April 5, 2015 § 2 Comments
Rome was packed—packed full of middle school groups touring the monuments and museums. Luckily, the restaurants weren’t, which made my style of vacationing (which this time involved a multi-layered map, conveniently separable into “gelato” “pizza” “coffee” “restaurant” and so forth) much easier to accomplish than seeing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We ate well, and often. I was a particular fan of eating squares of pizza with just a simple tomato sauce for breakfast—a great savory alternative to breakfast pastries. In fact, while this blog tends to document an unwavering relationship with sugar, I veered pretty strongly towards the savory in Rome.
Some highlights: Pizza with prosciutto di San Daniele, and a bowl of fettucini with the most translucent, buttery and sweet, tomato sauce at Emma Pizzeria, a plate of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi with strolghino and tomato from Roscioli, the dozens of different kinds of pizza, cut and weighed to order, at Pizzarium, caffe and caffee granita at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè, gelato at Gelateria del Teatro (around the corner from our apartment) and Fatamorgana, a huge plate of rigatoni at Le Mani in Pasta, at Trapizzino, handheld triangles of pizza bianca stuffed with stewed eggplant and tomatoes, fresh burrata…you get the picture. There were also many plates (only two pictured here) of cacio et pepe, the Roman specialty of pasta with Pecorino Romano and pepper.
Food aside, another great thing about Rome in March was the opportunity to go outside without a winter coat. Oh, the novelty!
July 25, 2012 § 1 Comment
I took off from Athens for a couple of days for a real vacation — a tour of several Greek islands. And somewhere between piling my clothes into my backpack for what feels like — and is probably close to be being — the hundredth time, conquering the scorching heat in rickety buses, where the driver yells at you to get on board without answering your question about the destination of said bus, with sweat pouring down your face, and dipping my toes in the water, as the sun finally starts to set, things started looking up.
I think I forgot that it is summer. That I am in a foreign country, where everything I look at is brand-new to my eyes. That this is the time for exploring, for pushing myself, for doing me and for doing the incredible amount of things waiting to be experienced around me. Volcanoes. Black-sand beaches. Ferry rides watching the clear, vibrant blue ocean drift past. Dancing on tables. Souvlaki — pita stuffed with meat shavings (traditionally lamb) vegetables, tzatziki sauce and a smattering of French fries — at five in the morning. And while I may be experiencing Greece mostly as a tourist, I am rounding up some awesome Australian friends. So guess what continent we’re exploring next?
Meanwhile, I’ve been stepping back and actually enjoying time to myself again. Time just sitting still and taking it all in — except I rarely actually sit still. After a day of lazing around poolside, with a walk along the harbor and an ocean-side skype sesh with the boyfriend, I finally deemed the temperature low enough to attempt a run. Boy, was I wrong. But run I did, up every damn desert hill on the island. Beet-red, panting and pouring buckets of sweat, I finally made it back to the hotel, where a dip in the Mediterranean and a watermelon slice twice the size of my head were exactly what my body ordered.
And then, I also wanted to share the site that I’ve been working for in Athens, and also in Barcelona — Culinary Backstreets. It just launched yesterday, and you’ll see my photos popping up here and there in the next few weeks. Here are some from a delicious lunch at Melilotos in Athens. I got to go into the kitchen here one night to take photos — lots of fire action for a traditional chicken pasta dish. When we returned in the afternoon, it was too hot to attempt eating pasta, but the veggie options were not scarce.
Beet salad with balls of creamy herbed goat cheese.
The best citrusy tabouleh I have ever had, served with a row of freshly fried, salty sardines.
Deep-fried tomatoes and cheese.
Zucchini very thinly sliced and flash fried. Crispy, crackly, and served with tzatziki yogurt for dipping.
I still dream about that bittersweet chocolate pie with buttery biscuit crust and may have to make a quick stop before heading to the airport.
July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
The first striking thing about Athens is the heat — it hangs like a heavy blanket over the city, beating down not as the scorching sun but more like a sluggish lag that permeates all movement. But despite this, activity is not smothered. At the corner of my block, a man stands at the window, roasting meat on a large stick, surrounded by trays of various sauces, creamy white ones and pasty, hot reds. He beckons me to come in with a smile and a nod, but I’m more focused on finding the grocery store, which is just across the street.
Before diving into the local cuisine, I was more eager to get back to cooking. It seemed a bit crazy to arrive and immediately turn on the heat, but there’s currently a batch of walnut-fig granola, dusted with Greek honey, roasting in the oven, and I’m now enjoying — despite the lack of pans and cutting boards in the kitchen — the feeling of having a knife in my hands again and being able to just eat slices of raw tomato, dipped in honey mustard, without getting weird looks from a waiter for not ordering the four-course menu. I already can’t wait to make breakfast tomorrow morning.
I had a lot of misgivings about coming to Athens, which consisted of the now commonplace warnings of protests, economic collapse and all-out disorganization, but also of several lackluster, or downright negative, accounts of the city from people I have met on this trip, and also from some very good friends back home. However, the drive through the city from the airport, and then the quick three-block walk to the grocery store, were reassuring. The streets may twist and branch off every which way and some of the sidewalks may have garbage piled up on them, but there are smiles everywhere. I don’t even know how to say hello, thank you or excuse me yet, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the old women debating types of grains in the grocery aisle.
Before I sign off and head out for drinks with the owner of my apartment, I thought I’d share some Paris moments. I spent the majority of my (unexpected and unplanned) time in Paris sitting in my hotel bed, or at the small table on my balcony. I spent some time reviewing posts from last summer, particularly one I wrote following a weekend visit to Paris. Last summer, I commented that revisiting Paris, after having spent the fall semester living here, was slightly bizarre, like experiencing a past life, only this time behind a plane of glass. Walking by my old apartment, the patisserie where I used to buy tri-colored slices of Turkish marzipan, my favorite street-side crepe stand, with the orange awning, inspired a bout of homesickness. But I don’t think it was ever really homesickness for my life in Paris, but rather an inability to imagine living that over again, a feeling of exile from the city I once fought really hard to call home. This time around, I lay around in bed in front of my computer, feeling pretty alone in a city that people always say, in adoring tones, is full of light and love and unparalleled opportunities of discovery, whether your passion is art or architecture, or eating.
And then, finally, I shook myself awake and went out. I walked to the Pierre Hermé boutique by Saint Suplice and ordered myself five macarons, some dusted with edible glitter, in flavors such as jasmine tea and peach cardamon. I laughingly remembered the feeling of never feeling like I was chic enough to be in the store, feeling like the ladies behind the counter could see right through my clothes and knew that my underwear isn’t 300 euro lacy lingerie from the boutique down the street. Then I wandered over to Les Deux Magots and had a café crème next to a dapper old man who had to lean in an inch away from the paper in order to read the morning news.
July 5, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’m in the process of booking a whirl-wind of complicated flight-train combo trips, overnight stops in random hostels, and 12+ hour-long days of travel. As much, my last day in Barcelona is being spent in the hotel lobby, having already walked to a food market this morning (which was, of course, closed), walked to a donut shop (which was, of course, closing in ten minutes, but I just managed to squeeze in), and locked myself out of my hotel room. So while I pull together a real post on Barcelona, I thought I’d leave you with a couple of snippets of travels that have previously gone unmentioned.
After my research in Maroilles went sort of awry, ending in a rather fruitless trip, we switched from the dingy, grimy motel room in the equally gray Maubeuge, to a small agritourisme in the area. While the rooms were huge, including both bath and shower, and refreshingly decorated, the highlight for me was the cute breakfast setup — all white napkins, crusty bread, flakey croissants, and several types of jam, served in little white ceramic pots. The tiny butter-dish even had a top, with equally tiny handle!
Later on, at a more upscale agritourismo outside of Modena, where the pool dropped off into the vineyards and hours could be spent dining on the patio overlooking the hills and valleys of the northern Italian countryside, we enjoyed tortelloni stuffed with spinach and local ricotta, an interesting pasta made with breadcrumbs and drenched with parmesan fondu before being topped with assertive black truffled shavings, stuffed omelettes and eggy, baked flan, and to finish, multiple rifts on vanilla-cream gelato, eaten with spoons of the house basalmico and tiny cups of espresso.
So there you go, some of the more beautiful moments of a trip that has often involved trudging through cow stalls, taking pictures of baby black pigs, and waking up at 6 a.m. in order to observe the entire cheese-making process (and that’s still hours later than the cheesemaker wakes up!). Ciao until next time!
June 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
Gentle beams of yellow light interlope on the dark room from the windows by my bed. Outside the translucent curtains, the sounds of laughter, high heels clicking on the cobblestone and waiters pouring the final glass of wine. Occasionally, the waft of a light cigarette floats through the open window from the walkway below. It’s the middle of the night, but Strasbourg isn’t sleepy. And neither am I. (Written about a week ago, when I was jet-lagged, heavy-headed, sitting in a dark hotel room waiting for the sunrise.)
The sun did rise, and my brother and I took a walk along in river in Strasbourg, stopping in at a boulangerie on the way back at exactly six a.m. Unfortunately, we never saw the sunrise because the sky was shrouded in clouds. Still the cobblestone streets were peaceful, mostly deserted save for the few men setting up white tents for the market in an old square and the street-cleaning trunks making their way down the larger roads.
From there, onwards to the mountainous region of Alsace and the Vosges. We twisted around the slopes and mountain passes, passing ski lifts running without snow on the ground, green pastures, studded with wildflowers, on which vosgienne cows — known for their black and white coloring, their delicate faces, a cow species renowned for its beauty (who knew that existed?) — grazed before being called into the barn to be milked. We descended on foot into cool caves, where rounds of cheese, tinged pink of the outside, age for several weeks.
Our final stop was Cologne for the weekend, where we rode bikes along the river (I only crashed once!) and ate “the best” gelato in town. In the backyard, breakfasts of croissants, fresh strawberry jam and steaming, milky coffee. In the evening, crowds of people looking up at the big TV screen displaying the soccer game for what must have been thousands of people. In the early morning, with the birds chirping and the rabbits scampering across the grass, walking home from the club.
Welcome to Euro, take three.