Tacos – We All Love Them!!

Tacos – We All Love Them!!

Tacos are one of the most fun ways of eating. You can put in them whatever you like and leave out what you don’t. Back in Germany I only knew tacos from fast food stores and was not very impressed. I never had the fortune of traveling to Mexico and eating them there from a street vendor.

When I came over to The US I was slowly introduced to new cuisines and one of them was Mexican. My wife made fajitas for our family and I loved them instantly. Still tacos for me was still seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomato, sour cream cheese…..Oh and a crispy taco shell. It was okay but not that special.

Then I had to come up with ideas for a bar menu and started looking into other ingredients; blackened fish, grilled chicken, shrimp, avocado, mango or pineapple etc. I also started adding a chipotle sauce, very delicious as well, which was basically mayonnaise, sour cream, chipotle and lime juice. I was happy

then one day Matt, my sous chef at the club made a baja sauce for me and I loved it from the first bite. It was almost like the missing link and elevated the whole thing to a new level. It’s so easy to make and I cannot believe I have lived life without it for so long. Now we always have wit with our tacos.

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup of sour cream

1 cup of mayonnaise

half a cup of lime /lemon juice

half a bunch of chopped cilantro

3 cloves of garlic finely chopped

hot sauce to taste

1 tablespoon sugar

Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well, ready. You may have to add some water to get a sauce-like consistency. It’ll get a bit better if you let it sit for a moment so the flavors can mingle but it is ready pretty much right away.

One more thing; we pretty much have soft corn tortillas with our tacos exclusively. I feel they are just that much better. the rest of the ingredients are or can be: shredded white cabbage or iceberg, Pico de Gallo, avocado, mango or pineapple onion and cilantro. We usually cook chicken, fish or pork but also have had alligator. Blackening seasoning is our favorite spice.

Recently we ran out of taco shells but we had some rice left. This made a beautiful rice bowl as well.

Caponata

Caponata

One of my favorite side dishes in the summer is Caponata. Eggplant is one of the most versatile vegetables.
Yet it is usually under used for its potential.
It is relatively bland but will absorb a lot of flavors. The dish comes from Sicily and has some Arabic influences.
It is served at room temperature and loses some of it’s color and a lot of flavor when refrigerated. It goes well with cous cous or quinoa, with grilled fish, seafood or chicken and is a mix between a vegetable dish and a salad. It can be made in advance and left at room temperature pretty much all day.

This recipe I picked up whilst working in England in my first head chef position at Jeremy’s Restaurant in Sussex. I was looking at an Italian cookbook when it popped out because of the vibrant colors. Besides eggplant it contains zucchini, cherry tomatoes, red onion, celery, peppers, basil, pine nuts, raisins and more.
The Vinegar makes it shelf stable and gives it a delicious tang, I prefer sherry vinegar, white balsamic or a good white wine vinegar.
There is a lot of cutting involved but the cooking is actually pretty straight forward.
All ingredients are diced about 1.5 cm or half an inch and cooked separately.
Eggplants are large vegetables so the recipe yields a decent amount of caponata.

2 medium Eggplants
3 medium zucchinis
3 yellow/red peppers
2 red onions
5 stalks of celery all diced

1 cup of green pitted olives
.5 cups of raisins
1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half
.5 cup capers
.5 cup toasted pine nuts
.5 cup toasted almonds
.5 cup sliced basil
.75 cup white balsamic vinegar
3 Tblsp sugar (or more) depending on the viegar and your preference
one cup good olive oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Heat up enough olive oil in a large pot and fry the vegetables separately. The eggplant needs to be cooked the longest, it should not be crunchy but be careful not to overcook it or it will be too mushy and fall apart.
The other vegetables can and should still have some bite when they are removed from the oil.

Cooking the vegetables this way and the addition of the vinegar keeps them clean and vibrant. especially the eggplant often loses its color when cooked in different ways.


Drain all vegetables well on a kitchen towel or paper and place them in a large mixing bowl.
When still hot add the vinegar. This will keep the colors vibrant and add the tangy bite
Carefully fold the vinegar into the caponata and add the rest of the ingredients.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste. You wont need too much sugar because the sweet and sour is the dominant flavor.
The nuts are best toasted in a heavy bottom pan with a little olive oil. Season them with salt and add the as the last ingredients so they stay
crunchy.

You can add all kinds of spices to the dish but I like it as it is because there is a lot going on already. The vegetables, the nuts, the Salty olives and capers, the basil the sweetness of the raisins. But fennel – seeds or bulb, a bit of cumin and coriander, some hot pepper flakes may add another dimension.

