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A Week in Cartagena

Yeah, I should have posted a long time ago about Cartagena, Colombia, but life happens… So better (a little) late than much later, plus- its nice to revisit Cartagena and sift through the many photos I have.

Cartagena was a last minute plan, and for a family of parents, teens and grandparents, I was worried that it’ll get boring after a few days, but connecting my imagination along with my good friends: Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet Guide, and some googling, I built a blueprint that would work for us all.

As a general rule, I always seek to find activities that involve the local community and encourages sustainable tourism, while trying to leave a minimal environmental and social footprint.

Without further ado, here are my recommendations for Cartagena, especially during Christmas.

Getting Around and what to do in Cartagena

The best would be… by foot. Not only is it free, but losing yourself by walking in the smallest alleys, allow you to discover the old beauty of Spanish colonial old city, the crumbling walls, the wide variety of door knockers, the colorful graffitis in Getsemani, the vibrant dresses of the fruit basket ladies- Las Palenqueras, and that’s just the feast for your eyes, not to mention sounds and real tastes that you may find. Going further to other neighborhoods, use a local taxi- they are cheap and convenient. Also- read about the tours we took to really go out the beaten track.

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Beautiful ladies of Cartagena, Las Palenqueras. Don’t take a photo without buying a fruit. Fruits are yummy, cheap, and you’ll be helping by paying.

old walls

Deteriorating buildings are so beautiful. Be sure to look up.

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Door knockers are Cartagena’s thing

COLLAGE

Look where you step- you’ll be rewarded

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Walk on the walls that encircle the Old City, and be sure to gaze out into the sunset

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Enjoy the many vendors

Hat Vendor

I had to add the hat guy

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Ahhh… the colors all around make it so hard to return home to our “regular” (non) hues

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Xmas in Cartagena means dances, and lots of them, in the main square

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Stroll outside the walled city, in the vibrant neighborhood of Getsemani. Observe graffiti

Responsible Tourism in Cartagena

Responsible Tourism is, among other things, to be aware and have meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.  That’s the kind of travel we usually try to conduct. That is why we chose to experience a few tours with these companies, which allowed us to be exposed to local traditions, away from the beaten path, while supporting locals by spending our $$. This was a win-win.

We toured with Alex Rocha of ​Experience the Real Cartagena in the further neighborhoods of Cartagena, learning of the zones system, that reflects the different poverty stages. Alex explained about life in Cartagena, and it’s historical aspect dating back to the afro-Colombians, brought in as slaves. We got to talk and dance with the locals (remember, it’s Christmas time, and locals are eating and dancing in the streets). We visited the colorful Bazurto Market and tasted different fruits and juices, and bought a local hat (this IS the place for cheap buys). .  We ended up in Alex’s neighborhood, and were invited to his home, where we met his beautiful family, and his wife made us an amazing lunch. We enjoyed so much, that we took Alex again to the Aviary (the wonderful relaxing bird reserve) and Playa Blanca, while visiting a small fishermen village on the way.

Be aware, Playa Blanca is full of vendors trying to sell, sell, sell. I suggest you walk all the way to the far right, as you enter the beach, to get away, as much as possible from the crowds.

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Outside the touristic city- into the hoods. Notice the recycled Xmas decorations. Also- visited Convent of Santa Cruz de la Popa- the highest point in Cartagena

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 Bazurto – Cartagena’s bustling food market

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A beautiful day at the Aviary, and Playa Blanca

Two more tours were exceptionally joyful, and those were led by Lorena Salgado of Insider, who’s an ethical travel company, that gives back to the community. We took their Africa in America tour. We visited the village of San Basilio de Palenque, where we met and learned about the Palenqueros, who were the first free Africans in America. In this village, they are the only ones in the world speaking ​Spanish-Bantú, and they have maintained their musical traditions, mainly the Champeta. We met with music legend Rafael Cassiani, who was born in the Palanque, and started his Champeta musical career there. Of course we feasted on a traditional Palenque lunch served on banana leaves. Later that day,  we visited ​San Jacinto​, which is the small village of knitting crafters.

The other tour we took with Lorena of Insider, was the evening Salsa tour, where we hopped from one salsa club to the other. It was amazing, as we didn’t only get to watch and dance to the Salsa beats, but learn of how the Salsa came to be, it’s historical and cultural connections to present times and to the people of Cartagena. It was one of the highlights of our Cartagena visit. Highly recommended!!

