Tuesday, November 14, 2017

P is for Porto

You know how a couple years ago suddenly everyone was going to Iceland? We all drank the Northern Lights kool-aid. Well last year, the expats of England all went to Porto and I was like 'wait what?' and missed the boat. Fortunately, so did one of my expat friends so we popped on over to Porto for a weekend of sun and, of course, port!

Obviously I was expecting to have port and a bunch of pastel de natas but I was not prepared for peacocks. We spent part our afternoon walking around the botanical gardens and I was shocked by the shear number of peacocks hanging out! I'd never seen a full blown peacock in person, just individual feathers. They are beautiful and majestic and at one point, I was so close, I was worried they were like swans and might attack me (they didn't but I'm sure that's because they're use to people).

Here are some of the other places we went, things we ate and other things we drank!
  • Tapabento- This was recommended by a friend who had previously been to Porto (like I said, we were late to the party). You absolutely need a reservation here but it's not a super fancy place. We were able to email them ahead of time for a table while we were in town. The menu was primarily seafood but it was delicious. 
  • Letraria - This place is a diamond in the ruff. Located on a quiet residential street, it's the gateway to a magical beer garden complete with an orange tree, wild strawberries (maybe they're not wild if they've been intentionally planted...), mint bushes and adorable cats bouncing around in tall grass. Oh and their beer selection is great. Plus the staff are very friendly and gave us multiple samples to decide which beer we should taste in full.
  • Franceshina - The typical sandwich of Porto, this is a thick sandwich stuffed with two types of meat and cheese, covered in more cheese and then doused in a tomato-tasting sauce. It's like a grilled cheese on steroids doused in soup. And it's amazing. Oh and it's called franceshina but we ate it at a restaurant called Franceshina and it was served by a waiter named Franceshina--just kidding, the waiter part didn't happen. The place was very quiet but the staff were very accommodating. They gave us sauteed mushrooms as an appetizer fo' free and then we finished the meal with a sample of port, to "help with digestion". They also had Wimbledon on so that didn't hurt either.
  • Port - Cue all the port in Porto jokes! There's a stretch of wineries along the south bank of the river (generally referred to as Gaia) where you can choose from any number of places to do a tasting. We selected Calem, just out of convenience of time and price. After an opportunity to view their museum, we were taken on a tour of the winery. They don't bottle the port there but they do have the giant barrels and vats of port, ready and waiting to be bottled off site. 
  • Zenith - In an effort to avoid super touristy places, we searched for 'hipster places in Porto' and Zenith popped up for brunch and cocktails. To be fair, it also appeared on a TripAdvisor list for top cafes in Porto. But for real, it's very hipster. We enjoyed smoothie bowls (#healthyaf) and shared sweet potato toast with avocado (because can you even have brunch without an avocado and not be a hipster?) and poached egg. We also saw yogurt parfaits and pancakes go by that made us second guess our choice of smoothie bowl. 
  • Nutellandia - This magical place is just what it sounds like: a land of nutella. They had nutella milkshakes, nutella ice cream, and my favorite, Pastel de Nata (traditional egg custard pastry of Portugal) with nutella on it. And no, they don't have wifi, just enjoy the nutella. 
After all that eating, we opted for a nice, lazy beach day but unfortunately, the beaches were past the wall of mist so it wasn't very sunny or warm. But there were still loads of people on the beaches and we sat at a cafe sipping beers next to the water before heading back to the sunny side of town, pictured below.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

J'taime Paris

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Paris. If you asked me where I saw myself at 25, I saw myself living in Paris and working for some sort of magazine or publication, stopping at my favorite bakery on my way home every day for a pastry. Even in my 10 year-old brain, I realized going to the bakery every day was a little too much. But still. The bakery was an integral part of my brain.

But alas, I never learned French nor did I go into the magazine business. I guess you can stretch blog writing as being similarly fulfilling and I do live abroad so good job, self, 10 year-old you would be proud.

I first went to Paris when I was 13 as part of a group trip with my grandparents. It was an amazing trip and we hit a lot of the big cultural points in Paris like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Arc de Triomph. But going back as an adult on my own was a different kind of experience. Still not speaking French, I was armed with a few weeks of DuoLingo, enough to read a menu and maybe ask for 'eat in or take-away'. Nevertheless, on a dreary November weekend, I literally walked all over Paris and curated my go-to list for when my sister and I went back in April (with far better weather).

1. Les Deux Moulins- Part of my French obsession was the movie Moulin Rouge. I can quote that movie and sing those songs inside and out! So of course, a stop by the Moulin Rouge was necessary. Nearby is the cafe Les Deux Moulins which was featured in another film about Paris, Amelie. There's a giant poster of it inside as well. My limited amount of French got me as far as ordering a meat and cheese board but using the price as a gauge of size meant I got a monstrous board of delicacies. And an equally large quantity of wine. Sitting their solo, chomping through a baguette and meat and cheese was actually pretty ideal. Just a quick stop between Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeure.




