Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy

For no particular reason, I'm coming out of blogging retirement. :) Occasionally, I will post photos of places I've enjoyed visiting. These are shots of Gran Paradiso, Italy's first national park and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Before Italy was unified into a single country in 1861, these lands were the personal hunting grounds of King Victor Emmanuel. The king's grandson donated the land to Italy in 1920 and the park was established in 1922. As you can see, it's quite a drive to the peaks. :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

More Toledo Photos

Like the pictures from the previous post, I took these photos during the first week of June 2011 in Toledo, Spain. It's a beautiful, walkable city, and it was my first experience of a walled city center closed to cars, the ramifications of which I hadn't fully considered prior to my arrival.

I did everything wrong in Toledo. My sense of direction is awful, and I arrived in Toledo late at night assuming that I could just take a cab to my hostel. Not so--oops! My cab dropped me off at the city wall and I had to try to find my way to the hostel (deep in the heart of the medina) with only a useless map, vague verbal directions from my cabbie, and my own pathetically rusty Spanish skills. Total disaster, especially because it was early in my travels and I hadn't yet figured out how to streamline my backpack to keep it to a manageable weight. I staggered around under my heavy bag asking for directions from people in bars, passersby, and finally a very kind concierge in a hotel in which I was not a guest. !!! The merciful concierge printed me a map and gave me more verbal instructions and I finally, FINALLY, found my destination.

After that night and my subsequent experiences in Morocco, sloppy arrival plans are a mistake I will never make again. When I arrive in a new place now, I make sure I know in advance how to get where I need to go, and whenever possible, I arrive during daylight so that I'm not stumbling around in the dark alone. But those were lessons I had to learn the hard way--as so many of the important ones are. ;) Travel's like anything else: the more of it you do, the better you get. At this point in the trip, there was a lot left to learn!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Toledo, Spain

I was just looking through some pictures from the trip and decided to post another handful, even though it's been forever since I've added anything to the blog. I loved visiting Toledo, Spain, which is located about 45 miles south of Madrid--an easy 30-minute high-speed train ride. Toledo's walled city center is a World Heritage Site because of its significance to the Roman and Spanish empires, and the architecture and nearby countryside are gorgeous. It was such an enjoyable visit that I returned several months later. My pictures hardly do it justice, but here's a peek. :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Travel Map!

I just found, a cool site that allows you to plot a travel path and track mileage and stops. The map below shows my trail, which stretched through 68 stops covering more than 21,000 miles and 34,000 kilometers. What a crazy fun adventure it was. :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Panna Cotta Recipe

My favorite Italian restaurants were neighborhood gathering spots. If the food was good enough for local Italians, that was a dead giveaway that it would make me happy too. :) I found fantastic, out-of-the-way places in various cities--Florence, Siena, Pisa, Bologna, and an especially memorable one in Turin. There, the menu was a half sheet of computer paper printed with two or three appetizers, two or three first and second courses, and a couple of desserts. It was quintessentially Italian--they focused on a few dishes that relied on local, fresh ingredients, and they served each dish to perfection. My tuna tagliatelle with peas and parsley in a fish stock was great, but dessert stole the show: my first experience of panna cotta.

Panna cotta is a rich cream pudding flavored with vanilla and sugar, often adorned with a fruit puree. It's simple and delicate but insanely delicious--so much so that I vowed to learn to make it at home, although I was dreading what I imagined would be difficult and time-consuming preparation. I was wrong--it's quick and fairly easy to make, and it turns out great every time. Here is the recipe I use:

1 cup whole milk
2  3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt

Pour the milk into a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the milk. Let it stand for 10 minutes. While waiting on the milk, fill the bottom of a large bowl with ice water and place a smaller bowl inside the big bowl. Place the cream in a measuring container (or any other container that allows for easy pouring), then add the vanilla to the cream. Set out half a dozen wine glasses.

Heat the milk/gelatin mixture over high heat, stirring constantly until the gelatin is hot and the temperature hits 135 degrees (it should take about 90 seconds). Pull the mixture off the heat and stir in sugar and salt until dissolved (about a minute).