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Top left: statue of a man breaking free from his chains and reaching out for his motherland, West Africa. This is the statue of Benkos Bioho, San Basilio de Palenque founder. Bottom left: hair braiding goes far beyond a hairstyle- it was used by Palenque’s slaves to braide intricate maps and codes. Today it’s a social gathering- kind of a street spa.

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Beautiful people of Basilio de Palenque

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With Champeta legend Rafael Cassiani. Watch a short clip

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Weavers of San Jacinto

Where to eat and sleep 

Allow yourself to eat from street vendors some of the fresh fruits or local pastries. Some really good restaurants, though, are these:

Cafe Stepping Stones. We loved their breakfast and coffee. Also love the idea that they are partners of not-for-profit foundation, FEM, who focus on sustainable local projects.

Moshi. Though in local terms, this would be an expensive restaurant, relatively to NY it is so reasonably priced, and yet, the service, food, tastes and look of the dishes, are so attentive and delicious. They even surprised us with little dish samples that they shared with us. It is so good, we went there twice! Highly recommended.

Ganesha. Loved this little place in Getsemani, quiet with good, tasty small plates of Indian food, when you had enough of plantains and arepa 🙂 Loved having chai, or cold lassi, as well as some Indian delights.

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Refreshed in Ganesha

Caffe Lunatico. Ate here twice, great ambiance, food, and selections of wines. Tasty, unique food, good professional service, in Getsemani.

For kids- Choco Museum. We left our 3 teens for the chocolate workshop, for a little over 2 hours. They had so much fun, learning and creating with chocolate. They took samples back, and we all enjoyed tasting.

For adults- El Rincon De Getsemani. As we lazily strolled in Getsemani during the evening, we heard live music emerging behind a door. We hesitantly opened the door, and peeked inside, just to warmly be invited inside. Oh wow- a band of at least 8 musicians played the salsa, and folks were dancing enthusiastically. We joined. We came back another evening (without kids), and had so much fun learning some basic salsa steps by nice locals. This is a local salsa club, didn’t see any tourists there. Get a glass of beer and enjoy trumpets and salsa.

Hotel Capellan. Beautiful rooftop, nice little chilling pools, and some nice views from the roof. Grab a beer and ceviche, and relax. Everyday they had an afternoon tea time served with cakes- complimentary. Conveniently located in Getsemani, in walkable distance from the walled city.

Hotel Capellan

Hotel Capellan, chillin’

more photos (as well as in my Instagram):

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We have a mulberry tree not far from our home. We’re lucky that way. Sent my boys to get all red-dirty, and they got that sweet juicy stuff, hands, mouth and all..

Mulberries

So with so many of them, I quickly baked 2 mulberry cobblers, inspired by Bakerita’s recipe. My recipe is different as it’s not vegan, and I played with some other flours that I had.

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Yes, One regular cobbler, and one chocolate one.

You’ll need:

for the fruit:

  • 3 cups of mulberries
  • 3 TBS dates nectar or pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp arrowroot flour
  • pinch of cardamom or cinnamon- to your liking

for the cobbler topping:

  • 1/2 cup almond flour (for chocolate version: 1/2 cup pure cacao powder)
  • 1/2 cup arrowroot flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 3 TBS water or date nectar (for chocolate version: add 3 TBS date nectar/maple syrup)
  • 3 TBS coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • for chocolate version add 1/3-1/2 cup of chocolate chips or cacao nibs

how-to:

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a round pie baking dish.
  2. Gently mix all fruit ingredients in a bowl. Toss to coat until evenly distributed.
  3. Spread the mulberries into the baking dish.
  4. For the cobbler topping – In a medium mixing bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients: flours/powders and salt.
  5. Add all the wet ingredients (the remaining ingredients) and mix until combined.
  6. Drop topping by tablespoonfuls onto filling (create mounds).
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until cobbler is brown and cooked through.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

notes:

  • If the batter is too thick or dry- add more water and mix, but slowly, tsp by tsp, not too much.
  • I like to use the D’vash date nectar– it’s a 100% dates. We like it not too sweet. Feel free to add more nectar, maple, or sugar.
  • Play around with different fruits, have fun!

