a few more small towns, made the climb up the mountain to the Rangers Station and paid our $2.00 for entry. They had a couple of cabins you could spend the night in, but there was no camping.
We began our ascent and my mind immediately had flashbacks to the Ingapirca trip. Our wonderful guide “Efrain”, of Mio Tours, warned us not to advance at any rate of speed, as the altitude and slippery path would do us in if we weren’t careful. I am not entirely sure Earl and Max were listening to Efrain at this point!
We were instructed to stop and catch our breath about every 900 to 1,000 feet. The paths were very slippery, muddy and low hanging branches were common. Luckily there were many turn outs that we could venture out to and take photos. One had to pay attention and step on rock, bamboo poles laid in the mud or risk falling backwards. The ground Earl and Max are standing on is very representative.
The waterfall was more and more beautiful every level we hiked. The amazing factor was that I felt we were hiking through a jungle at times and was ready for a wild animal to attack. It was very wet, green and the vegetation was thick as Molasses, but there was always a new view.
Our first view looked like this as we started the ascent up the mountain by car.
Then through the trees and about half the way up to the first level, one receives this view!
Finally after hiking all the way up to the “Rookie” level, one is rewarded with this magnificent view. The next level is an additional 4 hours and we chose to visit the craft towns scheduled instead.
Max and Kim are toasting the others with a glass of Canelazo from the ranger station. Wonderful stuff and a great way to end a beautiful morning and a challenging hike! Peace and Safe Travels!

Tiesto’s is Still Magnifico!!!

We walked into this great restaurant and proceeded to locate the host. He was in the back and asked if we had a reservation. I communicated the time and confirmed our reservation. A young lady server sat us in an area populated by Ex-Pats. I originally wanted Langostinos, which is my favorite dish in Cuenca. Kim did not cherish the thought of eating prawns, so I deviated and chose beef instead. Kim desired fish.
A problem arose as the fish items, just like the Langostinos are prepared for two. My Spanish is not sufficient and the server and I could not communicate. I asked her if she could get Juan Carlos Solano, who is the owner and head chef at Tiesto’s. I have had the pleasure of dealing with Mr. Solano on my past trip to Cuenca.
Juan Carlos came out and asked what he could do for us. I relayed the fact that this was my second time at his fine restaurant and Kim wanted fish and I wanted beef. He immediately asked Kim if she preferred Swordfish or Sea Bass. Kim chose Sea Bass. He asked how I wanted my beef prepared. I stated medium rare. He grinned profusely, as if to say I chose correctly. I asked what cut of beef and he said the tenderloin of course!
After your order is placed the server brings you fresh bread with a good helping of eight condiments or salsas. They are delicious and I ate too much. My apologies for the emptiness of the bowls, but I was starving and we ate a great deal of the items before I realized I didn’t have a photo. The blue bowl with the orange sauce is Aji. A spicy salsa from Ecuador and tasty!

The gallery of salsa pots sustains one for the time between your order and delivery of your food. You are not bored at all and one begins with a myriad of flavors, that I couldn’t get enough of.
Out comes Kim’s fish and it is covered with a mound of cream sauce, laced with various mariscos like shrimp, calamari and scallops. The sauce is a dinner unto itself.

Then they brought out the medallions of tenderloin covered in a marination that was incredible! I dived in with out taking a picture…AGAIN! 

We were then served additional sides including a cucumber, green pepper and radish salad; a couple of potato dishes fried and broiled, white corn, quinoa and many more. 

 After gorging ourselves for hours at this fine restaurant, it was time to head out and walk the six blocks back to the hotel. As we left our table and turned to exit, John Carlos lifted his arm, waved and told me he would see me again! I certainly hope so!

Our Lady of the Mist Cathedral

This Iglesia is actually built into the side of a mountain and is over 100 years old. It is very striking as you drive up the mountain and imposing in its own way. It must have been difficult to carry the materials needed to this cathedral for construction.