Pour the cream into the milk, stirring constantly. Then transfer it all into the smaller bowl sitting in the pool of ice water. Stir the mixture frequently until it's a little thickened and the temperature cools to 50 degrees (around 10 minutes). Strain the mixture through a strainer and into a measuring cup or some other vessel that will allow for easy pouring. Add the mixture to the wine glasses and then cover them with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. After it's set, before serving, you can top the mixture with berry puree, whole berries, or crushed cookies. The panna cotta will last for a day or so in the refrigerator.

Enjoy! :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

La Boqueria Market, Barcelona

Barcelona's La Boqueria is one of the liveliest and best food markets in all of Europe--or anywhere, for that matter. If you can handle the crush of people, you can sample olives as mild as butter, coconut-pineapple juice so viscous it sticks to the lid of the cup in an inch-thick gravity-resistant film, and a mind-boggling array of delectable (but really scary looking) deep-fried sea creatures. I got mugged in Barcelona and it really threw me off my game for a few days, but a few meals in the Boqueria just about redeemed the city for me. Here's a peek.

Interior of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

This is the most interesting building I have ever set foot in, bar none. It's been under construction for more than a century, since 1882, and it's not expected to be completed for another 30 years or so. I hope that I get to see it in its finished form someday, but until then, this is what the interior looks like.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Recipe for Slovakian Cabbage Soup

I've been home from my trip for several months, and now that I'm back in my own kitchen, I've had fun trying to recreate some of the foods I tried while I was traveling. One of the tastiest and most memorable dishes I ate was a cabbage soup in a traditional restaurant in Bratislava, Slovakia. I visited Bratislava in September and the weather was still hot and humid, even after dark. The last thing I felt like eating was a steaming bowl of soup, but I had befriended a Brit who had been living in Slovakia for a decade, and he insisted that the cabbage soup was the single most unmissable dish in those parts.

Over time, I had learned to pay attention to that kind of advice, and I am so glad that I did! I wasn't at all sure what to expect--I had never heard of cabbage soup and was thinking that perhaps it would be some thin lettuce-y concoction, maybe in a chicken stock. My hopes were not high. I was totally surprised to be served a dish thick with beef and tomatoes that had a shocking spiciness. In fact, I had no idea that traditional foods from that part of the world are often very hot. Who knew???

The soup was out of this world--incredibly tasty, but almost painfully hot. When I came home, I scoured the internet for recipes and found that they were almost all some variation on the one below. I adjusted it so that it's still hot but edible (to my taste, at least). The recipe I'm printing below calls for an entire 2 ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce, which is about a third of the amount that the original recipes require. This way, you can still get a sense of the heat, and you can add more spice if you like. Also, if you spill, my variation of the recipe is slightly less likely to burn a hole through your countertop. :) Either way, I have found my new go-to soup for when I have a cold--this is delicious and it is guaranteed to clear the sinuses! Beware, though--it makes enough to feed an army. Next week, I'll post my recipe for homemade panna cotta, which I loved in Italy. :)

Cabbage Soup
2 pounds beef soup bones
1 cup chopped onion
3 carrots, pared and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 pounds beef short ribs
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
8 cups water
8 cups cabbage, chopped (for reference, I used a medium head of cabbage and had way more than 8 cups)
2 1-pound cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt (you might want to go easy on this--I did)
2 to 6 ounces of Tabasco sauce, depending on taste
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons sugar
1 15-ounce can of sauerkraut

Place beef bones, onion, carrots, garlic, bay leaf, and short ribs in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with thyme and paprika. Roast uncovered at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until meat is brown. Transfer meat and vegetables into a large kettle. Using a small amount of water, scrape the roasting pan bits into the kettle. Add water, cabbage, tomatoes, salt, and Tabasco. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 90 minutes. Skim off any fat. Add parsley, lemon juice, sugar, and sauerkraut. Cook uncovered for another hour. Remove the bones and short ribs from the kettle and let them cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones and cut the meat into cubes. Return the meat to the kettle and cook for another 5 minutes. Makes 12 servings.

Stained Glass Windows, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Exterior Sculptures, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona