Monday, June 28, 2010

summer ideas part two.

continuation of summer ideas:
1. arina suggested biking to santiago de compostela - our own pilgrimage
2. diana invited me to travel around the south of italy with her and her friends
3. visit kim in shanghai  - would be a definite yes to take advantage if the flight wasn't so expensive
4. live in our house in donegal and work there - or relax for a long weekend with Colleen.
5. take some culinary courses somewhere - county cork, england?
6. hang out on the porsmouth decks. yes, please.
7. get a job in the hospitality industry at some summer resort - south of italy? was half invited to work in vernazza, cinque terra if i could speak italian. 
8. woof-ing on a farm somewhere - considering Italy or a Spanish vineyard.
9. greece: open up a healthy/organic food stand on the beach or work on ari's goat farm.
10. today's latest not necessarily greatest: biking around italy. c'mon nora, let's go!

11. take an intensive italian language learning course.
12. visit all the ALMA kid's michelin rated restaurants where they are staaage-ing.
13. Go to cuba for 2 weeks to cure my eczema. 

Italian difference #9

None of the cars have university stickers on the rear window.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A year ago...

...we were all sitting on our deck on a clear, warm summer evening overlooking the swift current of the piscataqua. we grilled and cooked up a feast, like we always do, to celebrate dad's birthday and father's day. jess was home for summer vacation, chris and beth were up for the weekend from boston, and i was still living in portsmouth - my three months of moving in with my parents having extended to 6. summer on the seacoast was fantastic and the sunsets were always brilliant. no wonder i stayed there for so long - despite my parents complaints. 

portsmouth, our deck, father's day, 2009.

today, 6 hours ahead in italy, it hasn't stopped raining. jess has graduated from university and has moved to new york city to start an exciting new life there. my parents are also in new york - part time, sometimes. chris and beth are engaged. obie has been, ahem, "adopted." things are different. different doesn't mean bad. i can't complain for one second. but i do wish i was eating curry, my dad's favorite, with my family tonight. 
love this pic. love my parents. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

holy moly rain!

this incredibly loud heavy rain has been down-pouring all night and morning. i think we're going to drown in a flooded colorno (although, the river has flooded before in dec '09 right before we i would like to think this is "normal" northern italian summer weather but i can't stop thinking about all the environmental catastrophies and climatic changes we've been seeing around the world recently. 


it reminded me of an image i saw on a few weeks ago of a giant sink hole in guatamala city as a result of a soaking tropical storm that swept across central america. it is an unbelievably terrifying image.

watch where you walk. 

we're going to get absolutely drenched on the way to class, so we decided we might as well put on our summer dresses and go dancing in the rain. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Weight Watchers Recipes circa 1974

This website always makes me laugh. it's the perfect 4 minutes homework distraction. 
check it out. 

"See how the Ceramic Mushroom Family has gathered to show their children what happens to bad little mushrooms."

i guess jess wasn't the only one graduating into the real world this weekend.

this should probably be filed under "why i love my unisg classmates" which i probably should have started from the beginning of my blog.

a little background: in a recent whirlwind of a weekend trip to california to celebrate my sister's graduation from college, i encountered a bit of culture shock. in retrospect, it was welcomed. aside from the fact that i was ecstatic to see my family again - to have us all be together - and beamed a goofy smile whenever i thought about surprising my sister by arriving a day early - so proud of my little jessypoo - i was a little nervous going. not knowing what i'd feel about being back on american soil after four months in europe was a little daunting - especially since i've been adamant about not going there for our two month internship and seriously considering staying in europe after the program is over. i was thrilled to see and hug my parents, the surprise was successful, and i was finally able to personally congratulate my brother and beth on their engagement. i was spoiled in an american mall, popped keystone lights, tested and applied my recently acquired food-knowledge in delicious restaurants, was reminded of how cute american boys are, ate as many avocados as i could, drank a portsmouth-reminding-favorite hot n' dirty, ate an american-necessary bacon egg and cheese on a toasted fresh bagel, laughed with my family, ate sushi and filled up on scallops, and enjoyed the warm california weather. i was happy there. but then again, i can usually picture myself living wherever i am. i think i adapt well to new situations and places. i was sad to leave my family. but then again i knew i would be happy to return to our little bubble of colorno just as i always am. the 63 hours in california and the 37 hours traveling would soon seem like a blurry dream with tagged reality-reminders on facebook.

talking to my family, my sister's friends and their parents about italy and the program, i was able to describe, and clarify for myself, what i have been doing for the last four months. but the €20,000 question still arose, "what are you going to do with it when you graduate?" i shrug as i list the unlimited possibilities. so what really am i supposed to do for our two month internship? paolo looked at me as if i were crazy as i suggested working on a spicy pepper plantation in argentina, thailand or tunisia, traditional wild boar hunting at the borgo santo pietro in tuscany, making vodka in poland or new zealand, working at the boqueria market in barcelona, interning at the instituto espanol de gastronomia, or even mussel farming.  mmmmussels. realistically, i'd love to do something with food photography and styling, working with compiling cookbooks and researching recipes. i've also always been interested in traveling, food writing, hospitality and tourism and thought maybe i could work an eco-slow-friendly hotel that promotes sustainable tourism. 

throughout my long travels this weekend, i had plenty of time to read a book for homework, food rebellions, written by one of our visiting professors, eric holt-gimenez (co-written by raj pattel who's blog i've browsed thru before - interesting) it was confronting, informative, realistic and depressing - a recommended read. a compelling analysis and documentation of the global food crisis, it made me wonder what am i supposed to do with this food-related degree. how would food photography save the world? if i got a job at the UN or the World Bank, how assertive are my own opinions to make a difference or would i get sucked into the corporate hierarchy and be completely useless like the book claims the highly-structured organizations are, despite their should-be apparent influence in the world. there's something discouraging about participating to ultimately, perhaps, feel worthless, but confusing for not knowing what to do with such tremendous power with the ability to choose and influential, informative knowledge. as much as we have learned about the importance of the global food crisis and its detrimental effects on the world populations and environment, and as much as i would like to think that i could, or at least should, i can't save the world.

so, after a long discussion with a few classmates last night, sitting outside on a typical colorno warm mosquito-y summer night, sipping a cold, small glass of grappa and sharing a creamy gelato, my body high on overwhelming jet-lag and everyone still pumping from the excitement of the italy-paraguay tie, i'd like to share this quote i woke up to this morning from catherine, who writes, "the conversation tonight about doing the right sort of internship made me think about this quote i had read from, of all people, roger ebert, about how the best thing we can do is to make ourselves happy first and then other people. self serving perhaps, but i think he's right." i absolutely love it.

