Walking Tours of Istanbul

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View across the Bosphorus to the "New City"

View across the Bosphorus to the “New City”

Istanbul, 13million plus people, situated on two continents and  straddling the Bosphorus between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.  So much history, culture and diversity.  It was cold and wet and dark, but that still couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for exploring this amazing city.

Menemen...Turkish Egg Breakfast

Menemen…Turkish Egg Breakfast

Italians have their pasta, the Turks love their soup...red lentil with chile garnish

Italians have their pasta, the Turks love their soup…red lentil with chile garnish

As always, whenever and wherever I travel I prefer to be immersed in the lives of the locals…using public transportation, finding local eateries and markets and sampling whatever my destination has to offer.   One of the best ways to accomplish that goal while  visiting Istanbul was taking culinary walking tours with a company called Istanbul Eats. (www.istanbuleats.com) Their walking tours take you through some of the out of the way backstreets of the city as you “graze” your way through the various neighborhoods eating one delicacy after another.

Dried eggplant ready to be soaked in water and stuffed!

Dried eggplant ready to be soaked in water and stuffed!

Actually the tours are about so much more than food as they offer you the opportunity to learn about the history of the neighborhoods you are touring while sampling local cuisine at places you might not ever consider stopping on your own…many times because you might not even know what it is that you would need to ask for.   While you can always find someone who speaks English, its important to know that most Turks don’t.

The Turkish language is difficult to read and even more difficult to pronounce so it can be intimidating to stop and order something that you might not even recognize.  However, that would be a lost opportunity because the food is spectacular.

Artichoke hearts with peas

Artichoke hearts with peas

Angelis, originally from Greece, was the guide for both of my tours.  He shared the historic/geographic influences on the foods we were eating and places we visited with knowledge, energy and enthusiasm .  I took two tours,  “Culinary Secrets of the Old City” and “Cosmopolitan Beyoglu”.  Tours start around 9am and lasted till 3pm so we had the opportunity to eat from breakfast through lunch…exactly my kind of day!

While Turkish coffee is famous, it is tea that is the drink of choice for breakfast and throughout the day.  One of my favorite sights was watching vendors carrying trays of tea in lovely glass cups to their clients.  Reminded me of the “cafe con leche” that I so loved in Buenos Aires where very dapper waiters would deliver my coffee in a porcelain cup and on a tray to my office!  The concept of drinking coffee or tea, on the go from a styrofoam cup is a very foreign concept in so many places outside the USA.

Turkish Tea Delivery

Turkish Tea Delivery

Turkish food is influenced by the Ottoman cuisine that seems to have fused flavors from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkan countries.  The variety of food and flavors was amazing and never boring.

Breakfast includes local cheeses, olives,  and the most decadent clotted cream and honey that we put on bread or a simit (a bagel like bread you can buy from the street vendors). Check out this NY Times article published while I was in Turkey…Simit arrives in the Big Apple!

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/dining/turkish-breads-seek-a-niche-in-the-bagel-capital.html

Street vendors sell the most amazing foods, and there were so many favorites it is hard to choose just one, but these top my list…Pide, a pizza like dough, cooked in a pizza oven  topped with different types of beef and a mixture of spices, tomato and pepper, lamb sweetbreads served on bread..yummy, and fresh anchovies, deboned and lightly fried, nothing like the tiny, salty fillets from a tin!

Thank you Angelis and Istanbul Eats.  I had a fabulous culinary adventure in Istanbul.  I could write on forever and ever about the tours and the food but as they say, a picture paints a thousand words…Enjoy! (Click on the small photos to see as a slideshow)

Fresh, fried anchovies (hamsi)

Fresh, fried anchovies (hamsi)

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Here kitty kitty…Cats in Istanbul,Turkey

One of the first things I noticed on the streets in the Sultanahmet, Istanbuls Old City and home to some of the main attractions like the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Hagia Sophia were the number of happy, well fed, friendly cats that populate the area and seem to be owned by the community. I was in one store today when a cat with a loud meow appeared at the door. The propietor was unfazed and told me that he shares his lunch with her every day and she is never late!. People in the city care for the stray cats and feed them, love them and try to find them homes. As a cat lover this was music to my ears.