2. L'Duree- Technically I first went here in London, they have a location near Harrods. But I brought my sister here to experience the delicate treats. There are so many different flavors, you can't just default to pink and hope for raspberry (not that that would be a bad choice either). It always makes me think of Marie Antoinette with their color, sweetness and petite yet over the top appearance.



3. Cafe Angelina- Now we're pushing into the tourist traps. There's a restaurant portion and a sweets counter where you can take your treats to-go and enjoy in the Trivoli Gardens across the street. I've done both and sitting in left me feeling like I was at a doll tea party, mostly because the chairs and tables felt small and delicate. The must-have here is the hot chocolate (also available at the take-away counter) which is thick and rich, almost like drinking chocolate. Their pastries are spectacular and almost too good to eat--almost.


4. Stohrer - This bakery has a special place in my heart as it was founded by a Polish pastry chef when Marie Leszczynska married King Louis XV and was the royal baker during the 1730's. The pan du chocolat e almondes was the best croissant I've ever had (chocolate croissant with almonds).


Most of these treats are perfect to enjoy along the Seine or part of a picnic on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower. Ah, Paris...



Monday, November 6, 2017

Guy Fawkes Cake

Until the movie V for Vendetta came out, had you ever heard of Guy Fawkes? Me neither. But in the UK, he has his own holiday. Sort of. I'm pretty sure it's just an excuse for a big bonfire and fireworks in the middle of autumn but I'll take it!

 
Now the holiday is Bonfire Night so to remember, remember the 5th of November, there are bonfires and fireworks and mulled wine and even a BBC special, aptly called Gunpowder, with Kit Harrington around the plot to blow up Parliament (that's what Guy Fawkes is known for). According to Wikipedia, the bonfire is to symbolize the burning of Guy Fawkes so he's not exactly popular for his plot but history seems to have eased the betrayal into a more harmonious attitude.



But according to the Joy of Cooking, there's also a cake! Handily on the opposite page from fruitcake, this is described as a popular Northern cake, lightly sweetened and a bit like gingerbread. I have't met anyone yet who has heard of this cake and they seem to think I made it up for this holiday but really! It's in there! Also, apparently treacle isn't in fashion yet so I substituted with 1/3 cup golden syrup and 1/3 maple syrup and extra brown sugar. You could use a full substitute of maple syrup as well (according to the internet).

 
Butter is melted (can I get an 'amen'?) with the molasses (or chosen substitute) before being mixed in with the dry ingredients and spices. The batter is made even thinner with milk. The cake is not very thick and comes out a little sticky but still delicious. Joy recommends eating with some whipped topping and I concur. Although if you're out watching fireworks, plain is just as good. 

 
Recipe
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup molasses (treacle) 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2/3 cup milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8 baking pan. Set aside.
  2. Melt the butter and molasses together in a small saucepan. Remove from heat once the butter has melted, stirring to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda, sugar, and spices. 
  4. Alternate mixing the milk and the butter-molasses mixture into the flour mixture until combined. The batter will be thin.
  5. Pour the batter into the greased pan.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through. The cake will be thin and spongy. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

My dear friends in America. You know how important pumpkin spice everything is to the truest of basic chicks and if you're in New England, you know very well that pumpkin spice is the sign that fall is upon us. It's the beacon for chunky sweaters, knee-high boots, black puffy vests, plaid, apple picking and beautiful foliage.

My dear friends in the UK. I've probably done a poor job explaining the religion that is pumpkin spice and why it's so sad that it's lacking in my life here. You say "but you can wear chunky sweaters and plaid and knee-high boots and black puffy vests while apple picking here, what's the problem?". The problem is you can stick a Christmas tree in your living room and wear red and green in July but it doesn't make it Christmas! The same goes for pumpkin spice. You can wear your Boston-fall-finest in England and step on a stray leaf but it's just not the same!!!

 
I've spent the last month looking for canned pumpkin. I know it exists here. I've seen it on the bottom shelf of the 'American' section of the Tesco. But for some reason, when I truly desire it, I can't find it. And now, I have a pumpkin problem. Behold! Pumpkin! And miracles of miracles, this country has finally realized the market of expats obsessed with pumpkin spice and they have given us: Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal. Rationally, I know this is normal oatmeal with sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves BUT it's the principle of the matter. I fell into the marketing trap and purchased the Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal. Because when it comes to fall, I'm as basic as they come.

 
There have been a number of pumpkin recipes gracing this blog (and many others) over the fall years but this is a first! Because what's more basic than pumpkin spice? Brunch. And so, we have pumpkin spice brunch for one, on the balcony, overlooking the pseudo-foliaged park. Because I will make fall a thing!

 

This recipe made 6 palm-sized pancakes and were perfect with a little maple syrup. No eggs or butter required either! Flour, spices, baking powder and a little bit of brown sugar are mixed in one bowl. Pumpkin and milk in another. They come together to create a beautiful orange batter which is cooked in a lightly oiled frying pan to make pancakes. The end. 