"I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world." - roger ebert.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?" The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffengger

How to Make an Omelet. 

One of my favourite classes yet was this week with Brady Haughton who started the Bourdeaux Quay in Bristol, England. He was incredibly sweet and interested in each of us with an inspiring story of his own to share. Instead of asking us who we were and why we were here - which we’ve all heard a bunch of times - he asked us to describe a favorite and least favorite meal we’ve had. It was nice. Some people were really able to remember all the details of the food, some told more about the people and the context more than the food - if at all. Some people were favorite’s because they were their mum’s food or just a unique ingredient. Some people shared cooking disasters that still haunt them. We longed to experience the good memories and laughed at the bad. We appreciated them all - even the bad, knowing that only better meals could come. Our homework assignment then, was to buy some ingredients and cook the next day in the ALMA culinary school’s kitchens. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but four of us (who worked in the same group to present ways to connect UNISG and ALMA students - it was great) decided to drive to La Spezia, to buy fresh fish at a market on the sea coast. ROAD TRIP! 
"look, they're still alive!"
i was just along for the ride as i had decided to make the courgette-gorgonzola soup which was easy and tasty enough to make in the allotted kitchen time. I woke up at 4.45 to the sun barely rising yet and the birds chirping from the tree outside my window. Diana stopped by and Asher came to pick us up. We were on the road by 6am. Surprisingly not tired, it was so fun - and back to where i have never been before but now for the third time in a less than two weeks! a little over an hour later, we arrived as the markets stalls were setting up and we went to a small cafe for cappuccino’s and foccaccia genovese. soft and buttery, they almost, although i don’t want to make this comparison because they are so much better, but they almost reminded me of a dunkin’ donut’s plain donut. sweet, salty, and melt-in-your-mouth. the market was filled with fresh fish - of all kinds. i don’t eat fish so i can’t even name names, but whole octopus, squids and sepias, live shrimp, baby shrimp, huge shrimp, strangely coloured shrimp i have never seen before, eels, oysters, mussels, snails, clams, flying fish, flat fish, the long skinny silvery ones. they were all beautifully presented on ice too. arina bought a bag of mussels, asher bought large live shrimp and bargained with the woman for an oyster deal. i took pictures of everything. the market was my photography heaven. i need to get a grip.
 as the others were deciding what to buy and make, one woman offered me a taste of a raw shrimp. it was delicious and not like anything i had every tried before. the tiny little bite was so sweet and fresh and full of the taste of the sea. so then diana bought some to cook with the zucchini blossoms she bought. the market also had all types of herbs and plants, selections of local cheeses, italian cured meats, tuscan olives, bounties of fruits, pots of flowers, and vegetables - beautiful tomatoes marbled with red and green that i had to buy to taste, wild mushrooms, crates stacked on top of each other and each stall just a rainbow of fresh produce. i wish we had something like this in colorno. we raced back in the early rush hour city traffic to get back in time for class. we were late, but the road trip was definitely worth it. the kitchen was small so it was beneficial that we got to start in the second shift as others were finishing up their dishes. it was so fun to cook together, working together with prepping and cleaning and sharing ingredients, we squeezed in and around and past each other, wary of hot dishes and slippery floors. it was sweaty, steamy, tantalizing our noses and teasing our appetites for lunch. everything turned out absolutely fantastic. really really wonderful - there wasn’t one bad dish. i think everyone was impressed with each other - at least i was. just because we love to talk about, learn about, and eat food, doesn’t necessarily mean we have the culinary-skills to cook well, but these students are constantly impressing me. bravo, UNISG, bravo. GRANDE. 
looks prettier than it tastes.

Prof Haughton - raw courgettes with parsley and lemon zest with green beans provenciale style - with garlic and lemon
Popi - greek meatballs and tzatsiki
Nanae and Louise - guacamole, pico de gallo, humus
Lauren - whole roasted chicken on a bed of ruccola & bread salad. 
Caro - home made bread
Brittany and Naama - garlicy yogurt dip topped with red onion and herbs and a tri-color salad of tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, and ricotta
Sung - korean braised ribs in a ginger and grappa sauce
David - sesame chicken noodles
Sandro - halfed aubergines stuffed with caponata like filling - eggplant, tomatoes, courgette and a crusty bread topping
Arina - mussels in a white wine, lemon thyme and leek sauce
Suzie and Reena - austral-ipino sasauge-orange-fennel rolls with a tomato dipping sauce
Diana - pasta with shrimp, zucchini and blossoms, and saffron
Asher - oysters with sea grass and tomato salsa; fried shrimp with a pumpkin puree, tomatoes, pancetta crisp and sweet and sour leeks
Carey - mac n’ cheese with american-brought cheddar
Natalie and Yui - curry and rice with green peas
Shauna - courgette-gorgonzola soup
Catherine - strawberry tiramisu
Shannon - bread pudding
Emily and Lindsay - stolen-sour cherry tart and one with sour cherries and peaches
Samara - balsamic marinated strawberries with shortbread cookies
Cooking in ALMA culinary school's kitchen.

La Cinque Terre

the solo traveler.