Everyone loves the cats!

Everyone loves the cats!

 

P1040022So I took lots of photos of some of the friendly felines and did an internet search on the history of their presence here and the findings made me smile. It seems when President Obama visited Turkey in 2009 one of the lucky kitties had a “photo op” with him at one of the historic sites! The cats are free to wander and there is an active catch, neuter and release program in the city. A strong association with Islam offers them some benefits as well…seems there is a popular saying, “If you’ve killed a cat you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God”. That seems to be a pretty strong motivator of kindness.

Istanbul is such a fascinating city, full of culture and diversity and I know there are those of you who will wonder what ever moved me to start with cats, but those who truly know me will understand. Meow!

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Autumn & Thanksgiving 2012 …In a New York State of Mind

Autumn is and always has been my favorite season. Image

No matter where I am in the world, when the temperature drops and the leaves start to change color I think of New York, my original “home”.  There is something special about the cooler weather, the scent of wood burning and walking through fallen leaves that energizes me and brings back some of my favorite memories of the season…apple cider and apples and fresh donuts made at the local farms, gatherings with family and friends, the new fall movie line-up and of course good hair days! I just love it!

In the past few weeks and days my thoughts have been drawn back to NY primarily because of Hurricane Sandy whose devastation of NY and NJ has affected so many people that I care about and millions that I don’t even know, yet care about still.  Today NY came to mind again when a close friend asked if I would share a recipe for the stuffing that I prepared for our Thanksgiving celebration last year.

NYC  is where the recipe originated.  I wish I could take credit for its creation, or say that it has been passed down to me through generations of family cooks, but I can’t.  The recipe is from The Silver Palate Cookbook, one of my all time favorite cookbooks that has been around for more than 25 years.  The Silver Palate was a gourmet food shop on Columbus Avenue and 73rd street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  I lived on 78th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam in the early 1980’s and the shop was a frequent stop of mine for take out.  The Cornbread Sausage Stuffing with Apples is one of the best stuffings  I have EVER tasted and I have been making it for years.  It always receives rave reviews from anyone who tastes it for the first time.

I will be making it again this year for a small family gathering here in Texas, but my thoughts will be with NY and all of those trying to pull their lives back together after the storm.  New Yorkers are a resilient bunch and the videos and photos on every TV channel of neighbor helping neighbor during this tough time are a testament to their big hearts.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  Feeling grateful.  Enjoy the recipe!!

ImageSilver Palate Sausage Cornbread Stuffing with Apples

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 2 1/2  cups  finely chopped yellow onions
  • 3 tart apples (Jonathan and Winesap are good, I’ve even used Granny Smith), cored and chunked, do not peel
  • 1 lb. lightly seasoned bulk sausage (Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage with sage is good)
  • 3 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread (preferably homemade)
  • 3 cups coarsely crumbled wheat bread
  • 3 cups coarsely crumbled white bread (French or homemade preferred)
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cups chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled pecan halves

DIRECTIONS

  • Melt half of the butter in skillet. Add chopped onions and cook over medium heat partially covered until tender and lightly colored, about 25 min. Transfer onions and butter to a large bowl.
  • Melt remaining butter in the same skillet. Add apple chunks and cook over high heat until lightly colored but not mushy. Transfer mixture to the bowl.
  • Crumble the sausage into the skillet and cook over medium heat stirring until lightly browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to mixing bowl. Reserve rendered fat.
  • Add remaining ingredients to the ingredients in the bowl and combine gently. Cool completely before stuffing the bird. Refrigerate if not used immediately.
  • If you do not wish to stuff the bird (goose or duck, for example, can make the stuffing greasy), spoon it into a casserole. Cover the casserole and set into a large pan. Pour hot water around the casserole to come halfway up the sides. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees, basting occasionally with cooking juices from the bird or with the reserved rendered fat of the sausages.

