Friday, April 15, 2011

Unchartered Waters

I am a baker if anything so living in Italy and learning to cook for myself has been quite an experience.  I am proud to say...with the help of my knowledgeable roommates...I am coming into my own - cooking wise that is.  It has been so fun learning and experimenting so I just wanted to share a little about my successes.


Rosemary Chicken, Garlic Rosemary Potatoes, and Red Pepper Broccoli:  This was really my first attempt cooking a full meal in Italy in the smallest kitchen known to man.  I frantically was cooking all three at once on tiny burners and an oven that only worked on the grill setting.  I was very happy with myself :)


Baked Parmesan Zucchini Sticks:  I swear I am going to turn into a zucchini from all that I have consumed.  I stumbled across this recipe on the web and needed to try it!!!




My attempt at plating haha


3 large zucchini, sliced longways, halved and cut into sticks 
2 eggs 
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs 
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 
1 tsp dried oregano 
1/2 tsp dried garlic powder 
Olive oil spray 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray olive oil spray on large baking sheet. Set aside. 
Slice zucchini into long planks. Cut planks in half then slice long into sticks.In large shallow bowl, whisk together 2 eggs, set aside. In large shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, 
Parmesan cheese, oregano and garlic powder. 
Working with 3-4 zucchini sticks at a time, start breading process by dunking and completely covering 
zucchini with egg mixture. Take zucchini sticks out of egg mixture, allowing an extra egg to drip off, and 
place into breadcrumb mixture. Gently coat the zucchini stick completely with breadcrumb mixture. Place 
breaded zucchini stick onto baking sheet. 
Continue this process until all zucchini sticks are breaded and on baking sheet. Spray each zucchini stick 
with olive oil spray and place into 425 degree oven. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Using a spatula, flip each zucchini stick and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting:  For my roommates 21st birthday, I went back to my roots and backed for the first time here in Italy.  It is soo hard to find some of the ingredients here but after making a run to two stores I was able to get pretty much everything.  I bought Betty Crocker Devils Food Cake and added cut/crushed chocolate chunks from a candy bar.  The frosting was the fun part - and if I do say so myself, pretty darn good!!

Two sticks of butter
1- 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter (depending on how peanut buttery you want it - I did 1 1/2)
4 tablespoons of cream or milk (I did 2 cream and 2 milk)
2 cups of powdered sugar
Salt to taste


Soften the butter and whip the butter and peanut butter until fluffy.  Add two tablespoons of milk.  Add powdered sugar and stir as you go, adding just a little at a time.  Add salt to taste - the salt really finished it off.  Frost cupcakes and add shaved chocolate on top :)

It was so easy and so yummy!!





Monday, April 11, 2011

Praha and the Angry People That Live There

I am officially the worst blogger ever.


Prague was never really on my radar - I mean, I heard AMAZING things about it, but I never thought I would make it there.  My roommate randomly was looking up organized trips through this travel website and bing, bam, boom I was on my way to Prague...on a bus...for a sixteen hour ride.  The bus ride was downright painful, but we finally arrived in the gorgeous and freezing Czech Republic city.  We had just enough time to drop off our bags and freshen up before we headed out to explore.

We only had two full days in Prague and we wanted to see as much as physically possible and I'll give you a glimpse of just a few of the many things we saw and were lucky to experience.

John Lennon Wall:  A once normal, blank wall is now covered in poems, art, and Beatles lyrics all inspired by John Lennon.  Lennon was a hero and inspiration to the pacifist youth in Prague and during the 1980s they used the wall dedicated to Lennon to express their frustrations with their government and hopes for the future.  Now tourists who come and visit can leave their mark on the famous wall




Prague Castle:  Not to sound corny, but this is the most magical thing I have ever seen in my entire life.  It took some leg work to make it inside the castle walls and it took even more work to climb up the central tower, but it was all worth it to take in the view of the gorgeous building and the magnificent view from the top.  My roommates and I were in shock and I was even speechless, which almost never happens.







Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square: This clock was voted one of the most disappointing historical sites in the world haha.  It is a gorgeous clock that chimes each hour as moving wooden puppets dance.  The puppets don't dance so much as they turn side to side or raise an arm up and down.  Disappointments aside, it is still a breathtakingly beautiful clock.


Prague Zoo:  The zoo is one of the top ten zoos in the world!!  After a big flood that hit Prague and destroyed most of the zoo, it has been dramatically redesigned and it is so cool.  The plethora of animals they have are overwhelming - we went to the farm, the sahara, the arctic, africa, indonesia, the mountains, and so much more.  The animal enclosures are the best thing about the Prague Zoo - the animals are crazy close to you and they even get to have beautiful open spaces to roam.



Charles Bridge:  The Charles Bridge is an old gothic bridge that crosses the Vltava River.  One our first days there we climbed to the top of one of the bridge's towers and took in great views of Old Town Prague - I climb far too much stuff when I travel. It wasn't until our last day there that we realized we had never actually walked across the entire bridge so we got over there as quickly as possible to span the bridge, take in the view, and take ridiculous amounts of pictures of the numerous statues that flank both sides.  Everything about Prague was magical and this was no exception.  Bundled up in our hats, scarves, and gloves my roommates and I made are way across the bridge stopping to look at street art and saying goodbye to our new favorite city.



Prague was so unbelievably amazing, even with the angry people that live there - I swear they hate life haha!  The sites and the food were ridiculous and I am so so glad I was able to experience this city for myself.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gaudi...you crazy!!

My dad said there was a theme to my blog...food.  It wasn't until I sat here preparing to start another post and began writing about the amazing croissants in Barcelona that I realized he was right, but I don't really care.  I love Europe and I love the food in Europe.  So back to the croissants - I, a chocolate croissant lover, nearly died upon stumbling into this cute little bakery near our hostel.  The chocolate croissant was still warm and was not only chocolate filled but was also half dipped in hardened chocolate.  The croissants in Italy all have a lemon glaze on them, which kind of ruins the whole experience for me, so finding these perfect croissants was a jackpot moment and a perfect way to start my morning before exploring Barcelona and the crazy work of Gaudi.






 
















Park Guel
is a famous tourist attraction in Barcelona; however, there needs to be a whole new word invented for what this place is, because park doesn't even begin to describe this crazy, beautiful, magical site.  The almost four hours that we spent there was the perfect amount of time to explore every inch of it, which we did.  We went from one end of the park to the other, climbed the two highest peaks looking down on all of Barcelona, took a million photos, and soaked up the sun.  Either Gaudi was actually crazy or some kind of sick genius.  The architecture, mosaics, plant life, and layout seemed like they were designed by ten different people and were all beautiful in their own unique way.  There were manmade rock formations that looked like stalactites and stalagmites, buildings covered in mosaics that looked like gingerbread houses, sunbursts of mosaics, anything you can think of covered in mosaics, and the most gorgeous gardens.  I was in awe everywhere we turned.  Leisurely exploring this dreamworld was an experience I will never forget.  


The Sagrada Familia is an enormous church that started construction in the early 1880s and will not be completed until 2026.  Gaudi designed this ridiculous, jaw-dropping building and his work has been carried out ever since his death in 1926.  We exited from the underground metro to a view of one side of the basilica.  It took my eyes forever to focus what I was seeing in front of me.  It almost looks like a dark blob upon first look, but you have take the time too look at all of the individual designs to process the scene, otherwise it is too overwhelming.  We made our way around the entire building and much like Park Guel, it looked like it was designed by multiple people.  The other side of the church is dramatically different from the back.  It was lighter in color and I could make out the figures with much more ease.


The Sagrada Familia is a very different kind of beautiful, but it is undeniable that it is one of the most beautiful things in the world.  We just kind of laughed as we took it all in because it is just so CRAZY.  We joked that he just threw in the weirdest things imaginable to mess with people.  "You think you have me figured out...just wait...I'm going to put a bunch of fruit on top" - we imagined this is what Gaudi would say today.  I can't wait to see what it will look like when it is finally completed and even then I probably be even more confused than I am now.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Grazie! Thank You! Dammit! Gracias!