A free Monday off of classes clearly calls for a weekend away. Having recently spent a beautifully fun night in Genova, going back to the sun-promising Italian Riviera, La Cinque Terre, was an easily-decided destination. I was more than happy to return and explore the sea coast which is famously known for its panoramic ocean views and pristine pastel villages. I woke up early to catch the train in Colorno - only to miss the connection in Parma because the ticket machine is broken and the fee to ride the train sans-ticket is not worth it. So I looked around for maps of Italy, wondering where the next trains were heading - I had no plans, just a small hostel deposit for one night, and no expectations except for an adventure by myself. Wanting to head south to enjoy the sun and the beach, I eventually found a connection of trains that would lead me to the same planned destination instead of waiting for the direct one a couple of hours later. Like my cooking skills, I find myself happily and generally tending to wing it - I figured I would just recognize when to get off and change trains. As I was sitting on the train, passing beautiful Tuscan towns, not knowing where the train was heading, I was a little hesitant, but at the same time, with no plans, perfectly happy to end up wherever. It would all work out, I believed. And it did. Maybe I had an exasperatedly confused look on my face, but everywhere, there was someone who was willing and trying to help me find my way. I eventually made it to La Spezia, walked in the wrong direction a couple of times, and eventually came across the bus stop for the hostel. There were two girls, who I thought where foreign but actually were on a graduation-gift-trip-across Europe-from California, a mother and two daughters from northern England and a couple from Australia. We were all headed to the same hostel, which happened to be up a windy steep road in the mountains. It was closed until 2:30 so we sat in the courtyard with 5 other waiting australians. 
I really welcomed the time by myself and also to have to socialize with strangers. Both are key factors in traveling alone. Both forced me out of my comfort zone but were also equally rewarding. The two girls from California, the same age as my sister, had been traveling for two weeks and I think enjoyed my “newness” so they adopted me and invited me to hang out with them. We went to the beach with the others and when they separated and went off to find dinner, the three of us wandered around the coast and had a JUG of wine overlooking the sunset high above the glistening ocean. We commiserated in the fact that Americans, especially girls, sound so horribly embarrassing abroad. We, of course, are not. When we missed the last bus back to the hostel (it was early last departure), we had a little liquid courage and went into a gelato store asking the boy who worked there if there was any way to get back to the hostel. “amici? macchina? ostel?” “un momento” 5 minutes later, diego aka spider man, and his friend were driving us back to the hostel - no problem at all.   I think the two young girls might’ve been terrified, even if they didn’t admit it or realize it at the time, but I was an arina-learned seasoned-pro. you gotta do what you gotta do.
(me lagging behind)
La Cinque Terre is an intense hike. It connects five villages along the Italian coast. I may not work out that much, I may have asthma, I may be old, I may have bad knees, I may like to enjoy the view more than staring at the rocks beneath my feet threatening a quick stumble and fall over the steep edge, I may have a dozen more excuses - but it was one strenous, phyiscally exhaustive coastal walk that I don’t know if I will do again. We caught the bus from the hostel at 9:50am and were probably on the trail by 10:15. I think we finished the entire 5-town-hike by 4 or 5 in the evening. maybe later. I wasn’t planning on staying in the same hostel as I wanted to work my way north along the coast, so I had my overnight bag with me - including my laptop because i had homework to do over the weekend - and that, combined with the cloudless mid-day sun, was excruciating. It was really really nice for the two girls to adopt and invite me along with them, but I couldn’t keep up and wanted to keep my own pace and felt as though I was holding them back. the hills went up and down and the stairs were never ending. never ending. look sideways to the sea view, don’t look up - it will depress you. I don’t know how the old people kept up.  

The sun was scorching, the blue sea was sparkling, the sky was cloudless, the yachts were luxurious teases. but we kept going. through pastel-couloured villages, I eventually had to stop at the fourth one to drop off my bag and find a place for the night. vernazza. maybe it was the hour an a half hike there, but it was adorable. I was excited to return and stay the night alone - as nice as it was to have the friendly company. We stopped to energize with some horrible touristy food - really horrible - and as we were trying to find the trail again, amongst the small narrow stairways, we found the group of australians and we finished the trail together. After my lunch-energy diminshed, I honestly wasn’t sure if I would make it the rest of the way - another hour and a half of hiking - but with the support and pressure of the group and the thought of the hopefully-rewarding glut muscles from walking on a real-life stair master all day, I prevailed and had a destination I as determined to reach. Monterrosa - the final fifth village of La Cinque Terra - was a little resorty: the beach was packed with rows of colourful umbrellas and towels clad with tanned bathing suits, but it was more of a feat to get there than what was actually at the destination. oh well, it was worth it. 

 trofie e pesto

After swapping contacts, I went back to Vernazza on my own. A hot shower, a room to myself, a half-bottle of recommended local wine, a seat on the terrace over looking the reflecting sun-setting ocean was really just beautiful. I treated myself to dinner, recommended by the guy from the wine store who was friends with the owner so I introduced myself and he sat me down at a sea-view table. I had my camera and my Italian phrase book out to talk with the waiter who spoke perfect English. I tested my recently acquired wine-tasting skills over a glass of local white wine. vegetable. definitely green bell pepper. It was great to talk to the waiters and some of the other diners who wanted to hear about my trail-hiking experience. it wasn’t very busy on the restaurant’s patio, underneath the colourful umbrellas, and everyone was so friendly in the warm early-summer night. As much as I enjoyed meeting new people, I really enjoyed the time alone. It too, in itself, was an experience for myself. 

The next day, my last day, I had planned to sit on the beach and enjoy the sun to work on my tan for jess’s upcoming graduation pictures, but as my phone alarm was still on an-hour-ahead-crete time, I woke up to the early morning that was filled with overcast clouds. Over a warm cappuccino, I worked on some homework in the hotel restaurant, with the open-kitchen in front of me, admiring the work of the chefs and enjoying the fact that I could watch them like I used to in Cava. I love it. I bought way too many postcards and then went back to the same place where I had dinner the night before because the other one i wanted to try was full. maybe that’s an excuse - maybe it’s because i was more comfortable walking in there alone. The view was ideal, the staff were incredibly friendly, the owner was adorable with colourfully stripped socks and green trainers with a very Italian-agreeable sense of style, and the food was tasty. I even asked if I could work there over the summer. I could learn/speak Italian and it’d be touristy so that means busy. Beautiful area, nice staff, good food. Perfect. I didn’t want to leave. It was so nice, but homework and internet access called me back. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sensory Analysis

Our sensory analysis class was taught by Ann C Noble. she invented the wine aroma wheel. invented! and she was teaching us! and she has her own wikipedia page! i'm not going to lie - that really impressed me.

the wine aroma wheel.

