Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Home Sweet Home

I should probably preface this post stating how much I love London and am enjoying my time abroad: Loving the friends I made, the city I've learned and all the places I've been able to travel to.

I'm not sure if its this time of year, the holidays or the amount of time since I was last home, but every year when Passover and Spring Break seem to roll around, home seems to be the only place I want to be. I think it was the last two weeks when I started to realize just how much I missed both people, places and things: My family & friends, Andover, Boston & Madison, my bed, my car, making phone calls at a normal rate, purchasing things without a conversion rate, not purchasing things in the most expensive cities in the world, J.Crew & Madewell, or shopping with Mom in general, a normal kitchen, privacy, honey bunches of oats with cinnamon clusters, kettlecorn made by B, a stocked kitchen, refrigerated eggs/egg whites, pretzel flats, one-stop-shops like Target, my favorite restaurants, home-cooked meals, although those are often rare anyway, dinner with the family, french toast bagels from Perfectos, watching television on an actual TV, having a couch to lie on and more.

May 10, my arrival home in Boston, seems so far away. 41 days or 6 weeks, 7 work days, 5 weekends, 5 classes, 4 papers, 1 exam, an extended trip and about 1,000 things to do. There are so many different ways to countdown to something. Obviously in days, minutes, hours but also in work days or papers. I counted down the days until I left for London and now my days here in London and abroad are beginning to count themselves down. There are so many ways to count the days down: days or weeks, work days and weekends, classes, papers, trips or things to do. However, none of that seemed to help assuage my pangs of homesickness. At least not until I was enjoying my late night treat: a yogurt. It was then that I looked down to discover it's expiration date: April 26, 2010, just two days after my program ended. It's funny that the idea that my yogurt will still be good enough to eat by the time I need to leave makes that seemingly long time between then and now seem a little shorter.

Ge-little of this, pear pasta...gelato of that

Thus begins this week's, or at the rate I'm going, sorry!, month's, edition of what in god's name I'm doing over here.

This past weekend, Hannah, Avery and I travelled back to Italy. This time: Florence.
Thus at the still dark hour of 445 a.m. last Thursday, we were of to Florence, via Pisa. In Pisa by 12, we were able to take a few standard posing pictures at the Leaning Tower, of Pisa and of course get some food, cause you know how much we enjoy that, especially in Italy. I was able to get my first taste of Ribolita, a Tuscan specialty I've wanted to try ever since I saw Ina, and then Giada make it. (Note: this will not be the only thing I have seen my Food Network favorites make and will try for the first time in this post.) It lived up to every expectation. I mean what could be better, minestrone soup with bread already in it. It's almost like a lazy man's version of a bread bowl. And if you know me well, you know how I feel about a good soup especially when served in a bread bowl. We then took the bus to Florence and arrived at our hotel with enough time for an afternoon nap before Dinner, which was selected thanks to Barb, Rach and Avery's friend who sent us a plethora of restaurants for us to look into. We chose Goldenview, a restaurant located right next to the Ponte Vechio with a view of the water and bridge. We selected some wine, appetizers (crostini--another Tuscan specialty & a fish & avocado combination). I ordered the chitarra, which I learned means guitar or pasta shaped like the strings on a guitar, with tomato sauce & lobster, assuming it would have small pieces of lobster in it. I wasn't expecting a full lobster to be placed in front of me. Have no fear, the New Englander inside of me is alive & well and I was able to eat it with no problem, minus a few messy hands, of course! And, don't worry--I saved room for gelato.
The next morning, we woke up to enjoy a nice hotel breakfast; something I believe is strongly underrated, then hopped in a cab to the Uffizi Gallery. From there, we walked to the Pitti Palace to see the costume exhibition and walked around the Boboli Gardens, careful to leave ourselves just enough time to get lunch before our next museum reservation. After lunch, we went to Accademia. You know, most things when you travel have been built up so much in your head they have no choice but to end up being a disappointment. For example: The Mona Lisa. However, seeing The David was certainly not a disappointment. I had actually zero idea how large he actually was, and GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER. Every picture I have ever seen, and since seen, cannot seem to do him any justice. After this, we were lucky enough to stumble upon the Duomo, accidentally but perfect timing. After both St. Pauls & St. Peters, we were content to skip the stairs and just walk around outside and inside the Duomo. After, we headed over to Festival de Gelato, which had far too many flavors to limit samples. After settling on my three flavors, tiramisu, cappuccino & amaretto (Marni--sooo good), it was back to the hotel for our daily afternoon nap. Rested and hungry again, some how, we went to Le Fonticine. (Side note: I always thought olive oil & balsamic for dipping was an American thing--after this weekend, I guess not?) There I got delicious pasta, I know weird but it was Tagaitelle, almost pappardelle, with asparagus.
The next morning, we slept in and enjoyed another hotel breakfast (seriously: a plethora of cereal for me to mix together?? what more could I ask for? I know, Honey Bunches of Oats with Cinnamon Clusters...I'll keep dreaming) We went to Santa Croce & The Israeli Temple. The three of us, all Jewish girls, really need to consider that whole Shabbat thing when we travel. New solution: anything Jewish related must be done on Friday. We then went to the Leather Market & to a great place for a leather jacket, thanks Rach (Eric should thank you too cause of how successful it was : )). We grabbed some lunch, where I was able to try my second seen on the Food Network meal: Gnudi. I saw Giada make it over 3 years ago and I have not stopped thinking about it since, that's only slightly disgusting, right?? It was absolutely nothing like what I expected but delicious nonetheless. However, this one, I might try making at home, Giada'a version, to see if it comes out the same. We then walked around the market some more and yet again returned home for our afternoon nap. Once rested and relaxed, we were off to our final Italian meal for the semester, at least in Italy. Anddd it was certainly an excellent Italian meal. We were off to Ciro & Sons, a restaurant I have heard about for over the past year and I'm happy to report it lived up to every single expectation, and more. Walking in, we told them I knew Rachel & Amanda, where they proceeded to whip out a framed picture of the two of them from behind the desk. We then got seated in front of the video, where Rachel & Amanda are featured not once, but twice. They brought us the menus with bread, olive oil & balsamic. We decided to order some wine and an appetizer of eggplant parm. Then Hannah selected the Pear & Cheese Ravioli and I ordered the Pork with Apple & BBQ sauce. And saying it was delicious would be an understatement. As Hannah put it, she never wanted this meal to end. So, we finished it off with a to die for Strawberry Cheesecake, and sweet wine, courtesy of Rachel & Amanda, and their ability to make sure good friends with the owners of a great restaurant. 
The next morning, it was back to London and reality again.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eating my way through Europe