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Mul2

We Are NJ Values

Fellow New Jerseyans and friends, I’m so excited to have finally complete the first phase of a project I have been working on for the past months. Thanks to the amazing volunteer labors of Jeanne Heifetz, Mimi, and Josh from NY, and Jessica Laus from NJ, we now have a new website, to match potential volunteers with non-for-profit org. in NJ, specifically in the areas impacted by the policies of the new administration.We want to protect our democratic, humanistic values, so take a look and share widely. I am updating the site constantly.
https://www.wearenjvalues.org/

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Pumpkin muffins

‘Tis pumpkin season, which calls for pumpkin muffins:  easy, clean and paleo.

pumpkin-muffins

I used Wellness Mama’s recipe, which turned out great. I added some Enjoy Life chocolate morsels (dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free), and that’s why I used only 3 Tbs of pure maple syrup (instead of honey), and added pecans into the batter. All the rest, remains the same as the original recipe. Of course you can play around with the sweetener and the quantity.

Bon Appétit !

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Fall Bliss

 

 

I wanted to make a vegan cake for someone’s birthday, but most vegan desserts usually contain some grains or processed sugar, which I try to avoid, being Paleo. On the other hand, I do use eggs for baking, but that’s not vegan, right? I also wanted chocolate, thank you.

cake

This cake was gone after a day!

After googling endlessly for the ideal combination of vegan and paleo with chocolate, I found Ester Perez’ recipe that looked promising and really pretty. I made two versions of it after tweaking it to my needs (basically, to ingredients I had at home) and thought this version is the better one, cause I don’t like it too sweet:

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 7-8 pitted dates
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tbs water

***

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened organic cocoa powder
  • 4 Tbs melted organic cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 1 Tbs organic vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon organic cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

how to:

  1. combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend until sticks together. You don’t want to turn it into a powder, but you don’t want any whole pecans in there either.
  2. Once blended, press the mix into a pie plate. You don’t have to butter the pan.
  3. Set that aside and make your filling.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients into the food processor or blender.
  5. Once ingredients are completely blended together into a creamy consistency, pour mix into the prepared crust.
  6. Set in the fridge to chill until serving, or if making ahead, freeze and serve at a later time, but thaw at least an hour to room temperature before serving.

This is a great dessert for a warm summer night, it’s cool and light. Only problem is, it’s so tasty and such an easy pie to make, that it’s tempting to make again and again. Bon Appétit!

Highlights of Hyderabad

I was lucky to have a short diversion and land in Hyderabad for a week. With no further ado, allow me to introduce my favorite spots:

*Temples. The two that were both beautiful, interesting, and served as a quiet place to rest from the bustling city:

Jagannath Temple

Located in the somewhat affluent neighborhood of Banjara Hills, a quiet part of town. I recommend visiting in the afternoon, before sun sets, when the colorful sculptures and intricate marble carvings are complimented by the lighting system. Also visit mid-week, when it’s not crowded. Take your time to sit, watch people, maybe meditate, then walk around and adore the characters in the little shrines.

Jagannath Temple at night

Jagannath Temple at night

So many colorful figures at Jagannath Temple

So many colorful figures at Jagannath Temple

Birla Mandir Temple

Located in a scenic environment at the top of a hill, the glistening white temple surroundings offer the best scenery of Hyderabad, as well as air and good breeze. The temple is a white beauty, with many artistic designs for the eye to take in. Be aware, that like many other temples in India, you will need to remove your shoes before entering, and leave them outside. Also, in this temple, phones and cameras are not allowed, and they are very strict about it.

Birla

A view of Birla temple, built on top of a rocky hill, Hyderabad

*Architecture and views. Hyderabad is a city of contrasts. Full of old, magnificent buildings from different eras, up to the ultimate, up-to-date modern architecture. That is why, even by driving around the city, one’s eyes simply can’t rest but devour the sights of old and new, marble and glass, domes and geometrical designs.

Charminar

One of Hyderabad’s musts, Charminar (stands for the “four towers) is a monument built in 1591 by Mohammed Qutub Shah, the fifth sultan of the Qutub Shahi dynasty of India. A climb up the narrow, winding, uneven steps is quite the experience: awkward as you’re squeezed between people, and climbing very, very slow. Yet, the views from the tower, as well as the many architectural details that the structure presents, are well worth it (and the money they’re collecting).

