Friday, November 13, 2009

A foodie vacation in Panama

Fall in Central Texas is in full swing, bringing with it chilly morning fog and afternoon breezes with a snap to them, a reminder that colder days are ahead. When the weather turns cooler, my favorite activity is to plan a vacation. With our trees scattering brown leaves on the yard my thoughts turn toward visiting a land of vibrant flowers, lush green fauna and, of course, delicious food. I want to visit Panama.

Panama has it all: mountains, beaches, rainforests and bustling urban living. Forbes Magazine recently named Panama as one of its top retirement havens. Paradise, it seems, comes in the form of a country framed on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the opposite by the Caribbean Sea. The long, narrow country is home to teeming wildlife, is extremely popular with birders, offers a multitude of activities from surfing, diving and hiking to eco-retreats and cooking tours.

The cuisine of Panama is as diverse, as the population is mainly Mestizo, a mix of European and Amerindian people. Throughout the years the food of Panama became a mix of African, Spanish and Native American cooking. Immigration over the years has left a mark on Panama. It’s simple enough to find Italian, Greek, Chinese, French and American restaurants in Panama City. But when I think of vacation I think of cooking tours. Others may relax by rappelling down a Cliffside; I relax by learning how to make a new dish or utilize an unusual spice.

Chef Charlie Collins has opened his home to foodies like me who wish to spend their days chopping, stirring, learning and eating. His Panamonte Culinary School is most prestigious, offering a chance to sample native foods like yuca and plantains and other tropical fruits, vegetables and ingredients from organic hydroponic farms and local markets. Guests take a “hands on” approach from selecting ingredients to cooking them, under Chef Collins instruction. The day ends with a tasting dinner of the dishes made in the chef’s professionally equipped and designed kitchen. Chef Collins’ masterful cooking has led to many awards including Life Time Achievement Award from the Bon Appetit Gourmet Club. He’s cooked for presidents of many countries at some of the most important events in recent Panamanian history. In short, if you are a food loving person in search of an unforgettable vacation, look no further.

Panamonte Culinary School is in the highland town of Boquete, in an area of Panama well-known for its coffee production. With verdant green mountains and a cooler climate, it’s a highly desirable tourist area. Chef Collins has both cooking school guests and those who wish to simply enjoy his Panamonte Inn & Spa. The boutique hotel has much to offer, from its gourmet restaurant and highly rated spa to arranging canopy rides and river rafting trips. And so, with the turn of the seasons here, I dream of a charming inn, of deeply flavored coffee, empanadas, patacones, meals of comfort foods like sancocho and ropa vieja. I dream of Panama.

In Austin, those wishing to book a trip to Panama with ease can do so by contacting Panama Boutique. The staff of Panama Boutique are experts in travel to and from the country. Their first-hand knowledge of Panama means a trip can be tailored to fit your desire, from cooking tours to lazy beachfront resorts.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Belated Veteran's Day Thank You

Thank you, American military personnel, both active & retired, for your service. Thank you for surrendering your opinions so that I can have one. Thank you for sacrificing your time in the states with family and friends in order to serve in a foreign land. Thank you for every time you ate a substandard meal so that I can have the freedom to choose from a bazillian fast food options or indulge in fine dining. Thank you for those deployed in the Middle East who place as high of a value on lip balm & months old magazines from home as we do on getting a new iPod or iPhone. Thank you for not complaining so that I have the luxury of bemoaning all day long. Thank you for your time, your sweat, your hard work. Thank you for serving so that our country stands strong and we at home are able to enjoy our families. My son thanks you, too, in his own babbling baby way, drool & all.