Like living with people, traveling with people, one learns an entirely different side of their friends. For those of you who know me well, or know me at all, I've certainly learned my fair share about the people I've lived with, and now travelled with. When traveling, everyone has their thing: the one thing that they are interested in, that they want to see or do in a certain or every country we visit. Each of us, who I've been traveling with has their thing: Becky loves her art museums, ohh does she love them. Avery loves taking photos, which I inturn love to mooch off of her ; ) and Hannah loves Roman & Greek history and taking inappropriate pictures with me.

"What is my thing?" you ask. Take a guess...

Food.

As each week we prepare for our next upcoming trip, we sit down to figure out what there is to do there and who wants to do what. We look into buying tickets in advance, which I really don't understand why people aren't smart enough to do more often. The sheer greatness you feel when you see a line and realize you can simply walk up to the front, watching everyone else stare in awe and jealousy. Anyway, we look into everything. I usually read things online or in my handy abroad guides passed down from friends or consult with Barb & Eric and other friends. And then I look into the food. I've quickly learned that I like going into a city knowing what foods they're famous for and where the best place to try it is. Luckily for me, everyone seems to always want to partake in this because who isn't interested in food?...Which brings me to this week's adventures, or, in many cases, menu: Amsterdam

So what is Amsterdam famous for? 
-The Van Gogh Museum
-The Rijks Museum
-The Anne Frank House
-The Red Light District
-Tulips, Windmills & Delph China (Yes, Nana, I felt as though I had teleported back to your kitchen)
-It's lenient drug policies
-Wonderful, Glorious Fries with a large assortment of sauces
-Eat your heart out pancakes
-Almost, but obviously not quite, New York style bagels
-Rice Tables
And that's exactly what we did, minus the drugs, of course.