 
Recipe

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salte
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup milk
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through sugar). Add more or less cinnamon or nutmeg as you like.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the milk and pumpkin puree.
  3. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine until you can  no longer see any flour.
  4. In a lightly oiled and heated pan, cook the pancakes as usual. They may not have as many bubbles as normal pancakes so check the bottom after a few minutes and flip until cooked through.
  5. Top with maple syrup. You could also add pecans or chocolate chips to the batter for extra flavor.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

My Fair Verona

Some of my favorite 'life journey' movies take place in Italy: the 'Eat' of Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun, both amazing find-yourself-movies and both involve eating whatever you want. So naturally, before I went to Verona, I did some movie research by watching Letters to Juliet and watching Italian week on The Great British Bake-Off. Beyond that, I didn't know what to expect of Verona so went with a group and was not disappointed. Pretty much everything you eat in Italy will be amazing but if you find yourself in the beautiful and quiet city of Verona, definitely check out some of these sites and restaurants!

1) Ristorante Pizzeria San Matteo Church  - It's pretty hard to pick a bad restaurant in Verona when it comes to food. That may apply to all of Italy. But we closed our eyes and picked random restaurants all weekend long and the food was great. Ristorante Pizzeria San Matteo Church though was a recommended place for pizza on the cheap. Some of our group were splurging on a posh dinner so the rest of us elected for a plebeian experience instead. Our group was initially 12 and that was the overestimated number. That quickly grew to 17...like as we sat in the restaurant and more people met us until we had to be like 'you can't sit with us!'. But the restaurant took it like a champ, accommodating us all. The pizza was amazing all around with everyone finishing their pizzas (they also have gluten-free options). There were three pages of pizzas to choose from so I went for the San Matteo because when in Rome/San Matteo's! The restaurant is inside a converted church so I was expecting some kind of dim churchy atmosphere but it is exactly the opposite. While there are some pieces of the original structure exposed, the walls are painted pink with smokey mirrors where the church windows once were. It's also decorated with 80's style technicolor masterpieces and ceramic/glass/metal sculptures so that was a bit odd. The waitstaff was very nice and patient with our large group and the wine was flowing so if you're in Verona, definitely check it out! It's a little hard to find but on a side alley near Porta Borsari.

2) Sfogliatella - If you're a fan of The Great British Bake-Off, you will recognize this pastry from Italian week which was the week I left for my trip. Un seigno de Dio! And if you're not a fan, get on it. This was the signature challenge, one I will not be attempting, made of many layers of thin pastry and stuffed with chocolate or creme or cheese. Since it's so time-intensive, it didn't seem to be available in all bakeries or shops but I did find it at Tarantella Foods, in the shadow of the Arena. They serve other food there as well, not just pastries, and have English menus. The woman working there asked me 'how is your height?!' when I walked in which was endearing coming from a small Italian woman.


3) Adige Rafting - For a unique view of the city, we took a rafting trip down the Adige. Taking a bus outside the city, we then paddled and floated our way back to the city center, getting a history lesson along the way. The guides were very fun and we had a little race at the end (my boat won, for the record) and it was not a strenuous activity at all with only a couple of rapids when going under some of the bridges. Don't forget to wave 'ciao!' to the people on the river banks!
 
4) Giardini Giusti - I went on this trip with my choir so we had a couple of impromptu performances, one of which was in the Giardini Giusti. Complete with fountains (one has a large family of turtles living in it, another a family of koy fish), a labyrinth, old chapel, look out point, it's a beautiful gem that's quiet and charming. There was a wedding photoshoot happening before we started singing and the setting couldn't have been more perfect. While I can't promise there will be a lovely choir singing when you visit, it's definitely worth taking a rest on one of the stone benches here.

5) Casa di Giulietta - Prior to my trip to Verona, I watched the Amanda Seyfried romcom Letters to Juliet which naturally, takes place in Verona. The premise is Amanda Seyfried is in Verona with her fiance and visits Juliet's balcony (which is not authentic but was installed in the 30's for tourism #itworked) but finds the courtyard filled with women writing letters to Juliet herself. She then sees someone collect them and discovers The Juliet Club who collects and responds to all the letters left for Juliet. Well, it's a romcom so Amanda Seyfried answers a letter she finds hidden in the wall from 50 years ago and falls down a romantic rabbit hole around Italy to reunite lost loves. Well, the wall does exist and people DO leave notes, often attaching them with gum which is unfortunate (and not allowed), and The Juliet Club does answer them (allegedly, I'm anxiously awaiting my reply!). People also leave love locks and touch the statue of Juliet for luck in love. Okay, they grope the statue because it's specifically her boob you're meant to touch for luck. Jury's out on the effectiveness of that tradition as well, FYI.

I was only able to spend a weekend in Verona but the city is an easy bus ride away from Lake Garda and a train ride away from Venice or Bologna. Adventure awaits!!