As we ventured up the plethora of steps I was reminded of the hill behind Ingapirca and how Kim, our new friends Earl and Alex, and I struggled to walk down the mountain at 10,000 feet. It was a chore for this old man and even Kim had to stop. As we ascended a heavy mist began to shroud us. I fully understand where the name of the Cathedral came from now after visiting it.
After conquering the hundreds of steps on the Cathedral we entered and found that the Iglesia was built into the side of a mountain “literally”. The back wall, where the alter was had open rock behind it. I was fascinated that such a structure could be attached to the mountain.
The stained glass windows mesmerized us all and we sat down and took it all in. Some of us trying to catch our breath. I was awestruck by the entire Cathedral and now understand why it is so famous. Each of us celebrated the Cathedral in our own way and a peaceful calm fell on our shoulders.
Leaving the upper echelon of the Cathedral I viewed this panorama and had to share it with you. Peace and Safe Travels!

Making My Own Birthday Dinner

If you will recall I was scheduled to attend a Longhorn baseball game at the Disch on my birthday with my middle son. He fell sick with what I would guess was food poisoning from our dinner out the night before. A bad case of Lobster being mishandled. At least that is our guess.

I know how to cook fairly well and decided that I wouldn’t let the “Curve Ball” get me down and would make the most out of my day by cooking one of my favorites and my family’s favorites. Chicken Enchilada’s were on the menu and I was drooling with anticipation.
I evaluated my needs and jumped into my car and visited the local HEB. The one in Cedar Park that isn’t going to charge for bags. The city of Austin passed a new law and no business can give out plastic bags anymore without charging the customer. Environmentally I understand it, but what if I forget as I tend to do more lately and don’t bring my own bags in for bagging. $$$$
I digress. I purchased the necessary ingredients missing and went home and started cooking, chopping and prepping. I love this part. I was drooling by now. The enchiladas only take about 45 minutes of baking at 350 and I had heated the oven prior to loading the two huge 9 X 12 glass baking dishes in the oven. The two dishes make about 30 total.
Why was I cooking so much when it was just going to be three for dinner? Oh yeah. I can freeze the leftovers and eat them down the road. Along with the enchiladas I decided a good pot of beans would go well and sliced fresh peaches.
I must have checked them 10 times and was about to go crazy. Finally they were ready and I pulled them out of the oven. My they looked decent that evening!
I couldn’t wait to sit down and start eating. After all I was foregoing dessert in order to puerco (pig in Spanish) out on Chicken Enchiladas. I couldn’t wait to dive in and almost finished by the time Kim and her sister sat down to dinner.
I had to go back for seconds knowing there was ample food! After inhaling my first two I added a third and devoured it before they could handle their first ones. Kim kept saying how bad she felt that I had to cook my own birthday dinner. What she doesn’t realize is that I love to cook and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my birthday! Then it was siesta time! Adios!

Making Memories

The alarm came early and we both bolted out of bed with gusto. After all we were on our way to Ecuador finally and we both felt giddy with excitement. We got to the airport in Austin in plenty of time. Thank goodness, as the security lines were horrible. Easy breezy and we were at the gate with an hour to spare. Flights to DFW and Miami went off with no hitches.

Our Miami to Guayaquil flight was highlighted by our new friend Alejandro from Florida. What a great guy. He was cheerful and happy and told us he wants us to come to Florida and let him cook for us or Ecuador and let him show us around. He came down for the weekend only for his Mother’s birthday. Nice guy! Then we landed and cleared customs easily. We walked outside to a sauna and these beautiful Koi fish.
We caught the shuttle to our hotel, as previously advertised, The Hotel Oro Verde. My favorite place to stay in Guayaquil. Tired and worn out we walked into the hotel and waited for a while for the couple on the shuttle with us to check in. It was finally our time and the clerk stated that we had an upgrade and should accompany a hotel agent to the executive suite floor. I asked him to repeat his statement and he did. I looked at Kim and said I have no idea what’s going on!
We met our floor manager and he checked us in and had most of the information pre-completed. It let us know that we had access to the private dining room and basically gave us the ins and outs of the executive suite floor. I was astonished! The bathroom had marble on all walls and counters with a large double tub and a huge rain shower head overhead in the middle.
The room was outfitted with all the accouterments possible. It was unbelievable and a fantastic surprise. Chocolates on the bed,a 42″ LED TV, King size bed with feather comforter, a heated stand for slacks, slippers, robes and this was card set up on our table.
Made us feel very special for one night. I highly recommend you stay here any time you are in Guayaquil. You will not be disappointed. The slogan for The Leading Hotels of the World which the Oro Verde Hotel is a member, is “Making Memories” and they have locations all over the world. They surely held up to their name with Kim and I.