Friday afternoon, we set off for Amsterdam. After checking into the lavish Marriott hotel, we asked the conceirge, ahh the beauty of a conceirge, where we could find something to eat. He sent us off to the square. We walked around to find a bakery with bagels and pastries and a fry stand with a million sauces. Avery & I were quick to hop on the fry wagon buying ourselves a large cone of fries with Dutch mayo, Curry Ketchup and Peanut Sauce. This is where I will first use the word glorious to describe the fries but fear not they will be even more glorious when I tell you about the second time we ate them.
The next morning, we slept in and then went to find either a bagel or pancake place. After resigning to the idea that no, pancakes are not everywhere in Holland, we went to Bagels & Beans, a bagel shop I had heard about from friends. I tried a tomato bagel with chive cream cheese, avocado & tomato and while it was no Gotham whole wheat honey bagel and definitely not a Perfectos French Toast Bagel with Honey Walnut Cream Cheese, it was good. Crunchy on the outside and perfect. I hadn't realized I even missed bagels. Although too small to eat in the odd way I enjoy bagels (picking off the crust and dipping it into the cream cheese, and yes I know that description is awful and unclear: just feed me a bagel and you'll see how I pick it apart), it certainly lived up to my expectations. And I can't believe I just rambled on for that long about a bagel. After a nourishing breakfast, we headed over to the Van Gogh Museum, skipping all lines, and I couldn't help from reverting back to summer '05 reading Lust for Life, and then to the Rijks museum. We went to the Flower Market and walked around the canals stopping in stores here and there. This brings us to glorious moment number 2, when we ventured to a fry stand that Avery's Dutch friend had told us was the best. She was right. We each got ourselves an afternoon snack of a small cone of fries. I got the mayo, I don't even eat mayo!!, and curry again. But was sure to try everyone else's sauces. The menu had 22! Did I mention I love sauces? Always have, always will. I really think they make the meal and definitely the fries, or anything else they are used to enhance. Just think about sauces: ketchup, salad dressing, tzatziki, BBQ, honey mustard, soy, ranch, marinara, teriyaki, curry, nitty gritty sauce, yah I said it, even mayo...I could continue, but I'll spare you. (Conclusion from this tangent: Barb--I'm still waiting on our trip to sauciety.) Anyway, these fries were even more glorious than the night before and yes you could taste the difference. 
We then went to the Elephant Parade, which pleased the Jumbo fan and the rest of us as well, and walked to the Portugeese Synagogue. Now you would think the 3 nice Jewish girls among us would have thought: hmm, it's Shabbat. But nope, we went all the way there to discover it was infact closed. So we hoped into a cab for some afternoon relaxation before dinner.
Dinner was at Sam Sebo's: a rice table which I had read about and Avery's dutch friend had also suggested. We had heard Amsterdam was known for its Indonesian food and rice tables were the place to try it. Now, mind you, none of us knew what a rice table was. I had read about it to try and figure it out but I can't stay I understood until it was all placed before me: candle heated grills with rice and a never ending assortment of different meat and vegetable dishes. Literally, there must have been 20+ plates on the table and each of them were absolutely delicious. I'm not sure I've ever been so full. Once we were finally able to lift ourselves out of our chairs and the restaurant was practically closing (we had a late dinner, it wasn't THAT BAD!!), we walked down to the I amsterdam sign for an ample photo shoot, because our afternoon attempt had failed due to crowds. 
The next morning, we woke up to go see the Anne Frank House, which was something we were all most looking forward to doing. It did not dissapoint. We got there to find a small line gathering, and quickly walked to the front where we showed them our tickets and walked into the museum. The house was everything we imagined. It is extremely well laid out and organized and truly helps you understand what had went on within the walls of the house and what was going on in Europe at the time. It's remarkable. But also remarkable to think about how modern it all was and how something like that could have ever happened let alone so short a time ago. Another compliment to us, or Avery, who pre-bought our tickets, when we got out, the line, which we so quickly skipped, was literally around the corner.
It seemed only deserving that we treated ourselves to pancakes after Anne Frank, so we went to the famous pancake house nearby. With so many options, it was difficult to select a type. I went with apple & cheese, while the others selected theirs: Apple & Banana, Greek w/ Souvlaki and Apple & Bacon. Sorry dad, there was no blueberry. When our pancakes arrived, I was certainly pleased. With a little bit of maple syrup, my apple & cheese pancake was the perfect mix of sweet & salty. It was absolutely delicious, especially with a few bites of Hannah's uber-sweet apple and banana pancake in between! Full again, we decided to walk back to the synagogue, which was, of course, opened on Sunday via the Red Light District, a site a to see. We then walked back to the hotel to grab a bite to eat before heading to the airport for our journey back to London. And as nice and exciting as traveling is, I am always happy to return home.