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Charminar= the “four towers” are clearly seen from afar, high above

Charminar, Hyderabad

curves and arches at Charminar

Charminar

Islamic arches

Golkonda Fort

Somewhat of a drive from city center, this old fort (approx. 800 years) is the epitome of engineering. Be sure to take the full english tour to learn the many secretes that the fort holds with the interesting bits of historical information. Do it during  the day and don’t be tempted to stay for the lights show during evening, which was meant as a gimmick, but not a very good one for a non-Indian.

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Stepping on 800 years old stones

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The famous acoustic effect: A hand clap below the dome can be heard clearly almost a kilometer away

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Arches corridor

HITEC City

A few years ago, a new, modern city emerged on the flat prairie near Hyderabad, all clean shaped, glass and steel, built for the world leading technology, pharma, and financial companies. With those, came residential buildings, campuses, and all the rest. I recommend driving around and noting the amazing differences, and the contrast that is still evolving between the old city and the contemporary landscape.

640px-Cyber_Towers_Madhapur_Hyderabad

An example of the modern new buildings in HITEC City, photo by Veera.sj.

*Shopping and food. Oh, where do I start? Shopping is all around. Shops and bazaars seem to be the arteries and veins that connect and make the city a whole. Each sari and fabric store is filled with gorgeous colors and patterns. Restaurants and food carts all looked equally inviting. My suggestions are these:

Laad bazaar right next to Charminar, for all the bangles you could dream of. Allow time to wonder around and view people and sellers.

laad bazaar

Glass, metal, fabric wrapped bangles. You ask, they have it. I’m in there somewhere…

Shopper’s Stop at GVK One mallFor ethnic clothes, there are the markets, and the endless shops everywhere, but I found it easy to eventually shop at one of the local malls, where I could try the kurta on, and the prices were very decent.

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Of course there’s plenty of other stuff everywhere in the street

Bawarchi. Perhaps ze’ (french accent please) most tastiest Hyderabadi chicken biryani in Hyderabad.

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I asked for a fork, but I’ve learned to use my hand since then.

Minerva Coffee Shop. Despite the name, these guys’ specialty is their amazing thali, that kept on refilling itself. My kind of heaven.

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GREAT thali at Minerva Coffee

Of course, other kinds of street food were absolutely a delish: samosas being my top choice.

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Hyderabad street life

*indulgence. Make time for a good Ayurvedic massage, especially the scalp and head warm oil massage, or even a full body oil massage, completed with hot steam sauna. I’ve been to Senses, and after the massage I emerged as a new person. It was so good, that I made my husband take the massage the day after. Please remember though, this is India, so don’t expect any western style or standard.

*Thanks. It’s always wonderful to travel with a local, not to mention warm, generous people, who become friends. I’d like to thank you guys, for the wealth of information, guidance, and efforts: Sharma, Indira, Justine, Priya, Srihari, Vivek, Vamshi, Mapu and mostly to Amrutha. Shukriya!

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Hyderabad, 2015

 

 

 

 

Kohlrabi Thins

Autumn season is here, and along with the other great root vegetables, kohlrabi is an excellent choice. Both bulb and green stem and leaves can be used in different ways. The texture feels like a crisp apple, the taste- like a broccoli stem, but a bit sweeter. Many people I’ve met are not familiar with kohlrabi, and are missing out, and that’s a shame!

fresh kolhrabi thins

fresh kohlrabi thins

Here’s a very easy way to prepare the bulb, and enjoy a healthy, tasty snack, or salad. I give you: raw, thin slices of kohlrabi, or kohlrabi carpaccio if you will.

First, you’ll need to peel it. I use my knife to cut the stems off, then cut the woody base, and peel the outer layer. You can use a vegetable peeler for that, but I really prefer my knife, as its quicker.  See demo here (used with a peeler).

Cut the kohlrabi bulb in half, and each half into thin slices. Prepare the slices on a plate, one layer first. Drizzle olive oil on top, sprinkle sea salt, and squeeze fresh lemon. Prepare the next layer, and again: drizzle olive oil, sea salt and lemon. Continue layer upon layer. Finally, leave for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

*nice additions (all together or just some): sprinkle thyme or mint, small chunks of goat cheese or parmesan cheese, some balsamic vinegar, or- toss with lime juice and lime zest with some cilantro.

Enjoy !

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