The perception of flavor is complex as it can be influenced by many factors. Focus. Are you thinking of something else, are your thoughts distracting? Conditions. Is it quiet, odor free or is it noisy and filled with aromas? Light and temperatures. A warm environment could cause high volatility changes whereas a too hot or a too cold environment could be distracting away from the drink. Information provided. individual sensitivities. the range of flavour varieties. All of these determine sense of tastes in a wine.
 Is it possible to describe an aroma without tasting it before or recognizing it if not having tasted it recently? It would be like describing the indescribable. I think that these tastes and these aromas are subjective and personal in ways which have different meanings or identifications to everyone. 

The point of describing wine, we learned, is to discover the pieces so that we can understand the whole. If you learn the details you can learn to recognize wine. During our wine tasting, for example, when we had to describe the flavours we tasted among four unidentified wines, Asher knew, correctly, that one of them was a Barolo, in the same way that others can recognize a Chardonnay or a Cab Sauv. Impressive, UNISG, impressed. 
We learned how to try to train our senses in more specific ways by noting the various details and components of the wines rather than just say whether or not we like it. By learning what the “standards” smell like - that is, extracts of certain elements into a neutral wine - then we can recognize these similar tastes and aromas when we taste wine. 
While tasting white wine, our standards included smells like asparagus, bubble gum, peach, cloves, butter, vanilla, toffee or butterscotch, citrus blend of orange and grapefruit, honey, anise, tinned pineapple, lychee, green apple, grapefruit, guava, canned green beans, lemon, Rose’s lime cordial, nutmeg, orange, bacon and pear. 

While tasting red wine, our standards included smells like asparagus, bell pepper, clove, butter, vanilla, butterscotch, black currant (mmm ribena), black olive, licorice or anise, black pepper, blackberry jam, maraschino cherry, cocoa, coconut, green olive, coffee, green bean, nutmeg, artificial, molasses or golden treacle, prune, bacon, soy, strawberries, strawberry jam and fresh cherries. 

Noting these different aromas and tastes is possible but as well as the environment/experience, the wine can change with the foods that you are eating with it. I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong, everyone is programmed differently. The entire marketing, branding, labeling, and pricing of the wine has a sincere effect on people’s perceptions of wine as well. Wine marketing wants to promote the poetic and positive imagery of the wine. So, next time you’re drinking wine, sit back, relax, focus on what you’re doing, and try to determine or discern the flavours that encompass the wine you are enjoying. I’ve already found myself trying to distinguish different flavours that remind me of foods that I can recognize. It could start off as a game, but eventually, I hope, will become very effective. It is a palate to be developed.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

1, 2, 13, 14, 19, 33, 38, 44, 47, 50.

found this and liked it. 

51. went for a run at 9:15pm - energy is still pumping.
52. researching possible internship ideas
53. homework. oh wait, it's not being graded. why do i bother? 
54. catching up on facebook after being away for the long weekend
55. catching up on gmail after being away for the long weekend
56. it's too damn hottt
57. even with the volume and screen dim on lowest, can't fall asleep without falling asleep to tv noise. read: family guy.
58. squishing bugs.
59. thinking about what 60 should be. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

24 hours in Genova.

a random holiday in the middle of the week calls for a spontaneous road trip. having just come back from a week in crete, i think we were all still in holiday mode and were yearning for more time in the sun and relaxing on the beach. my mum had recently sent me a nytimes article about 36 hours in genoa, so i forwarded it to asher who had spent a week there working at the Slow Fish event and shucking a couple thousand oysters and said it was a great day-destination. we woke up on tuesday with a text from him saying he was packing his toothbrush and ready to leave after class. the sun was shining and before we knew it, we were piling into his car, windows down, music playing loudly, and i was as happy and giddy as could be. driving through the flat emilia romagna countryside, we left behind the farm smells of cow, manure, and freshly cut hay, passed the warm aroma of freshly baked bread as we passed by the ginormous barilla factory and then breathed in the sweet smell of roses as we drove through tunnels and tunnels that burrowed and penetrated deep into the tuscan mountains. as we turned off the exit towards the sea and into the city, i instantly fell in love.

"it looks a little bit like paradise."

mmmm the architecture. every building was impressively beautiful, with expressive attention to detail. we commented that it could almost like spain - a bit moorish. racking my brain for past knowledge from my art history minor, i would love to study the architecture here.
the view from our hostel. barges heading to portsmouth?

as we walked around the city, i lagged behind, taking an embarrassing amount of photos as i was encapsulated within the city: every turn had something new to offer and another magnificent building. we walked down to porto antico where we passed the aquarium - largest in italy and second largest in europe - as well as a replica of christopher columbus' ship which looked like it sailed into the port straight from disney world.

after necessary tourist visits to the piazza and christopher columbus'  house, we stopped for a refreshing apperativo before our much anticipated destination: asher's acclaimed best pizza in italy. the street outside the little door was packed with young pizza and inside were more hipsters sitting at high tops in front of a little counter that separated the restaurant from the kitchen. the hand written menu listed the pizza toppings, which we chose the genovese speciality - with pesto - and one with salsiccia. we waited and waited as the owner brought out two pizzas at a time. the pizzas, when they finally arrived around the corner, were perfect and delicious. thin and soft dough, not too much crust, not too greasy or cheesey and definitely no need for hot pepper flakes or a side of ranch to dip in!

walking around the city at night, it felt a little dodgy. i didn't feel unsafe though. young people home for the holiday socialized in groups in the piazzas, the courtyards and the streets. graffiti covered the buildings. the tiny alleys looked enigmatic, teasingly daring and dark. but for us, it was banana tsunami time - dancing on the water front. it was so much fun.

genoa is the dirtiest beautiful city. 