This now concludes this edition of: I should weigh 6000 lbs. 

Side Note: It's Marni's 21st Birthday and because I know how much of an avid follower she is, she's getting a very special birthday shout out. Happy Birthday!! In your honor--I will drink an entire bottle of water and begin planning our post abroad belated birthday bash, cupcakes and all, because I did just purchase The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rain, Rain Go Away

When people tell you the weather in London is cold and dreary, they aren't lying. Having now been in London for nearly 2 months, I've come to completely agree. There are few days where it is not raining and even fewer days when the sun is out. However, I have come to terms with it and learned to look past the weather and love London. However, when leaving London and going to a different country, say Italy, and being greeted by beautiful, sunny, 65 degree weather, it slowly hit me just how much I hated the easterly winds which send rain my way on almost a daily basis.

Mind you, I'm writing this post on a beautiful London morning. I've consider it Mother Nature's lovely way of welcoming me back and easing me into London and its weather after a weekend in Rome. 

Rome. Rome. Rome. Where to begin?
Well, any grudge I may have ever had against Rome has been lifted and I loved it!

We arrived late Thursday evening to The Cardinal Hotel St. Peter. Intending to sneak one of us into our four person room, I headed inside to check us in. Immediately the concierge asked me for all the guests' passports. Crap! I immediately asked for new accommodation, which they did not have. Odd, seeing as the hotel was empty. So instead we lied, we told them one of us would be leaving. Crap again! They made us leave a form of identification at the desk. This was when I got nervous. Up in the room, we plotted and again we failed. So at 2am, we decided to go to bed and hope we never heard anything about our 5th roommate. Then the phone rang. Then there was a knock on the door...

Now I could have left you hanging, but I wont! What next ensued was a long drawn out conversation with the only English-speaking concierge working at 2:30 in the morning. While I attempted to explain to him that I could not allow my friend to wander the streets of Rome, that she had no where else to go, that she did not speak a word of Italian, that we were willing to pay extra, etc. etc, he attempted to explain he did not know what he could do. Low and behold, the panic in my voice must have been enough. They allowed us, all 5 of us, to stay and the following night even brought us an extra bed. One thing I learned this weekend: Italians are REALLY nice. Another: That 3 hours of sleep is exhausting.

Highlights (please excuse my attempt at spelling Italian):
Food, The Vatican (Sistine Chapel, yes, Hannah, that was it. St. Peter's: The Cyrpt. The Basilica. The Museum. Met the Pope,) Food, The Pantheon (bumped into Toby), Piazza Navona, Food, Coliseum, Capitalina Museum, Roman Forum (although we didnt realize it at the time), Food, Nap, Dinner, Sleep, Food, Borghesi Gallery, Campo Di Fiori (great samples), Cooking Class w/ Becca, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Shopping, Food, Nap, Dinner, Trevi Fountain...noticing a trend here??

FOOD.
Just to throw in another fun fact about myself here: I'm not the biggest fan of Italian Food. (Insert your gasp, shock & awe here--I know it's weird). It's for many reasons though...

1. I'm not a huge pasta fan 

2. When I do eat pasta...

a. I tend to prefer the things in the pasta rather than the pasta itself

b. I am picky and prefer Paradelle, Rice Noodles, Orzo (yes I've commented on the irony of the last two myself), etc as opposed to your standard ziti, spaghetti, fusili, etc.

c. American portions are just far too large for me to even tempt myself with

3. I use to be addicted to Fettuccini Alfredo, I cannot count the amount of times I made some kind of combination of it or blended the sauce with tomato to make a delicious meal, & miss it dearly & can't eat it anymore because...

4. I'm lactose intolerant

So what did I do? Doubled up on my Lactose Pills and indulged. And I mean indulged. The Food was amazing. Unlike American Italian Food it was light and delicious. (which I learned in my cooking class is because of the Garlic--American's dont cut off the stem making their dishes much heavier--now that's something I'm taking home with me!) We made it a point to get appetizers and split dishes, and sharing is definitely something I'm a fan of. Everything we sampled was delicious, and by comparison to London & Paris-cheap! All the more reason to keep eating more and more. 

Needless to say, I'm not sure my body could handle this kind of eating all the time. We went for sushi Sunday night as an attempt at detox. But I'll try Italian again, especially the fried dough Pizza & Gnocchi from our cooking class, which I just happen to have the recipe for...