Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Killer Gazpacho

We lived in Spain for a year when I was 10. My father got his gemology degree at the Instituto Gemologico Español. We fell in love with spanish food, (yes, I remember). My mother bought a gigantic Spanish recipe book and started trying recipes. My favorite was the gazpacho.
Gazpacho is a chilled soup with Spanish origins. It is widely consumed through Spain and Portugal.
It is the perfect summer dish for its freshness. It is like a salad made into a soup. There are many reasons to love gazpacho: It's easy to make, you can make it ahead, you don't need a stove, and the presentation can be beautiful.
I know it's the end of summer and I should have posted this way sooner but I hear it's still pretty hot everywhere and I just made this gazpacho this weekend for a dinner party and it was a success.
Here is what you need:

10 ripe tomatoes
1 small garlic clove ( I put half depending on the size)
1 slice of a nice crusty bread (sourdough works) in pieces.
red wine vinegar to taste ( I use 1 to 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Start blending the tomatoes, in batches. when its a puree, add the olive oil, vinegar and garlic and salt. Blend some more. Add the bread pieces and taste for salt and vinegar. it should have a good balance of salt and tartness. You can add half cup of water or so to make it a little smoother.
Strain into a pitcher, check if it needs more water and chill for a couple hours.

Cucumber diced in small cubes (1/4 inch)
red pepper diced in small cubes
slices of bread diced in small cubes (1/2 inch)

There are many ways to present gazpacho. The traditional way is to serve in in a soup bowl with the garnishes on separate little bowls so people can add as much or as little of each ingredient as they want.
Or you can bring the little bowls already assembled. For parties, you can serve them in shot glasses sprinkled with smaller garnish and a parsley leaf and a little olive oil drizzle. You can also get creative and add crab meat or a grilled shrimp skewer, and make it a main dish.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ouro Preto and Imperial Topaz

Ouro Preto, (Black Gold) founded at the end of the 17th century,  was the epicenter of Brazil's gold rush in the 18th century under Portuguese rule.
The city contains well preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban life. Modern construction must adhere to historical standards maintained by the city, to keep its UNESCO heritage status.
From Belo Horizonte it takes one and a half hour to reach it, through a winding but pleasant road.
Ouro Preto was the capital of Minas Gerais from 1822 until 1897, when the needs of the government outgrew this town in the valley. The state government was moved to the new, planned city of Belo Horizonte.
There are several Imperial Topaz Mines in the area, apart from many nameless small open pits. The most important mines are Mina do Vermelhão, in Saramenha and the Capão Mine. This last one is the largest mine for Imperial Topaz in the world. It is an open cast mine, where weathered topaz-quartz-calcite veins are mined. The gravel is transported by a dredge bucket to the hydraulic washing station. The clay is removed with huge water cannons and the material is transported to a sorting a belt, where the crystals are picked out by workers. They process tons of clay to get a few dozen topaz crystals per day (2 cubic meters of rough for 1ct of gem).    
I am not a miner and I have only been inside a handful of mines in my life. So I can't say how amazing it is to dig your own stone, but I can say how great it is to be able to buy from the source. In Ouro Preto, when you visit a mine like Capão, you go as a tourist, you watch, take pictures, have a lecture and get a peak at beautiful overpriced crystals. It is quite interesting but from a business point of view, it's prohibitive. So we rely on the good old small mines. It is quite gratifying to get lucky and see a nice little crystal being found in front of your eyes and then try to bargain a fair price for it. (The prices are crazy in every little corner of the world.)

This trip, I was really lucky. I was able to get Topaz on matrix, Topaz inside gemmy Quartz , Gem grade Topaz, that is being cut as I type and some beautiful  Purple Topaz!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Special Alexandrite

Sometimes we get lucky to be at the right place at the right time. This is one of the most beautiful pieces
of Alexandrite I've ever seen. You can see from the video how much it glows when back lit. The color is much better in person. It is a much brighter purple-pink color.
It is one of the mineral highlights of this trip to Brazil. (along with the large Euclase crystal)


Monday, August 2, 2010

Quartz, Quartz and more Quartz

Curvelo is a small town two hours drive from Belo Horizonte. If there's no road construction that is. Our way back took 4 hours due to repairs on a bridge. It is a large Quartz producing area and has a few adjacent villages, like Corinto, where Quartz is also mined and polished. This area is one of my favorite places to go. It is where my father finds the treasures inside Quartz (Inclusions). It is not as easy as it sounds though. Sometimes we have to go through thousands of kilos of material to find a few pieces of interesting material. Once we find something interesting, we have it cut or polished to make the inclusions very visible and aesthetic. The cutting process is carefully followed by my father to insure it is cut properly. The picture below shows one of the places where our pieces are polished. Note the last photo where my father stares attentively as the cutter saws one of the pieces. We have just cut really great Quartz pieces with Tourmalines inside and some with Pyrite. I am bringing lots of new inclusions along with some minerals that rank really high on the cuteness scale.

Now if you love spheres, this is your place. The best sphere makers are in Curvelo. When we find large enough pieces of unusual rough material, we have them cut there. We are making some Garnet ones at present that will be ready for Denver.
Here is a picture of some big.. really big spheres we saw for sale:

Can you imagine the shipping cost? I am glad there were no inclusions!