On a bright and early Thursday morning, two of my roommates and I set off for our first country hopping experience.  He were headed to Barcelona and couldn't be more excited.  Luckily we had a smooth and successful day of traveling and arrived in the beautiful beach city in Spain.  It was actually really surprising how easy it was to go from one country to another...I was waiting for the double and triple checking of my passport and the baggage searches but we just walked right off the airplane and headed off to our hostel.  A train, rail switch, and a couple of metro stops later we were en route to drop off our bags and search for food.  Unfortunately my map reading abilities are not as good as my metro skills and we ended up a little confused and lost.  Three girls with backpacks standing around a giant foldable map scream lost tourist.  We must have amazing karma though, because the sweetest old man came to us and wanted to help.  One of my roommates knows some Spanish which helped and we just handed him the address to the hostel; he starting walking away, looked back at us, and motioned us to follow him.  This angel of a man delivered us to the entrance of our hostel and we could not have been more grateful!

We checked in, freshened up, and went searching for anything that resembled food.  The area around our hostel was so cute and had so much character.  We walked down the main street, lined with quirky clothing stores, candy shops, creperies, and restaurants.  He hopped into one of the restaurants, looked at the menu, and were so grateful to see something other than pasta and pizza listed.  We ordered patatas bravas and they were so unbelievably amazing!!!!  Spain is known for this tapas dish of cubed and fried potatoes covered in a spicy majo sauce.  My mouth is salivating just thinking about them.  All in all we had patatas bravas about four times while we were there because it is so good.  I'm going to find the recipe and try to make them myself.

Delicious!!!
After some dinner and a much needed nap, the rest of our traveling buddies, Matt and his friend from Florence arrived, and we all got ready for our first night out in Barcelona.  Our destination was the Dow Jones Bar, and after a half hour of walking...in heels...we made it.  This themed bar lists all of their drinks and shots on television screens with their fluctuating prices.  The more popular the drink, the more expensive it is.  The less popular ie the grosser it is, the cheaper the price.  Caity, my roommate, and I really wanted pina coladas; they were on the pricier side so after we ordered, the price shot up to six euro.  Anytime a drink reaches six euro, a siren goes off, the market crashes, and all the prices drop like crazy.  We got a round of applause from the whole bar.  The atmosphere was so fun and it was great just hanging out, people watching.  We all wanted to do a group shot so we all made our way to the bar and looked at the names; the names were inventive...from Blue Smurf to a Gummy Bear.  Somehow we all decided to take this shot called a Bearfucker.  We asked what was in it but the bartender said no asking what's in it - if you like the name, you order it.  The brave souls that we are, we ordered the Bearfucker and stood in silence as she poured tequila, Jack Daniels, and Southern Comfort into the tiny glasses.  I am proud to say, I took the shot like a champ.  That thing could put hair on your chest.  I did it once and will never do it again.  Barcelona day one down, two to go.    
   
One of our roommates (a redhead) couldn't come so we replaced her for some photo opps

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chocolate Festival in Florence


My roommates had yet to go to Florence so after our two days in Siena we caught a bus and headed further North.  We were so lucky to visit during this particular weekend because the CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL was in town.  In front of the Santa Croce tents upon tents were set up with all different kinds of chocolate.  There were so many different flavors and options.  Chocolate covered fruit, hot chocolate with rum, weed flavored chocolate, chocolate molded into tools and high heels, and solid blocks of chocolate are just a few of the many options in front of us.  I personally opted for two giant squares of extra dark chocolate - it was so amazing!!  It was honestly the best chocolate I have ever tasted in my entire life.  My roommates got the hot chocolate with rum and we all swear that the hot chocolate was straight melted chocolate; it was so rich and crazy good, but far too strong in the rum department for my taste.  The adventurous people that we are, we all tried a tiny piece of the weed flavored chocolate, which honestly just tasted really weird.  All in all it was such a fabulous afternoon, so much so that I felt like I was in the movie Chocolat...if only Johnny Depp would have shown up.  

Second Day in Siena





Campo



On our second day in Siena, we had a fabulous guided tour from an entertaining woman with glittery eyeliner and a furry jacket.  The tour was so interesting and we sure began with an usual start.  We went to the church that houses St. Catherine's head and right thumb.  St. Catherine is responsible for bringing the pope from Avignon back to Rome.  Because of this courageous act, she was canonized and is glorified.  St. Catherine was from Siena and when she died Siena, Rome, and Venice wanted her body laid to rest in their cities.  The pope of the time decided to split up her body and divide it amongst the three of them and Siena just happened to get assigned her head and thumb.  Her head was in a glass case and covered by a mask of some sort.  It was really tiny and kind of creepy...same with the thumb.   You could say it was a very unique experience.  My roommate said she half expected to see her standing there smiling with a thumbs up.  Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures because the church she is housed in is still used for regular services.
After the church we made our way back to Compo and learned about the Palio.  The Palio is a horse race that is held twice a year in circular “square”. There are 17 contrades or districts in Siena and they compete in the race against each other.  The contrades are very competitive with one another, especially during the race.  The jockeys can’t whip the horses until the last lap but can whip each other anytime before or during the race.  The contrade that wins is allowed weeks of celebrations and bragging rights.  We watched a video from a previous race and saw a jockey whip another one; the jockey who suffered the whipping happened to win that year.  The contrade that did the whipping suffered much embarrassment.  Their mascot was the jaguar and the winners held a funeral for a cat in the streets, with a priest and grieving people adorned in black, fake crying.  This prank is still talked about today.
The Duomo
There is a duomo in every city I have visited and none have left me disappointed.  This famous church was so unbelievably breathtaking and the colors were unreal.  I thought the outside was as good as it gets, but somehow the inside of the church managed to be even more beautiful.  There were murals on the floors, marble statues everywhere you looked, and the oldest untouched frescoes in the world.  I also managed to match the d├ęcor of the church with my striped shirt and its striped pillars.  I probably took over one-hundred photos of this church alone and had to take one of myself and a pillar.         

Monday, February 28, 2011

First Glorious Day in Tuscany

Tuscany

My program organized a overnight trip to San Gimignano and Siena.  We all had to get up awfully early to take a charter bus to be on our way.  The long drive went by quickly though as we played MASH and ate sour strawberry straws.  Upon arriving in San Gimignano, we probably tripled the population.  It was a tiny Tuscan town with all of the old architecture, winding alleyways, and cute little shops.  The view was unbelievable!!  Just by walking and exploring, we ended up at the top of the town, overlooking the rolling hills and trees.  It was so refreshing just being able to walk in the middle of the road, take a breathe of fresh air, and get away from the crazy city of Rome.  We only had a few hours there and we spent it relaxing in the sun, walking into the little shops, and snacking on delicious pizza.  It was only another short distance by bus to Siena.  I am in love with Siena!!  It has the small town feel without being too small.  It is a very touristy town too so getting around is very easy as they have signs everywhere directing you to all of the attractions.  We had some free time when we first arrived so we explored a little.  Matt had called me and told me to eat these fried pasta balls that were from a wooden shack in the middle of Compo, a square in the center of town.  He had just gone to Siena and said I had to get them.  His description of their location did not inspire much confidence so I asked if anyone had gotten sick off of them.  He laughed and said to trust him.  We arrived in Compo and spotted the wooden shack... and I will dream about that little shack for the rest of my life.  Those fried pasta balls or funnel cake balls of crack as I like to call them were so unbelievably amazing and only available from February 1st to March 20th; I plan on going back for them someday not for the city but for the balls.  



Balls of Crack!

I only had a few because I didn't want to spoil my dinner. We all got to go to a traditional medieval dinner and I was really looking forward to something other than pasta or pizza.  It was five courses of things I had never eaten in my entire life and I enjoyed about half of them.  It was so exciting trying new things and I was proud that I was brave enough to do it…especially the duck liver.  I was so full by the third course, but I found a way to make some room for the Italian cheesecake too.  We made it an early night because we were going to have an early morning and long tour the next day so we just had a night cap at Key Largo, a cute little bar in Compo and sang the only line that I know of that Beach Boys song over and over.  
Medieval Dinner