Source: Silver Palate Cookbook

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Inside The Colorado Cider Company, Denver, Colorado July 2012

We arrived in Denver to celebrate the marriage of one of the son’s of my oldest and dearest childhood friends.  However, to  kick start the celebration,  we visited with Kathe and Brad Page, friends we met while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina where they opened a brew pub.  Their latest venture is The Colorado Cider Company, in Denver.  It is here that they brew and distribute hard apple cider.  Wait a minute… do you brew cider? Obviously my cider terminology is limited, but I did learn that the process of making cider is more like that of wine than beer.

Colorado Cider Company owners Kathe and Brad Page

At any rate…we were fortunate to have a private cider tasting and  learned so much about apples and  cider.  YES hard cider it is fermented and alcoholic, NO hard cider is not sweet like hard lemonade!  While I’m not a big drinker, (though I have been known to overindulge on Champagne and/or  Bloody Mary’s…especially at brunch…a whole other story) I really enjoyed the sophisticated taste of these ciders!

Fun facts:

Patio/deck Colorado Cider Company

  • The first apple is believed to be originally from what is present day Kazakhstan.
  • Cider, called “Sidra” in Spain, “Sagardoa” in the Basque region, Cider in Britain and France or “Hard Cider” in the U.S.A., is a fermented apple juice and is popular the world over.

According to the friendly, knowledgeable owners, “The Colorado Cider Company is dedicated to reviving cider apples in Colorado and developing its cider to take advantage of all the wonderful flavors out there in the apple universe.”

The cider is made on site and then purchased by stores and restaurants through a distributor.  I promise you will fall in love with the ciders they have crafted.  I was especially drawn to their exotic names, artfully crafted labels, and their very poetic descriptors…

Glider Cider “crisp and tart”, Dry Glider Cider “has a whisper of juice added back, like a mist of vermouth over a fine martini”  Grasshop-Ah, “an ode to the botanical neighbors and flavors of our favorite grasses and flowers”, Ol’ Stumpy, “earthy flavor and the tannic mouth-feel that makes you think you’re sitting in an old orchard sipping history” and the newest Pom Mel, “300 pounds of Colorado Wildflower honey is in each batch and it’s infused with hints of lavender and rosemary to compliment the botanical origins.”

Cider on tap at Colorado Cider Company tasting room

All of the ciders are delicious and refreshing…of course I have a personal favorite but you will need to taste them all to decide on your very own.  It’s well worth checking out their tasting room, or you can find them at various wine and brewfests around the state.  Upcoming events are listed on their website.  You won’t be disappointed!

Colorado Cider Company
http://www.coloradocider.com
2650 West 2nd Avenue
Denver, Colorado 80219
Tastings:  Fri. 3:00 – 6:00  –  Sat. 2:30 – 6:30 – Sun. 1:00 – 5:00
 
 

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Pueblito Los Dominicos, Las Condes, Santiago, Chile 2012

Located at the foothills of the Andes mountains, Los Dominicos is a center for typical Chilean arts and crafts.  It is my favorite place in the city.  I’ve been there so many times, and there are always different artisans but somehow most of my favorites have remained over the years.  Pomaire pottery is a traditional pottery found in many homes and restaurants in Chile.  You can cook in it on the stovetop or use it in the oven.  I have been to the actual town of Pomaire (60 miles west of Santiago)  and it was fascinating to see the pottery “fired” in the ground.  The pieces are so simple, but so functional and inexpensive, unless you have purchased any of it at Sur La Table where the prices are more than 15 times the price in Chile.  Some of my  favorite pieces are the smaller ones used for typical Chilean salsas like pebre (cilantro, lemon juice, aji, onion) that is delicious on bread, on anything really.  The small bowls used to cook Pastel de Choclo (a typical Chilean dish of corn, chicken, onion and olives)  are beautiful with the golden corn topping a perfect contrast against the pottery.  I’m addicted…to the food and the pottery.   Some of the serving pieces are in the shape of a pig and come with tiny spoons made of the same material.  They’re like potato chips…you can’t have just one! Once, my very tenacious mother-in-law managed to transport a very large soup tureen that she had to carry on the plane.   I know it wasn’t easy but I so appreciated the effort because I LOVE it!

Another addiction that is easily fed at this marketplace are woven shawls.  I have them in so many colors and just like to look at them and feel them. I know it sounds crazy, but if you love textiles it’s just how it is! There are scarves and ponchos (much less practical for Texas weather) and most are still tinted using natural dyes.

The best part of all, sitting down at one of the open air cafes inside the walls of the market surrounded by your recent purchases,  sipping a cafecito (coffee), or eating a juicy Chilean empanada with a cerveza or a glass of good Chilean vino and lazily watching the world go by.  Life is good!

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Santiago de Chile 2012

This blog is long overdue!  I’m a PROCRASTINATOR albeit one that does believe that the universe speaks to us and yesterday it spoke to me.  Two friends on opposite ends of the northern hemisphere both asked about my blog, and they seemed to be missing it!  I was inspired and humbled at the mere thought of that.  So to Reggie in Texas and Medha in Switzerland I say thank you!  You really INSPIRED me to resume blogging which I really love doing and will examine why I allow life to sometimes get in the way of the things I love…but lucky for all of you I’ll save that for a therapy session.

I always love to visit Chile, after all it is the birthplace of my better half!  The climate is similar to that of California (always a good hair day), there is an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood and so much indigenous art and history.  Did I forget to mention the great wine?   We spent 8 days in March in the capital city and one of our first stops was the critically acclaimed Astrid y Gastón (Antonio Bellet 201, Santiago) whose specialty is Peruvian food, one of our favorites.  We opted for lunch as our nights were pretty booked. I so wanted to LOVE this restaurant after reading so much about it.  While the food was good and served up beautifully, the atmosphere was too traditional right down to the old fashioned Villerey & Boch dinnerware.  For my taste, it was not very current, fun or hip, too stuffy and  little uptight…I suggest a  few of their delicious pisco sours to help loosen things up.  With all of the other delicious culinary options in Chile I’m not sure I would return.

Margarita, my sister-in- law,  knows of my love of food markets, so we went to the seafood market at Los Dominicos that takes place on weekends.  It is in a lovely location near the Artisan Market at Los Dominicos on of my favorite spots in Santiago (more on that in a later blog).  The seafood selection did not disappoint…oysters (ostras), machas, a local kind of mussel/clam served baked/grilled a la parmesan with cilantro, cheese and lemon juice, fresh scallops, erizos (sea urchin, uni to sushi aficionados).  Muy rico!  

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One of my favorite adventures was a trip to the Vina Santa Rita, known for its great wine, but my favorite part of the visit was the Museo Andino, a collection of pre-colombian art 40 years in the making, all collected by the owner of Santa Rita.  The collection includes Mapuche (people indigenous to Chile)  jewelry, Chilean huasos (cowboy) saddles, stirrups (wooden and metal), textiles, Everything was beautifully displayed and it was quite a collection of artifacts.  I loved it!  Well worth the drive!

http://www.santarita.com/international/, http://www.santarita.com/chile/museo-andino/

My least favorite part of the trip was my first earthquake experience which happened twice during the 8 day visit.  Chileans like their Californian counterparts take it in stride but me not so much.  One was 7.2 on the Richter scale and it was very frightening.  the coffee in my cup was moving around as was everything in the room.  Certainly nothing to keep me from traveling to Chile, just as they don’t keep me from going to California.  Just something to be aware of and know the proper precautions.  As my earthquake savvy Californian friend Lisa recommended in a text she sent me soon after the quake, “keep your shoes on the side of your bed in case of broken glass and don’t sleep naked”. Listen up!

If you haven’t traveled to Chile, or anywhere else in South America, put it on your “bucket list”.  You won’t regret it!

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San Miguel de Allende Market Tour 2011

Chili pepper display

As those of you who follow my blog know, I loved my recent visit to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.   Personally when I visit countries I usually want to get away from Americans in order to have a distinctly different cultural experience.  So in spite of the fact that many Americans and Canadians take up residence in San Miguel because of its natural beauty, abundance of culture and the arts, affordability and sense of community I still felt as though I was in Mexico and in no place was that more clear to me than at the Mercado Ignacio Ramirez a few blocks from the main square or as the locals call it “el jardin” .  I originally ventured out on my own, as local markets are always on my “must see” list.   But then I met Paco Cardenas, a local chef, who owns a beautiful French bakery called El Petit Four (Mesones, #99).   The pastries are delicious, the shop is lovely and you can see some of the tasty delights being made through a large window framing the kitchen.  Nothing like sipping your coffee, eating a croissant and watching a beautiful chocolate ganache being spread on some fresh brownies.  It was a little slice of heaven.  We loved everything but our favorites were the almond croissants and the oatmeal scones.  “To die for” as they say here in Texas!

Coffee and mini almond croissant...yum!

Kitchen at El Petit Four

El Petit Four Kitchen

Cakes and pastries at El Petit Four, San Miguel de Allende

Paco gives cooking classes, market tours and combinations of both!  Luckily he had time to take me on a tour of the market which gave me a distinctly different experience than I had experiencing it on my own.  Alone, I had passed vendors and stands with some items that I had deemed “rotten” but with Paco I learned that these were fruits at their peak of sweetness giving meaning to the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover”.  I wish I could remember the names of everything I tasted.  Luckily I did take photos of some so that I can recognize them again in the future.

Virgen de Guadalupe shrine at Ramirez Market, San Miguel de Allende

Seeing and eating the chick peas/garbanzo beans that I grew up with and love so much fresh from their shells was one of my favorite experiences.  Like so many things we take for granted I never gave any thought to how they might look outside of the supermarket.  In Mexico they are eaten the way we eat edamame at our local sushi restaurants here in the USA.  Served in a plastic bag they are sprinkled with chili and lime and voila a delicious, healthy snack.  The only negative..the naturally yellow pods are dyed a bright green with food coloring which the vendors say increase their appeal to the locals.  As the vendor told me, “si son amarillo, no van a comprarlos”, (if they are yellow they won’t buy them)!

Chick peas in their shell

We happened to be in town for the celebration of the Virgen de Guadalupe (12th of December) Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural image.  The fireworks were non-stop and the the year round shrines/altars set up to honor her were filled with offerings of food, candles and money.

But back to the market….It was a foodie paradise and I “taste-tested” so many wonderful local concoctions.

I always feels so alive at local markets, all of the hustle and bustle of the locals paired with the lovely displays of food so artfully presented generates such positive energy.   Of course these markets exist in the USA, it just seems they are not as prevalent/traditional or popular as in other countries.  One USA market that comes to mind is the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco where I first saw beautiful brussel sprouts for sale on their branches.  I wanted to use them as part of my kitchen decor they were so pretty!!

The Ramirez market tour is a great local culinary experience.  Thank you so much to Paco Cardenas for his warm hospitality and sharing his knowledge of the local markets with me.  I can’t wait to go back and take his cooking class!   Gracias a todos!!

Wish I could remember the name of the green fruit that looks rotten. It was delicious and not rotten at all, just ripe!

Amazing flavors.....how do we eat cheese vacuum packed in plastic?

Chickens roasting at La Granja

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How to “cure” a traditional Mexican Cazuela 2011

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Like most other types of traditional pottery used for cooking, I’ve been taught to “cure” the pottery to make it ready for use. These pots are for cooking directly on the flame. There seem to be a variety of techniques for curing and here in San Miguel de Allende I have learned two distinctly different methods.

For both methods the first step is the same.

Step 1. Rub the unglazed outside of the cazuelas with fresh cloves of garlic, coating the entire outside surface of the cazuelas.

Step 2.

Method 1: After rubbing the exterior of the pot with garlic, pour water into the cazuela until it is half full. Place on burner on low heat until all water has evaporated. Watch carefully or pot may crack. Remove from heat and it is ready to use!

Method 2: This method does not use water. After rubbing the exterior of the pot with garlic, place a tortilla in the cazuela and cook on low heat until the tortilla turns a very dark color. Remove from heat and it is ready to use.

Once “cured” the process does not need to be repeated. Never put cazuelas in the dishwasher, wash by hand.

It’s like cooking in art!  Thank you to Marilau and Paco Cárdenas for sharing so much wonderful information with me.

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San Miguel de Allende , Mexico

For quite some time now, anyone who knows me well and has been to San Miguel de Allende would say, “You are going to love it” and they were so right. It’s beautiful, diverse, eccentric, clean and friendly with fabulous weather. So much art and culture and history. As one woman put it when I met her and commented on how friendly everyone is she said, “We have a great life so why wouldn’t we be happy?”. What a great attitude and I feel the same way. Why wouldn’t I be happy? I am beginning this trip with one of my best friends for the perfect “girls long weekend” filled with shopping and eating and exploring and to top it off my husband is joining me to celebrate the wedding of the son of 2 other lifelong friends….all while experiencing the best of the Mexican culture.

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We are staying at Casa Florida (www.casafloridasma.com) on Hernandez Macías. It is a tastefully decorated home, in a great location and Barbara Guyton is a very welcoming owner. The rooms are well appointed and cozy. Barbara has great taste and has renovated this lovely home to perfection. Magdalena and Dante help her at the house, you can truly feel at home here.

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One of our first activities was a 2 hour cooking class with Marilau (www.traditionalmexicancooking.com.mx) at her home on Calle de la Luz 12. We learned about Mexican traditions, cooked authentic recipes and of course enjoyed the fruits of our labor…Sopa Tarasca, Arroz Verde ( green rice) and Albondigas con rajas ( meatballs with strips of poblano peppers). Fresh, tasty and cooked in beautiful and functional cazuelas or clay pots. I bought two for $5 USD…the exchange rate is in favor of the dollar right now!

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Rincon Don Tomás is on the square and a great place for a meal, or coffee and take in the sights. We loved the gorditas!

Our favorite shopping spots so far…Mixta (www.mixtasanmiguel.com) for interesting jewelry that is packaged in an original way! The owner Ann is from Australia and so helpful and friendly. The shop is on Pila Seca 16A.

It’s so obvious that Jim and Alfredo, owners of Camino Silvestre on Zacateros No.46 LOVE what they do. They make you feel so welcome and special to be one of their clients. That combined with their vast array of merchandise with a “nature” theme…hummingbird feeders, garden items, jewelry, pottery, etc. make this shop a must see. My friend bought two pieces of art and they were packaged for transport and even delivered to our hotel. How’s that for great customer service? I’m going back tomorrow !

As expected there are no shortages of places to eat. .Ten Ten Pie with its outdoor seating, spicy salsas and good service was great, as was Bugambilia, recommended by Marilau, our cooking instructor. The ancho chile pepper was stuffed with meat, and apple and served with potatoes and it did not disappoint. The almond cream sauce was subtle, added crunch and the favors were just the right combo.

It’s such a treat to walk the cobblestone streets never knowing what beautiful garden or antique architecture you are going to just happen upon. Wear comfortable shoes and keep your eyes open to enjoy every nook and cranny of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tomorrow I’m off to a tour of the Mercado with Paco Cárdenas, chef and owner of Petit Fours (Mesones 90). So excited for my next adventure here in SMA. Unfortunately my friend María will be leaving but we’ve added even more priceless memories to our 20+ years of friendship. My husband will be on his way…so all is well in my world.

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Fort Worth Happenings: National Cutting Horse Association 50th Anniversary Event

I’ve lived in Fort Worth for almost two years now and our close proximity to the Will Rogers Coliseum has allowed us to just drop in on some of the most amazing horse oriented events.   Today we attended the Pat Parelli Horsemanship Clinic which was so inspiring.  I haven’t owned my own horse for many years now,  but watching what is possible using the natural horsemanship technique made the idea of horse ownership tempting once again.  The horses were beautiful and the demonstrations were awesome.  What is Pat Parelli’s definition of horsemanship?  “The habits and skills that horses and human’s need to become partners”.  Makes sense to me!

For sure one of my favorite horse show activities is shopping at the exhibit hall.   It’s a cowboy and cowgirl’s dream…boots, saddles, chaps, trailors… and of course every sparkly cowgirl accessory you can  imagine are all sold under one roof.  Saw lots of cowgirls with sparkly headbands today.  Not my thing, but I always appreciate their cowgirl style!  

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