the next day, we headed for the sea. we drove out of genova and along the seacoast, even more beautiful. an even more embarrassing amount of pictures until my battery exhaustedly ran out. the drive was breathtaking, i wanted to move into every house, i wanted to be on one of the sailboats in sparkling sea - yes, it really sparkles - i wanted to find a summer job here, i wanted to skip class for the rest of the week and stay here. i couldn't help but smile.

we drove to the little town of zoagli where we sat in the sun on the rocks as the rough ocean water splashed around us and had lunch on the beach, eating lots of seafood - mussels and marinated octopus to start then spaghetti with clams, linguine with shrimp and zucchini, fish of the day and frito misto. and a local white wine. it was surprisingly delicious - not a typical touristy high-priced low-quality seafood restaurant on the beach.

alas, we had to return to colorno, to our so-called-semi-reality of life. once again, we passed through the tunnels under the tuscan mountains that were scattered with enchanting little villages nestled within - the yellow, orange, and red hues of the houses spotting the surrounding bushy green trees. i loved the thought of exploring them, the thought of the possibility of recreating life there - so idyllic, so serene, and so simple. but we drove on. we talked about future trips - rafting down rivers, to rome, vacationing on yachts, snowboarding after the program, of already-anticipated class reunions - we would need 3 more lives to do everything we want to. it will be weird to spend every day with these friends, and then once again, be scattered across the globe in an unknown future.

eventually the mountains disappeared and we once again commented on the sweet smell of the flowers, inhaled the hunger-enducing aromas exuding from the barilla factory and the pungent cowy-farm smell welcomed us back into emilia romagna. an instant indication that we were home again.

Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading. NEVER LET ME GO, KAZUO ISHIGURO

i think i might be getting a little antsy in the panties for going to california next weekend. my little jessypoo is graduating!! i can't stop beaming whenever i think about seeing my family all together again, even if in a whirlwind, i will be there just for one day. it will be so worth it to travel all the way back from italy to be there and i'm incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do so (yes, jess threatened never to talk to me again if i was not there). i realized that i am quenching these nostalgic thoughts by making comfort food that reminds me of home - in the grocery store the other day, i had a couple courgettes in my hand to add to some penne pasta and wanted to buy some blue cheese to have with some crackers, but instead, when i realized i was holding these two ingredients together, i added a few extra courgettes to the bag and picked up a creamy gorgonzola to make my mum's infamous courgette and gorgonzola soup, which always is such a delicious reminder of 3 natures way. and it was so satisfyingly easy to make. i may not be having any home made meals when i'm in california next week, but it's just a little taste of family-familiarness in italy away from home and a little anticipatory-tickle-to-the-palate-reminder that i'll see my family in one week. :o) eeeeeeeeeee

mum's courgette and gorgonzola soup:

for 6
1lb courgettes, cut into coins
11/2oz butter (i used olive oil)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 crushed cloves garlic
2 pts veg stock
2 tsp fresh or 1 tsp dried basil
6ozs blue cheese
1/4 pt cream (i did not use)

add a little bit of nice extra virgin olive oil to a large pot and fry the onion and garlic for 5 mins or so until soft. add the courgette and cook on low heat, gently, for 10 minutes. add the stock and bring slowly to a boil then lower the heat and add salt, pepper and basil. cover and simmer for 20 minutes. add the cheese, broken up in pieces to melt easier, and blend with an immersion blender. the cheese should make the soup creamy enough but adding cream makes it extra rich. the soup can be served hot or cold and can be made up to 2 days in advance. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Int'l Stage: Crete.

aaannnd we're back from our second staaage. i feel like we have just had a week's holiday rather than a study trip.
crete, the largest of the greek islands, is considered to be the heart of the mediterranean, the heart of the world. land of the minotaurs, home to el greco (and possibly some hobbits) we were there to eat and to study the cretan diet.

along with the elvis, paolo conte, and the whitest boy alive albums, i would like to dedicate these two songs as the trip's soundtrack. they will always remind me of a 9 person-carrying white van with a broken stick shift, windows down and warm wind blowing in our hair, driving along windy-sharp-cornered roads in the cascading mountains or along the fantastically bright blue seaside, the sun shining, and all of us tapping, snapping, clapping and singing along.

yassas. yamas. yamas. yassas.

 in the 1950's ancel keys conducted the "seven countries study" which compared the diet, risk and disease factors of crete, corfu, japan, yugoslavia, italy, netherlands, usa, and finland revealing that the cretan diet and lifestyle demonstrated the lowest mortality rates and cardiovascular diseases.  according to our lecture from the Cretan Quality Agreement, a non-profit organization founded 2 years ago, their goal is to promote the cretan diet through a network of certified restaurants that adhere to the realistic requirements of cretan cuisine. the seacoast and most of the town of rethymno were filled with touristy restaurants, so i liked the idea that having a label, like a zagat sticker, will set the standard for restaurants to produce good quality foods for all by adhering to the following: 2/3 of the menu must be traditional cretan cuisine, only virgin olive oil can be used, cretan wines offered, and exclusive use of local cretan products.  throughout the week in crete, we ate in a variety of different types of places that really offered us a wide-ranging experience and opportunity to divulge in cretan cuisine. 

the first night we ate in a classic tourist restaurant, othonas (certified by the Greek Academy of Taste) in the heart of rethymno, where the streets are lined with waiters standing outside the restaurant's patio trying to welcome you in and invite you to look at the menu decorated with photographs of "typical" greek food. it was quite amusing walking next to popi since she could understand them.  one guy swore in disappointment as our large group continued walking past his restaurant and as we arrived at othonas, one waiter asked “what do they want?” while the other waiter quickly hushed him, telling him that she was greek. 
kaliopi, my favourite greek and tour guide/translator extraordinaire. 
the trip wouldn't have been the same without her.

