Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marcelo Batata Cooking Class - Cusco, Peru

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Marcelo Batata Cooking Class in Cusco, Peru.  As a wannabe-foodie who enjoys cooking, I'm always interested in attending cooking classes in the various locations I visit to get a real sense of the history and details of the local ingredients and cuisine.  And in that regard, I couldn't have picked a better chef to learn from.

Erick Paz is the executive chef of Cusco Dining, which includes three restaurants (Blue Puppy, Marcelo Batata, and Uchu) as well as the cooking class. A professional rally car racer, Erick took some time off after an injury and backpacked through North, Central, and South America for five years, rediscovering a passion for cooking and working in various restaurants along the way.  He returned to Cusco where he has opened three restaurants, runs his cooking class for fun - to share his passion for Peruvian ingredients and meet interesting people - and still races rally cars.

My class included four Canadians on a GAdventures tour and myself.  We started off by exploring the "market" (right inside the restaurant) as Erick explained the incredible variety of native and available ingredients in Peru, from the thousands of varieties of potato, to chilis, quinoa, corn, beans, etc.  We finished our market tour by sampling a selection of local fruits, including lucuma, passionfruit, and chirimoya (custard apple).  Throughout the course we were also served a variety of "amuse-bouche" from Uchu, ranging from ceviche to alpaca skewers to ice cream - all incredibly delicious, contemporary interpretations of classic Peruvian cuisine.

We started off the cooking portion by assembling a Chicken Causa - a beautiful layered combination of potato flavored with yellow pepper cream, avocado, black olives, chicken, chili mayo, egg, and a final layer of potato - constructed in a colorful tower using a ring mold.  We also chatted about all the other ways we could construct a Causa with different ingredients, or just use a ring mold (or using a casserole dish to create layers) in creating beautiful presentations.

My finished appetizer!

After enjoying our appetizers, we moved on to a Pisco tasting (Pisco is a local spirit made similarly to brandy).  Erick explained how to properly view, swirl, smell, and taste the Pisco... starting with un-aromatic (which tasted like fire) to aromatic (quite smooth).

Erick pouring out Pisco for us to sample.

We then sampled a classic Pisco Sour and Chilcano.  Erick then allowed us to select from his collection of infused Piscos to make our own drinks - I chose a purple corn Pisco to construct a Chilcano - incredibly delicious!

Purple corn infused Pisco and the resulting Chilcano.

After the Pisco sampling, we moved on to our entrees - Alpaca Saltada.  Using a small wok, we flipped around our ingredients, flambĂ©ed Pisco, flipped some more, and finally served our stir-fried Alpaca / vegetable concoction with rice.  We sat down with our entrees and what remained of our Pisco cocktails, already quite stuffed, to cap off an amazing experience and chat with Erick.

Erick flambes the Pisco while demonstrating the Alpaca Saltada.

While it was a bit costly for someone on a tight RTW budget, I would absolutely recommend taking the Marcelo Batata Cooking Class if you have a few hours to spare in Cusco.  And if you aren't on a tight budget, or you just want to splurge on an incredible meal, definitely check out one of his restaurants.  I would highly recommend Uchu based on my experience, but I'm sure the others are delicious as well.  If you happen to catch Erick, be sure to take the opportunity to chat with one of the more interesting, passionate, and worldly people in Peru.  Enjoy!

*I was not compensated in any way for the class I attended.  The views above are entirely, and honestly, my own, as they always will be, whether I am compensated or not.  :)
*You can also check out reviews of the cooking class on TripAdvisor.

To carry an entire year on my back...

Once upon a time, packing was one of the more exciting elements about this trip.  Way, way back in the "dreaming" stage, when I could imagine floating through cities and countries and the things I could wear and the gadgets that would be so handy and the beautiful photographs and words I would capture.

Now, I'm looking at a pile of clothes that would normally last me a week or two, and a pile of stuff that I'd love to leave behind but are actually necessary.  And instead of being inspired to lighten my pack and remove this or that, I keep thinking of more things to take, more items to purchase, more crap to cram into crevices of an already overpacked bag.  And I keep analyzing and overthinking exactly what I should take.  What I need to take.  Reading packing lists.  Comparing advice.  Weighing options.

So, here's what's made the cut.  I honestly have no idea if I've made the right decisions here, so it could be interesting to revisit this in a few months and see what terrible mistakes I've made, what I've thrown out, what I've bought three more of, and what got sent home or donated to the last hostel...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Photography: Final Days in Charlotte

Charlotte Final Days, a set on Flickr.
Photos from Food Truck Friday and the Atherton Mill Market.

An ode to Charlotte...

I never imagined when I began traveling to Charlotte for work in the spring of 2007 that the city would become a place I could truly call home.  A city that, aside from Huntsville, is actually the single location I've lived in the longest.  While I've been living and working in Charlotte for roughly six years, the city has truly grown on me over the last couple of years in particular.

Over the past few months, as my time in Charlotte came to an end (perhaps temporarily... perhaps not), I've had plenty of time to reflect on some of my favorite things about the ever-evolving city.  Here are just a few...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Entry Requirements & Visa Requests

As exciting as it can be to get a lovely, colorful visa page stamped into your passport (a promised visit to a foreign land! and look at the pretty colors!), the process to actually get one of those sought-after prizes can be quite the challenge.

Whether or not to secure visas before I started my RTW was one of the things I struggled with in planning for the trip... Would I really need them?  Couldn't I get them while overseas?  What if I didn't even make it to the country and spent all that time and effort and money on getting the visa?  But I did as much research as possible into the entry requirements for the countries I hoped to visit, especially the must-see places, and determined that there were at least a couple of visas I would seek out beforehand.