How Much Does Your Underwear really Weigh???


Today Kim and I were talking about getting our luggage out of the rafters in the garage and starting the process of loading our suitcases. The conversation turned to underwear and Kim’s needs.

Kim: Can we wash clothes while we are in Cuenca?
Me: There are no facilities in the hotel, but I am sure we can find an inexpensive laundry near by. Why do you ask?
Kim: I don’t think I have enough underwear.
Mike: So…Why don’t you go buy some? They can’t weigh that much. Besides… you can take out one pair of the many shoes you are taking and replace the weight of 12 pair of underwear!
Kim: How many days are we going to be there?
Mike: We will be gone for twelve days.
I surfed the Internet and worked my Facebook and Twitter pages and responded to a few “Comments” from blog readers and thought the dilemma was resolved.

Kim: Do these pants look okay?
Mike: You know I am not going to answer that, as I will not win with either response.
Kim: But…They are kind of beach pants and we are not going to the beach.
Mike: Just pretend!
I worked the Internet thing a little more and saw that Kim was getting her clothes laid out on the bed and ready to pack.
Mike: Why are you taking four scarves?
Kim: I have to match scarves with blouses!
Mike: So…Do we need to go shopping for your underwear?
Kim: Oh no…I have enough underwear.
Mike: I thought you needed more.
Kim: No I have plenty.
Mike Then why did you say you needed more?
Kim: I was only talking about my favorites!!!
Mike (to himself) I will never understand!

Texas Quiche

I needed a couple of pounds of sausage and all I had was maple flavored. What the heck. I tried it any way and it turned out delicious. I improvised and used parts of a recipe I found on line for quiche. Used more sausage (2 pounds not 1.5 pounds), cut up a whole onion to cook with the meat. None was called for. I like the flavor!

While the meat was browning I greased two 9″ pie pans and placed corn tortillas in the bottom to work as the crust (4 per pan with one in the middle). I poured the meat into the pans and added a can of green chilies (1/2 can each pan). Then spread liberal amounts of Colby Jack cheese on both pans. Next I mixed 12 eggs, 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 cup of Ricotta cheese, heavy helpings of black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder and then mixed the concoction together by hand.
I poured the egg mixture over the ingredients in both pans equally and baked at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. After it was baked I added fresh Cilantro on top. The result.
I couldn’t wait to dive in and set the table and made my presentation to Kim. She was not a fan of the quantity of Cilantro I placed on top and removed it. Otherwise she really like it and we have plenty left over (again). I cook way too much at a time! I love leftovers!!! Post any questions under the comment section or on my Facebook page! Eat well and have Safe Travels !!!

Why I Want to Travel

“In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.” Ernest Hemingway

People ask me why do I want to travel and log long hours on planes with tight seats, dirty restrooms, barely edible food and arrive exhausted? Not to mention terribly rude crews. To most people these factors are insanely trite and have no appeal. On the contrary, I personally have a love of adventure and discovering cultures yet to be experienced.

I am and always have been, a type A personality, making all my own decisions and living with the consequences. Some have been very good and some have come back to haunt me!

During the first segment of my life I devoted myself to an executive job, that literally would have put me in my grave, if I stayed the course. Retail can be a death wish and all the associated problems made my “Monkey Mind” act unnaturally schizo-phobic. One day I wanted to toss my cookies and one day I wanted to keep the pace. All the wear and tear was not fruitful and I wasn’t an amiable individual. I needed a change and decided to “enjoy” the remainder of my life.
I made a decision to leave the business world and travel. eat and photograph the many cultures, people and foods of the world and share them with my friend’s cohorts and associates. I am hungry to begin my journey and experience the passion of the world. To be honest, I love the idea of travelling and exploring. However, I do not like the idea of travelling for business. I have had entrepreneur friends who travel overseas for work. They seem very happy, mostly because they never face problems with visas. One friend of mine (who is a business owner) once told me that he was supposed to visit the U.S. for expanding his business perhaps. He seemed really relaxed for a person who was travelling overseas for the first time. He told me that he had petitioned for an O1 visa (possibly with the help of immigration attorneys at and got hold of one without any hassle. And now he was ready to make the big move of shifting. When I heard this, I felt happy for him, but, at the same time, I felt sad for him because he would only know work when he reaches his destination and would never have the chance to be a free bird like me. If his story had been mine, I would have probably suffocated to death because I have been inspired by the nomads who live to explore and explore to live. I want to be one of them who knows it all and has seen it all, and if that means that I have to visit the same place over and over again to explore the hidden gems, then I shall do that without any hesitation. Yes, financially that might stress me, but I have heard that there are ways to combat that. For instance, I can invest in a timeshare– it can allow me to purchase a certain period of time in a particular vacation property. The trouble is, though, that I have to pay maintenance fees for the property even if I do not visit it more than once (I might soon grow tired of this and look for the professional help from individuals found at popular timeshare exit companies to end the deal). So, I am not sure that it is a perfect solution for me. Personally, I am likely to ponder whether I should invest in a shared ownership vacation property in the near future. For now, I will just focus on the fact that I will begin my passionate journey of traveling and will follow the road tirelessly. If that means staying at a hostel or a tent, then be it.
That said, I am starting a new blog, that will relate to travel and food at the end of the day. I have been very fortunate in my life and spent two months in SE Asia at the age of 23, buying for a major amusement park chain. It was a vastly energizing and memorable experience that left me thirsting for more. This was after I turned down a month in Europe trip from my Uncle Curt, when I graduated from high school. I wanted a car more than the trip at that time, so I stayed employed through that summer and have regretted the decision ever since!

I am starting a new blog, that will relate to travel and food at the end of the day. I have been very fortunate in my life and spent two months in SE Asia at the age of 23, buying for a major amusement park chain. It was a vastly energizing and memorable experience that left me thirsting for more. This was after I turned down a month in Europe trip from my Uncle Curt, when I graduated from high school. I wanted a car more than the trip at that time, so I stayed employed through that summer and have regretted the decision ever since! I have taken every opportunity presented in my family life to travel, while raising three sons with my wife of 34 years. Our travels were fascinating, but I left something on the table. I wanted more international travel and it is my desire to expand my RTW consciousness and see a plethora of countries while I am still mobile. Retiring in a foreign country is also something I think about. European countries like Malta have some of the best real estate options (click to learn more about it) one could ask for. It is truly one of the most mesmerizing places on this planet. Anyway, for now, I only have travel plans some of which may or may not involve some luxury travel as well. Of course, first I need to find how much does it cost to rent a private jet or a similar vehicle that can ensure privacy and safety while providing the utmost comfort at the same time. Hopefully, I will be able to afford such luxuries.
We all are moving at warp speed and need to slow down, and amputate our oppressive stress levels. We need to learn to relax, smile, hug our families and smell the roses! I hope that I can provide a small measure of entertainment and can bring a little levity to you, via my blog. Peace to all and Safe Travels!!!

Sometime Life Throws You Curve Balls

I have loved baseball, since my father introduced me to the game at the age of seven years old. I think it is one of the most misunderstood, complex institutions in the universe and one can only covet its capacity for strategy. Every pitch, every ball hit has a multitude of mental transactions, that transpire prior to the toss.

Most individuals think it is a boring and slow moving sport, without merit or gaudy celebrations capitalizing on instant gratification. Most people do not realize the depth of intellect that is necessary to navigate through the innings and a coach is charged with making all the dominant decisions. One has to be fleet of mind to succeed in this position.
All through my business life I used analogies to the game and my friends, family and cohorts have always know my appreciation for the game. Today is my birthday and my middle son Sean had gone to extensive lengths to obtain tickets to the Texas Longhorn Baseball game, to treat his old man to a game at the Disch. I was very excited and even thought of writing a blog, taking photos to post and generally sharing my love for the game with him on this day. I might have even had a hot dog!
Then the cosmos spoke and Sean fell ill with a bad case of stomach flu at the last moment. I knew he was disappointed and he felt bad when we talked. What he doesn’t comprehend is that his actions ahead of time are more discernible and speak volumes. Thank you for the thought Sean. Get well and remember, there will always be another game, another day. Love you son and thanks for dinner last night!

Bread Baking and Flour Paws

Who in the world doesn’t really love fresh baked bread. The aromas and salivating initial tastes, are among the best flavors in the cooking cosmos. Today I am writing my first blog and sharing a Christmas present, my wife gave me, from “Make it Sweet”, in Austin Texas.
It was a Bread Baking class for three hours, tutored by a very sweet and knowledgeable lady, Heidi Swiderski. I must add that Heidi was both entertaining, instructional and displayed an obvious flair for making her students comprehend and retain her proficiency. Heidi learned all her baking skills from her Grandmother and started baking at 9 years old.
Somehow during the first segment, the conversation turned to using Black Cocoa (used in darkening Oreo’s) in baking and decorating pastries, cookies, etc. Heidi asked the student “Did you blow your nose after using the Black Cocoa”? I had no idea what she was referencing. Apparently chefs that use this ingredient inhale a certain amount of the powder and shed a “Black Ooze”, to put it nicely! I thought to myself that this was going to be an interesting class!
The bread dough is made by mixing flour, yeast, sugar and salt in the bowl. The salt is added at the last moment, as it stops the yeast from activating (see Heidi I was paying attention). You then add olive oil and warm water (between 95 and 115 degrees). You are ready to mix.
We divided into three groups of four to create the dough for Focaccia bread. I was very fortunate to team up with three great ladies. Earlier, as we were introducing ourselves, Jan Graedner stated she was from Wichita Kansas and had driven all the way for this class. Needless to say I was impressed.
I then found out her two daughters were in the class also. Katie Rohe from Houston and Jinny McCall from Austin. I couldn’t have asked for a better team. I would not have made it through the class without their support and encouragement.
After we were sure the dough was smooth, we added a little last minute flour to smooth out the dough. We placed Virgin Olive Oil in the bottoms of the pie plates. We took the dough off the mixer and filled four pie plates with 24oz dough each. Thanks Jan and Katie for completing most of this task.
We poked holes in the dough, drizzled additional olive oil on top and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning and Sea salt. We let it rise for about 15 minutes. The dough was baked at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Tasting commenced immediately after pulling the bread from the oven.
Heidi then told us that you know the dough is just right after you give it the “BT” (Booger Test). I was caught completely off guard and almost choked with laughter.
Heidi instructed the class on the properties of yeast and taught facts instrumental in the handling of this popular fungi. She emphasised how important it was to check the yeast before you put it into your dough which was a great tip! There are three kinds of yeast (Fresh, Quick Rise & Dry Active). Fresh is hard to find unless you buy it in bulk and are a baker. Fresh also dissolves faster and is used at about half the weight (Bakers use mostly weight measurements as opposed to fluid measurements) of the other two types. The other two are basically interchangeable and just vary in rise time. Yeast is best mixed with warm water between 95 and 115 degrees. If the temperature reaches 120 degrees the yeast begins to perish. If it reaches 140 degrees it dies! We learned that salt kills yeast and sugar feeds yeast.
In the second half of the class the work tripled and I discovered how inept I really was. We watched Heidi make the dough for the soft “Dinner Roll Knots”. It was a very tedious process and the dough has to rise three separate times. You need at least about three hours. Heidi prepared each student’s dough ahead, given the lengthy prep time in the interest of time. After receiving our dough each of us were to roll it out and have approximately 7 or 8 rolls. It looked easy.
Heidi demonstrated additional forms the rolls could take including clover leaf, a single knot and a pretzel shape. There was a discussion about the fact that all the rolls do not have to look perfect. One student named Maria stated that her husband always said, when she made imperfect rolls “They don’t have to look perfect. I am not going to dance with them. I am going to eat them”! I thought this was apropos!
You have to roll each dinner roll out by cupping your hand in a “C” and pushing hard in a circular motion. Jan and Katie had no problem, but Jinny and I did not fare as well. I think I did 2 out of 8 successfully. Heidi came to my rescue and helped. (Jinny and I decided that we would stay with Cheese Garlic biscuits we discussed separately, as they take about 25 minutes to make and bake). After rolling the dough into the circular mounds you roll them out into 8″ to 10″ or longer lengths.
After you roll these out you double the roll, twist and tie a knot. Not as easy as it sounds for an new baker, like me! The rolls are then baked at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes and are soft dinner rolls when they are finished.
It was an amazing experience and I recommend you take Heidi’s classes if you are ever in Austin. You will not be disappointed and to top it off you get to sample fresh baked bread. There is nothing better.
I have to tell you that my wife Kim instructed me not to come home with flour paws (hand prints) on my rear. As soon as I walked in the door at home she told me I had flour on my rear. I promise I don’t remember!
For complete instructions and recipes it will benefit you to take the class. Contact info follows: Heidi Swiderski at or and sign up for the classes. It will be well worth your time!
As this is my first attempt at this blog, I would appreciate your feedback and constructive criticism. I can only improve with your evaluations. Thanks and Safe Travels !!!

Surfing USA

I have been considering participating in Couch Surfing for some time. The majority of the surfers are of the younger generations. I wasn’t sure if anyone except the occasional individual with no luck locating a couch, would really desire to stay with us and use an inflatable air mattress as their bed. I was very wrong and have stumbled upon a media site that is more “social” in nature than some sites I have been on for years.

Our first surfer was Allan Flynn a young lad (49) from Canberra Australia and an architect by profession. We waited Friday night for his arrival, not really knowing what to expect or what the experience would be like. I was surprised when I announced I was doing this on other social media platforms and received a ton of posts, that indicated I had better be careful. They “wouldn’t do this in a million years”. Some were young and I least expected this response from that generation.
Obviously, if I will pick up and go to Ecuador and other parts unknown, I will take a so called risk and have a complete stranger couch surf with us. When Allan arrived he rolled down his car window and stated “Good day mate” (They really say this!). Immediately Allan made us feel comfortable and at ease. I was greatly relieved that he was such a gentle person and always wanted to fend for himself. His instinct was to do tasks, to pay back the use of our house. We acquiesced the final day and allowed him to wash our cars,
On Saturday we toured the state Capitol building and he was obviously elated at its construction and history. We joined a tour in the rotunda and listened to part of the spiel. I haven’t been inside in many years and it was very nice to revisit our state’s heritage and the fashion it was formed. My most embarrassing moment, was when Allan asked what number state we were in joining the Union. My mind went blank and we had to ask the guide! Do my fellow Texans know?
Most of all I was completely knocked over by the hardware on the doors, the size of the door jambs, windows and the tile put down in the 1930’s. I was amazed at the longevity of various furniture, sections of the building and felt a deep reverence and appreciation for my home state. Allan kept stating that I should remember “everything is bigger in Texas” when we would see a looming doorway or imposing window. I asked him, well what do you reckon happened to me, given I am only 5’7″ tall, if I stretch!
We then toured 6th street and SoCo later Saturday afternoon. He was able to see what keeps Austin Weird! I love showing visitors my home town and having their feedback. We saw this character sitting on the street in SoCo and it made me remember one of the reasons why I love Austin so much.
Sunday we took Allan to the Oasis and it was truly an oasis (very little water in Lake Travis and it looked like a dessert in places). He really thought the establishment was a design feat and kept taking various photos on different levels of the restaurant. I took this one of him as he tried a “local” beer and he thought the beer was sweet. He drank every drop though!
There was a charity car show in the parking lot and we were able to see a vast inventory of old cars, sports cars and muscle cars from the late 60’s. Truly brought back special memories for me, if you remember my ’69 Camaro 396″. This one is a ’67, but close enough!
It was a very enjoyable weekend and I was sorry to see him drive away this morning. I do know though, that if I make it to Australia one day, I have a place to stay and a place where I will revisit a friend, made through this wonderful web site. Can’t wait for #2 on Tuesday night! Safe Travels and Saludos mi amigos!