the chef came out to greet us and introduced us to what we would be eating. we ate the traditional way, mezze, where there are many dishes in the middle of the table that are shared. we had twelve different dishes: dakos, rusks soaked in florescent olive oil topped with squashed tomato, oregano, and creamy feta; greek salad with tomatoes, white onion, green peppers, black olives, oregano topped feta sans lettuce; tzatziki, which made us breathe garlic; saganaki graviera, fried cheese; (out of season) aubergine with a moldy-cheese and tomato sauce; mpriam (in greek) - oven roasted vegs; zucchini balls, yum; dolmades, stuffed grape leaves; apaki, smoked pork meat and meatballs; lamb and artichoke, and then for dessert, cutaletis - fried dough with orange zest on top. it was a good first introduction to greek cuisine and i think even popi was impressed with the quality, assortment, and preparation.

the next day, we drove to the valley of amari, a central high plateau completely surrounded by mountains, where we munched on cherries we picked from the tree's spring blossoms. we smelled pots filled with barbarosa, chamomile, mint, marjoram, oregano and dictamus on the terrace of the small tavern and inn of Aravanes. we added salt, oil,  and then warm water to 4 packets of flour to make fresh bread. while the dough was left to rise, we went on a walk around the tiny village of Thronos, that was hosting us for the day. the church, panayia, was covered with beautiful paintings inside that were still incredibly intact with little restoration and nothing preserving them - one of the walls dated the painting to 1491. our tour guide and owner of the taverna, Mr Lambros, said he was here with us instead of at another church where they were celebrating the day of the holy spirit where he would be singing so arina, so brave yet politely, asked him if he would sing for us. he sang a song for the virgin mary. it was the most beautiful, touching moment. his voice was smooth and the expression in his eyes as he looked at the fresco was full of sincere love and passion and peace. it brought tears to my eyes and i had to look away as i felt as though i might be violating and undeserving of sharing this moment with him. definitely an unforgettable mental-photographed-captured moment. 
we met an old man with a fantastic beard and weathered greek face who happened to be the maker of the lyra's we had just seen in the restaurant. he invited us into his one room house, filled with old photographs of him and his wife, his grandchildren's drawings on the fridge, the bed in the corner and as we filled the room around the large table in the center, he played the lyra for us. i was expecting a strappingly good looking young greek man, but instead, i wanted to put this sweet old man into arina's large suitcase and bring him home. precious. we then went foraging.  sage, thyme, walnut trees, rosemary, cactus, almond trees, and picrodafni flowers sprung up everywhere you looked, quince on vines exploded when touched, pomegranate trees were blossoming red flowers, wild asparagus, mint, spring garlic bulbs, zucchini with bright orange blossoms were in abudance, and we ate freshly picked apricots straight from the tree. our tour guide could have walked us around the entire island of crete and never run out of plants to talk about or show us. in the streets, in the field, in pots on stairs, decorating every house - it is full of wildlife. i wanted a pillow made out of the soft fuzzy sage and perfume from the wild thyme. and rosemary. 
it was funny that we were surrounded by all of this and yet everyone was hungry and anticipating lunch. when the bread was ready, we ate it hot from the stone oven with melt-in-your-mouth salty olives and small shots of raki. lunch was delicious: fava bean puree with sweet white onions, runny lentil stew, herby mixed green salad with lemony artichokes, white beans with stewed pork, beans with spring vegs, scrumptious meatballs with addicting potato fries, cheesey omlette, mixed olives and home made red wine and greek coffee. we lay in the sun afterwards to digest and enjoy the warm mountain air.
“nobody cares about this guy and his rubbish music.”
after a swim in the sea and some hot, awkward rolling in the sand, we had dinner at a typical cretan taverna. it was similar to the touristy restaurant as it offered the traditional dishes, but with its own variations. all of us barely squeezed in. we had home made red wine, mezithra cheese which is like ricotta, wild greens with courgette, mixed veggies, snails with rosemary and vinegar, lamb with artichokes, white beans with runner beans in a light tomato sauce, traditional rice pilaf made with chicken broth, roasted coin potatoes, eat-with-your-hands-rabbit with onions and liver, scrambled eggs with tomato and cheese and cherries for dessert. it was a very impressive taste of crete and very homemade - it all came from a tiny open kitchen made by one woman, her husband, and her two sons serving us. it was a lot to try, because you want to try it all and because you don't know what's coming next, if at all. it's nice sharing with everyone and having little spoonfuls of every dish but the overabundance was not very typical greek nor was the term “moderation” in effect. we did have three beautiful greek men, Nikos, Lefteres and Giorgios, come and play the lyra and sing for us. as lindsay said, not quite the same as the other lyra maker. i think i blushed at the sight of them for a good 5 minutes. it is a typical custom to play the lyra at social functions and to make up the lyrics on the spot, singing about love and life, depending on the situation and the company. dancing outside in the town square to the live music, then more live music in an open air was a beautiful night.

"i'm enchoosciastchitic about the atentchichity of this place."
"we lost you already since awhile. wait for us."
the next day we had a visit to dourakis winery where we had a tour of the vineyard and the wine cellar. they make biodynamic wine from ancient and modern cretan grape varieties. we had a wine tasting with a small platter of feta topped with oregano, crisp cucumber, juicy tomatoes, and carrots and a perfectly-cooked oozy egg omelet from the farm with some flavorful sausage. dinner was back in town, at a vegetarian restaurant. well, almost. we had a nicely dressed salad with tomato, cucumber and onion, gigande beans in tomato sauce, scrambled eggs with courgette, aubergine with a moldy-almost-spicy kinda cheese, the best dolmades we've had (the grape leaves were so fresh and soft they looked like they were just picked and hand-rolled around the perfect-mouthful-textured-amount of rice) served with a creme fresh dip, moussaka made with yogurt instead of b├ęchamel sauce with boiled potatoes instead of fried - deliciously non-vegetarian. it was a beautiful night and some of us went back to the outdoor patio in the back of a pottery workshop that had benches with cushions, tables under covering trees, and glass jars filled with white lights softly illuminating the clear night sky. 

the next day was an interesting mix of tasting cretan cuisine. first we visited marianna's herbal store where she basically told us what every herb could cure whatever ails us. i believe in natural remedies and like the fact that all of the herbs she gathered herself in the local surrounding area, but it was a little overwhelming. there were different herbs to help my asthma and eczema. the teas and the oils were expensive. i couldn’t decide if she was trying to help us, realistically, or get us to buy into her herbal remedy philosophy and make purchases. with the help of asher's expertise, arina and i are going to try to make our own natural oils. 