Enjoy!!

Mushroom Foraging in Oregon

Mushroom Foraging in Oregon


Our travels along the West Coast took us through Oregon, both along the coast and the Cascade mountains.

Somewhere at a beach in Oregon

Most of the foraged mushrooms I ordered as a chef in Virginia and Pennsylvania came from Oregon, so I was excited to get to Oregon
and go mushrooming.

I remember going mushroom-hunting with my parents in Germany. I learned quickly which ones were good to pick and to leave the ones I did not know.
I enjoyed the flavor from a young age and learned to appreciate them even more as I entered my culinary career. I knew Porcini mushrooms and other boletes, parasol mushrooms and chanterelles as a child but morels, blewit mushrooms, lobster mushrooms, winter chanterelles, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods and others I got to know whilst working in the kitchen both in the UK and in the US.
At the Inn at Little Washington we had foragers bring us mushrooms through the back door.
Most of the mushrooms I bought from a purveyor came from Oregon, though.

As we arrived in Oregon I asked around and was surprised to hear that the season starts in September with the rainfalls. It had been dry the whole summer and we arrived at the end of August. So we had to wait for rain. Someone told me that clouds at night move over the coastal mountains and that the humidity could be enough for mushrooms to grow.
So I set out with some of the children to see if we could find any. We had some success and found some chanterelles and lobster mushrooms. We had enough to make a delicious risotto.

Lobster mushrooms and chanterelles


A few days later there was a sprinkle of rain and we find a few more than the first time. Finally we had a full day of rain and I went with just Jojo and we found a lot of mushrooms. We found the most beautiful chanterelles but the majority were Lobster mushrooms.

Jojo and I found a lot of mushrooms after it rained all day the day before.

Lobster mushrooms are russula or milk cap mushrooms that have been compositionally altered by a parasitic mold.
This may not sound very nice but they are actually delicious. They have a firm texture and a nutty, woodsy flavor and some say hints of seafood aroma.
We had a blast and used the mushrooms as a side with meat, made omelettes and a tasty mushroom pasta. Coincidentally we found the perfect wine to go with the pasta to make it one of those memorable meals one always remembers.

the pasta dish was delicious.

The season was short for us as we had to leave for California but in the end we had our fill of mushrooms and I can look forward to go morel-hunting in spring again.

More mushrooms

A couple of things are important when cooking mushrooms; make sure you wash the mushrooms well before cooking and drain them well so they are dry.

Secondly, the pan should be thick so it holds the heat well. Get it smoking hot before adding the mushrooms.

Do not overfill the pan or it will cool down and the mushrooms release a lot of water and will steam rather than sear.

Butter herbs (thyme, Tarragon , rosemary) and garlic are perfect to finish the mushrooms at the end of cooking.

I love adding bacon bits to the mushrooms when I cook them as a side dish or for my omelet.

Boondocking at Joshua Tree National Park

Boondocking at Joshua Tree National Park

After visiting Phoenix for a LV conference we decided to spend some of the winter in Southern California.
There are a few Thousand Trail RV parks in Southern Arizona but they are all age limited (55+). So we decided to go back to Southern California where there are a few Thousand Trails as well.

We went to Palm Springs Thousand Trails and had the best time there.
The park is clean, the pool area is great, there were lots of children for ours to meet; but most of all the staff there are super friendly and forthcoming.
They helped us with our future reservations and we never had an issue with anything. There were also daily activities for the children.

The pool area at Thousand Trails, Palm Springs. We went there on a day pass to do Laundry and use the pool.

After 2 weeks we had to leave however and decided to spend a week on the BLM land at the South-entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.
I had read about it researching where to stay and only found positive feedback.
we arrived in the afternoon filled up with water and gas and were ready to spend the week.

As you get off route 10 and head towards the park after about half a mile is a road running parallel to route 10 with a lot of spots.
To our surprise there were already about 30 RVs, something we had not experienced before. Usually there are 5-10 spots. but here was room for probably 50 more easily.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is just outside the park and stretches for miles in both directions.
Because the area is so large there is plenty of privacy. Our closest neighbors were about 100 yards away from us. So there is plenty of room for our children to play, to make lots of noise and still not bother anyone.

The beginning of the dirt road leading to many boondocking sites.

We stayed there in mid November for a week and came back again at the beginning of December. The weather was very comfortable but it got chilly at night.
You are supposed to only stay 14 days at one place but we never noticed anyone stop and check.

Sunset in the desert.

As we are a large family we go through our water very quickly and after 3-4 days we are usually out.
If you enter Joshua Tree National Parks South entrance you head towards Cottonwood Campground.
There is a dump station and fresh water so we took the trailer to dump and fill up with fresh water. There was no sign so we did not pay anything. We have the annual America the Beautiful National Parks membership so we entered the park with that but there is no barrier or ranger station you have to pass.

The dirt road stretches for miles.

You are in the desert here but there are plenty of shrubs, bushes and small trees. The ground was mostly gravel but it was compact enough for our rig not to get stuck.
The kids played ball and bocce outside, rode their bikes and dug holes with the shovel we have.

We had plenty of space and spread out.

The internet there was good enough to stream video over our T-mobile internet gateway.
The mountains of Joshua Tree are right behind you and there is an area that is managed by the LA water district which you are not allowed to enter.
As long as you stay away from it you are fine to spread out as much as you want. We saw several groups of trailers in a circle who met over the weekend. There were expensive motor homes, Trailers, camper vans and people camping in tents.

We had plenty of campfires whereas most of California has a ban. There are stone rings set up everywhere.

There are plenty of things to do in Joshua Tree NP as well. We took the children on a hike, bouldering and also just drove from one end to the other
with plenty of stops for all the different sites.
All in all we felt very safe as there very a lot of campers and we left our trailer by itself to go to town for shopping etc.
It is definitely a place we will use again if we feel in need to stay somewhere in Southern California.

Check out our video on YouTube.

Hiking Mount Rainier with our Children

Hiking Mount Rainier with our Children

There are 8 active volcanoes in the cascade mountains, the most famous one probably Mount Saint Helens after it’s eruption in 1980.
The Tallest one is Mount Rainier with a height of 14,410 feet.
We were between Mt Rainier and Mt Saint Helens at a campground and decided to hike in Mt Rainier National Park with our kids (watch on YouTube).
We did climb up Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock in Arizona’s Red Rock Country and the children loved it as much as Andrea and I did.
There is a big difference in the climate between Arizona and Washington state. Arizona was dry, hot and dusty whereas Washington gets a lot of rain and the weather is more moderate. Obviously that has a huge impact on the vegetation. The Pacific North West is very mountainous with tall conifers.
We fell in love with northern Idaho and Washington is growing on us much the same.

We take a small break close to Glacier Vista

Our ride to Mt Rainier National Park took a bit longer than an hour and we stopped along the way to get some snacks. We made sandwiches which we ate on the ride to the park.
At the entrance was quite a long line of cars. We have the “America the Beautiful” Pass and were able to skip much of it.
After getting through the gate we had to drive about 10 more miles to get to Paradise where you find the visitors center and the Paradise Inn.
We had looked the night before and knew which trails to hike. A ranger at the trail head gave us some more information and we were ready to start.

This is the view from the the visitors center, the Paradise Inn is in the backgrond.

Unfortunately we could not take our oldest son, Noah, with us. He volunteered to stay behind with our dog as pets are not allowed on the trails.
Everybody else came with us. Andrea carried Bodhi pretty much all the way and I carried Romi. We started hiking the Alta Vista trail and were surprised how steep it was. This was hard especially with the kids on our shoulders. It felt like we were very out of shape
but this was also the steepest part of the hike.
Once we had reached the top of the trail which is only .6 miles long, we were rewarded with some spectacular views and a pretty good outlook of what was to come. There was the snow-covered top of Mt. Rainier at one end and smaller mountains all around us, rivers, waterfalls, trees and meadows with beautiful wild flowers. It was stunning.

This is past the steepest part of the Alta Vista climb walking towards Rainier.

We headed further uphill, now on the Skyline Loop Trail, which we followed until the end, toward Glacier Vista but the hike was much more comfortable from this point on.
Just before Glacier Vista we had reached the tree line. We also saw patches of snow for the first time. Of course the kids had to play on it, touch it and make snowballs. I am not sure when we saw snow for the last time. There were a few flurries before we left Virginia in December, so it must have been in the winter before. It was strange to see snow but we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. It just shows you how much snow there must have been.

There is still snow left but it is relatively warm.

The trails are open from June or July until October.

The hike is partially paved and the we love the trees all around us.