Ingapirca at My Feet

As we drove up the rocky road, the historical site loomed ahead and obviously was significant to observe. I missed this Incan ruin last time and was not about to bypass it again, given the opportunity. Alberto, our host at the Casa Ordonez, invited us to go with Earl and Max of Ohio, first thing Saturday morning. I jumped at the chance.

The first settlers of this majestic mountain and valley were the Canari, who still have descendants, that currently live surrounding Ingapirca. They farm and raise livestock mostly, and as a whole dress indigenous. In the mid 1500’s The Incans overthrew the Canaris and began a brief rule of approximately 40 years. The Spanish then overtook both tribes and the facilities and destroyed the majority of both civilizations.
It is the locals interpretation that the Spanish were looking for the gold of the Incans, but never located the gold. Local folklore states that the Incans tossed all their gold in the many lakes that surround Ingapirca, to hide it from the conquering Spaniards.
As we entered the sacred grounds, I saw this plant to the side and almost touched the blooms, out of habit. Our guide, as he began his spiel, warned us about touching this beautiful plant and relayed its hallucinogenic properties. The dust from the flower basically disables any free will a person has and places them in a stupor. Recent bank robbers in the Andes have used this plant to enable a quick and easy get away, by blowing the dust of the flower into people’s faces or touching their hands with the dust (they wear rubber gloves to evade the dust themselves).
Our guide Luis was Ecuadorian. He spent 18 years in New York and communicated well. He was extremely informative about all the various stations of the ruins and how the entire fortress/temple was set up and organized. As we turned the first corner the guide showed us how the Agave plant was used for sewing needs. The fiber is used as thread and the thorn as a needle and they sewed human skin, pelts and wool with these tools.
We then learned that the Canaris worshiped the Moon and elements like water, wind and
fire. The Incans worshiped the Sun and animals, with special emphasis on the Puma. The layout of the Incan settlement resembles a Puma outline, if you look from a distance or from above. The temple represents the brain area.
The first hut we saw was a replica of a family hut that was rectangular and had a very high and sloped thatched roof to enable the water to run off. The second area was basically their burial grounds and the commoners were buried in one section with no identification. The last Canari empress  was buried with a large stone as a headstone. The headstone had a cut in the top that allowed the sun to hit her grave on the December 21st solstice and see over her. Her servants were drugged with the dust from the plant above and buried in a crouching position all around her, to protect her and ward off evil spirits. They were alive when this transpired.
I was enthralled with all the complicated thinking that went into the construction of this site.
They laid stone blocks, after sanding down with other rocks, side by side and adjacent to the other stones. Not even a razor blade could be inserted between some of the rocks as tight as they remain today. The green tint is a result of the heavy copper content in the stones. I was awestruck with their precision, given they only had natural tools to work with.
We toured the temple and discovered that as Ingapirca was built by the Incans it was constructed to have the sun intersect various windows and portals at various times of the year. The emperor’s balcony and private shrine was built so that the Sun intersected the doorway on the solstices and every quarter. This way they knew when to plant, harvest and when the new year was to be celebrated. Parts of the walls are missing, but you can still fathom the intent, from the angles that the front door intersect the depressions on the back wall.
The four of us then opted to take the additional hike and walk the route above and see the pool that the emperors bathed in and the carved face on the side of the mountain. Remember these were constructed in the mid 1550’s.
Not only was I blown away by the carved face, but all of us ran out of gas. After all we were at 10,000 feet and all well over 50. Periodically we had to stop and rest and catch our breath. None of us were in as good as shape as we thought. We headed back down the mountain and joined our driver. Thirsty and worn out, but well satisfied that we had seen one of Ecuador’s most spectacular and historical remaining sites.
A special thanks to Earl and Alex for letting us tag along and for being great people. They are amiable, intelligent and experienced travelers. It was a great day. So much so that we are imposing on them again and touring the surrounding craft villages on Tuesday. Peace and Safe Travels!

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Amateur Traveler Episode 471 - Travel to Austin, Texas