we then went to the union of rethymnon agricultural association where we saw cheese and olive oil production facilities in action. we had to gown ourselves in plastic cloaks, stretchy hair nets, and blue shoe-covering slippers. we followed the different steps of the cheese making from where the milk is brought from the farms to where they store and age the cheeses. we saw the different machines used to bottle the olive oil, from 14,000 members in the area, depending on what size of container, while two men put the little plastic bit into the tin caps, one by one. we had an olive oil tasting to taste the difference between theirs and a bad one and then feasted on an elaborate display of cheeses - gaviera, dry anthotyros, myzinthra, and salted feta -  and different types of rusks soaked in olive oil. olive oil tasting always leaves me smacking my greasy lips slightly unpleasantly. 

later, we visited a 5 star grecotel, the creta palace, where we had a lecture from francesco due, dimitris, about how their hotel was a pioneer in connecting the environment with a luxury hotel that promotes the cretan diet and lifestyle by using local products and offering activities to its guests such as wine tours and a trip to the farm. "lots of time at the table, eating and drinking little by little while talking everything under the sun" is their philosophy. having traveled a lot and spent a lot of time in different hotels around the world, i found the presentation to be intriguing - learning how the hotel caters to the tourists' needs by offering them food that they are accustomed to but also having a "local corner" with local cretan products to choose from, pointing out the meatless dishes not only for the vegetarians but because meat is so rarely eaten in the cretan diet, and creating stories to encourage people to try the local products (for example, calling black olive tapenade "cretan caviar" as an alternative to spreading imported butter on bread). as it is a five star hotel, dimitri was very proud in the way the traditional cuisine was evolutionalized to be more refined with elegant presentations. having been to hotels similar to the creta palace, i understand what it's like to want to have a holiday sitting by the pool or on the beach in a nice setting with good food. but.  but. the fact that he was trying to promote how well they represent the cretan lifestyle and diet was so fake to me. everything in the hotel was self sustained, no one would ever have to leave. i asked him if that's the environment they were trying to create or if they encouraged the guests to go into the town and countryside and see the real crete and his answer was yes, so that they know what the horrible places are like and make them want to come back to the hotel and see how great it was. WHAT?! infuriating. 
which brings us to the next completely different experience in this copious cretan culinary adventure.

we had a free afternoon in the schedule and a nap or a swim in the ocean sounded really nice and relaxing. but popi had talked to our tour guide and was taking one of the vans to a little town in the mountains. i knew this was something i'd want to take advantage of the opportunity so i chugged two mugs of coffee and rallied. the village was tiny and adorable. exactly what you’d want to imagine as an “authentic” greek village. the little restaurant we went to was just a small room, with signed notes and poems from previous visitors hand-written on the wall. most of it was in greek and i only saw 2 in english. the walls were decorated with old pictures, antique guns (we learned about the mafia culture), mirrors, agricultural tools, a giant saw, and ceramic pots and vases lined up along dollied-shelves. it was cozy. after the owner lay down sheets of white plastic table clothes, we were served glass bottles of raki and then waited and waited. none of us knew what to expect - the two greek women with us ordered what sounded like everything (there was no menu) and popi agreeing at the other end of the table "neh. neh. neh. neh." the waiting was totally worth it though and for a reason - the wife cooked all the food for us by herself, and the husband served it to us. i had thought the greek food was good so far, but this was superb. fantastically flavourful. it was one of those times when you want to keep eating because its so good and have to try it all and food keeps coming out but you're stuffed and happy and want to keep eating and its ok. we were served a little red tin of home made red wine and little glasses as we learned "dolumazo" - drink to taste it, to have it, not to get drunk. first, we had greek salad with juicy tomatoes, white onions, crisp cucumbers, crunchy green peppers and oregano topped feta dressed in olive oil. 

then we had sausages that make my mouth water just thinking about them now,

 a pile of hand cut potatoes that with a little extra salt were the crispest and tastiest we have had in greece,

 an eggy omelet with meat that reminded me of chinese spare ribs - like the ones that li's brother on a wooden stick and served in the tin foil bag. 

next was woody-smoked pork and wedges of fried cheese served with half a lemon to squeeze on top. then we had ribs and lamb chops 

and....fried snails! i had never heard of such a thing! 

everything was so simple and pure. just served with a lemon. so Delectably Scrumptious. yes, the environment of being in a tiny mountain village, the adventure of having traveled on our own to get there, being served by just a husband and wife, the company, the laughs and getting to know each other definitely helped, but i was undeniably wowed.  this is what we were all searching for on our trip. this was greek food.
“oh white jasmine and you evening star, take me back to crete and don’t ask me why.” - odysseus elytis
the next day, during our walking tour of rethymno guided by the guides association of rethymnon district, jules impressed me with teaching me how cinnamon is rolled, we saw how phyllo pastry was made to make baklava and kantaifi by this little movie-star-posing-cute-old-man. we drove to the seaside to have lunch on the beach, kindly offered to us by the hoteliers association of rethymnon. i think i laughed the entire time, but unfortunately the food wasn't memorable or worth even writing about. 

and now for something completely different. 

after driving through the highest village in mountainous crete, anogeia, we drove to this spectacular field surrounded by impressive mountains scattered with little dots of sheep. we jumped in the back of two trucks - how 27 of us fit i have no idea - and drove into the field as sheep ran amok in every which way away from us.  it seriously felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything - which, well, was in fact true. i couldn't help but think of life in new york. my mind kept going back to the bustling sidewalks of fifth avenue where i used to have to dodge people to reach peace and quiet in central park where i would go running. i used to love that. now all we could hear was the constant jingle-jangle of the bells on the sheep’s necks and all i wanted to do was sleep under the stars in the field. how completely different life can be. 