At Glacier Point you stand right by the mountain at the level where the snow starts. There were waterfalls and more beautiful views. The kids got a break, Pauline walked up until here and the rest of the way which impressed us a lot.
We did not expect that from our little five year old but it shows how resilient kids are.
We carried on uphill towards Panorama Point at an altitude of 6800 feet (almost 2000′ higher than Cathedral Rock). The trail was now rocky and dusty but the views all around werestunning. The weather was gorgeous and a few small clouds floated by the top of Rainier.

Mount Rainier with a few clouds above it.

There is a platform at Panorama Point and you can see much of the Cascade mountain range. Mount Adams, Mount St Helens and Mt Hood are all visible from here along with other mountains.

In the background you can faintly see Mt Adams

The view down into the valley never ceased to amaze, always changing into another beautiful picture as we moved along.
The path kept on going uphill for a little longer and at we soon reached the crossing onto Golden Gate Trail which was a direct line back to the parking lot. But we were not ready to head back yet. so we decided to stay on Skyline Loop. The kids enjoyed more patches of snow along the way.

View towards the visitors center from our hike down

Once we reached the tree line again we found more streams, waterfalls, green meadows, pretty wild flowers and even saw groundhogs and chipmunks.
There only seemed to be green from the trees and and the blue of the sky sprinkled with the colors of the wild flowers.

Subalpine Daisies

When we were within a mile to the visitors center we found blueberries. That obviously added some more time to our trip. How could you pass up something as delicious as wild blueberries and there were plenty and they were delicious.

We spent well over an hour picking these beautiful and delicious oval-leaf blueberries.

Sluiskin Falls is another place of interest. You walk over a bridge and have the opportunity to walk down steps in oreder to get right in front of it with Mt Rainier as a backdrop. A perfect opportunity to take some more photographs.

In front of Sluiskin Falls, Mount Rainier is in the background but here can only see the bottom with snow.

After that we found a bunch more blueberries and had a groundhog walk the opposite direction on the same path we were taking. It took him some time to build up the guts to walk past us but he needed to get to the
other side of us to get some of the blueberries.
The trail ended by the Paradise Inn. From there we had about 10 more minutes to walk to the car.

Paradise Inn

In the parking lot we saw a couple of hikers who were preparing to go to the top at night. We were a bit confused at first as to why they would go at night but they explained that it was safer as the snow and ice get soft and unsafe during the warm weather. It was only the two and they did not have a guide so they decided to walk at night.
We started our hike at around 1pm and got back to the car a little before 8pm. We had a lot of brakes and walked a slow pace because of the little ones but we were amazed at Pauline as she walked the whole 5.5 miles although it
seemed a little longer than that.

one of the many bequtiful vistas.

This hike was something we will remember for the rest of our lives. As we will remember Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock. Thee constant beauty of nature, the sight of the mountain, the snow the flowers and animals will
always be in our mind. We love that we did it with our children as they hopefully have another beautiful of our trip through the United States.

Our kids in the snow
Burning Desire is the Start of New Beginnings.

Burning Desire is the Start of New Beginnings.

Had the most epic day hiking around Mt. Rainier in Washington State! 🏔🌸🐿🌲 It is breathtakingly beautiful, with the snowcapped mountain tops, flowing brooks, waterfalls from melting snow, a pristine view of the Cascade mountains, abundant wildflowers, tall pines, blue skies, hundreds of chipmunks scurrying about, marmots, mountain goats and delicious wild blueberries. I couldn’t but feel an immense gratitude. For years all we wanted was more time together as a family when it seemed so impossible at the time with Andre working long hours, weekends and holidays as an executive chef at fine-dining restaurants or country clubs. Somehow, we’ve been able to transition building our own business that is location independent, gives us opportunities to travel full time and explore this beautiful countryside and have so much quality time as a family!

This didn’t happen by chance!!

I had to be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I had to work on my mindset!!

I had to believe it was possible!!

I had to be consistent and committed!

I had to trust the process!

I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable!

I had to unlearn and relearn and learn no skill sets.

I had to make temporary sacrifice for long term gain

I had to deal with disappointment and move on!

I had to fail many times and get up again and again!

But it’s all worth it for the person I am becoming in the process, the life we are creating and the lives we’ve changed and continue to change for the better!!

Anyone who has a burning desire for a better life has everything they need to create it!

There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.

Napolean Hill

Stay tuned for a video from Andre and more posts about Mt. Rainier!!

Pauline and Josephine are absolutely delighted to see snow after 8 months of chasing summer!
Brad, a fellow hiker, took this photo for us! Missing are Noah our oldest and our boxer dog, Freya. Dogs aren’t allowed at national parks.