in two groups, we ducked into a tiny doorway and piled into a little hut built entirely of stone, only stone. apparently only 2 people know how to make such a structure that even baffles architects. these huts have survived earthquakes and neither snow nor rain can get in. i was in the second group and immediately as we entered and sat on the incredibly soft sheep skins we were offered chunks of freshly made malaka - soft cheese curds which was made in front of the previous group. there were two men inside, one sitting and the other was making the cheese. the milk was from the sheep he milked that morning. (!) he puts the cheese into wicker baskets (a plastic one is more practical as it is easier to clean), squeezing out the whey back into the pot. i think that we were all in awe as we sat around the smokey hut, the only light coming from a hole that illuminated the misty billows coming from the burning dried sticks that was heating the milk to make the cheese. it burrrns the eyes. popi once again was our impressive translator and really made the experience that much more interesting. i asked her to ask him if we could taste the raw milk in the big red jug and with a little hesitation, the man agreed and poured it into little plastic cups for us to taste. it was warm and smooth. raw milk milked this morning! from years of experience, the man didn't need a thermometer to know when the milk was heated to 42 degrees, exactly 42 degrees - he knew by the sound the texture made as he stirred it with the idonis. not tak tak more doop doop. the idonis is a wooden spade and named after a sweet singing bird because the noise the cheese makes is similar to the bird singing. of course we tasted the creamy, rich cheese when it was done. of course it was wonderful. 
 raw milk!

to mix our meals and cretan culinary experience up again...for dinner, a michelin-star chef cooked for us. we went to Avli, which i think we all fell in love with during our walking tour the previous day. everywhere you looked, the attention to detail was creatively inspiring - arina and i took notes to decorate our apartment with jugs filled will preserved veggies and dried legumes and tables with glass covering to showcase dried beans, pasta and flowers. we had a free night for dinner so we had all made reservations. 5 of us had asked if we could have the chef create a tasting menu for us, but the restaurant put our reservation with the other students. a little bit of confusion, but it worked out and we made up our own tasting menu off of the a la carte menu rather than the pre-fixe one that the others had asked for when they made their reservation. i wanted to order everything and luckily, everyone was up for ordering a lot and sharing everything. luckily, i was with 5 people who not only love to eat and drink, but are incredibly knowledge about cooking, restaurant life, all types of food products, and wine. i am constantly impressed by them and learning from them. warning: we splurged, spoiled ourselves, and ordered a lot. first, we started with the appetizers: fresh mushrooms and apakia/smoked pork in anthogalo sauce and balsamic vinegar, 

cold tomato soup with cubes made from olive paste with a slice of saganaki cheese in phyllo, 

marinated octopus on a bed of fava bean puree, capers and lime and balsamic glaze,

 beef carpacio with grapefruit, avocado, arugula and a poppyseed vinigrette. 

then we had scallops in the shell in a melissa and saffron sauce, 

next was fresh lobster from the libyan sea with pasta. the plates were emptied, cleared and we were brought a dish of warm water with a floating flower to wash our messy fingers. 

after our "spoon" of pureed strawberry and watermelon in a flute, came our main courses: boubouristi snails with rosemary and vinegar, 

sea bass fillet with olives, cherry tomatoes, pepper and white wine on a bed of arugula and spinach

 and grilled giant shrimp with garlic, fennel and courgettes. 

the wines were incredible - we were offered the book ( in which alvi has 460 different wine labels, one of the largest wine cellars in greece) to choose from and arina, so bravely tackled. we wanted to try something new, something greek and something that didn't taste like the puckery vinegary wines we had been served thus far on the trip. we started with a dry white wine from santorini, made with asyrtiko grapes. then we had a 2008 viognier. next a 2003 Nemea. the waiter was really sweet in his suggestions to pair with the food and came over with multiple bottles for us to choose from. he even steered us away from ordering popi's favorite recommendation as it cost nearly 200 euro! greek wines has a long history and is a big part of their culture. it is usual for everyone to have their own vineyard - however large or small - so it was natural for us to be tasting a lot of the home made kinds. the conditions in greece are perfect for grape growing, and crete produces 20% of greek wines, so i would highly recommend scoping out some greek wines during the next visit to the store (i have lots of pics of greek wine labels if anyone wants suggestions!)

i had a really good night with all the food, sitting outside in the courtyard on a warm night, and especially with the company. i think i expected a little more from a michelin rated chef, a little disappointed, but i liked the variety of the food, having the opportunity to choose what we wanted to eat, and the flavor combinations - the menu all sounded delicious. i liked introducing new flavors onto my palate - even though emily said that the pork and mushrooms tasted like a hot dog with bbq sauce, then yes, yes it did. and like the general manager said, mum's cooking is always the best, simple and made with love, my mum's gazpacho is better than this tomato soup. but it was still something i haven't tasted in a while. i also welcomed all the seafood into my belly. yummm. the general manager came and sat down with us after the meal and was very sweet, hospitable and was interested in talking with us. he ordered us a bottle of wine, which upon tasting, instantly reminded me of the wild berries we used to pick during the summer in donegal. 

on our last day, we had a free day and 9 of us took one of the vans and traveled a little over 2 hours - asher is an impressively skilled driver at manipulating the cretan roads - to the western coast of the island to a beaauuutiful greek beach called elafonisi. we stopped half way in a little town and bought freshly baked brown and white loaves of bread - still warm from the oven - from a bakery and then we bought tomatoes, cucumber, two types of cheeses, black olives and fresh fruit from a little grocer. all locally grown. we pulled pieces of bread apart and ate on the beach. grains of sand in the mouth were all part of the meal. it was so simple, and we could eat as much or as little as we liked. the "palate of the sea" was various shades of turquoise, as clear as you could see. it was ICY cold, but refreshing, and the saltiness stung my pale irish-white skin. 

we arrived back in time to quickly shower off the beach from our sun-toasted bodies and join the group for the hotel’s bbq. the owner’s mum and dad were behind the grill and serving us fresh food from their garden. the cretan music started and so did the dancing. it was a perfect way to end the trip. 

in conclusion, we definitely dappled in an array of cretan cuisine. bravo. grande, creta, grande. 

yes i take a lot of notes and a lot of pictures. i like it. i like it a lot. 

ps, world's longest post ever, yes?