A Travellerspoint blog

Mamma Mia!

Sky Does Florence

Mom came to Florence! She was only here for a few days, and it was during the week, but we still managed to cram in SO MUCH FUN MOTHER DAUGHTER BONDING TIME! The first day she was here, we set up for the morning in the school courtyard to do some work - its great that we were on the same page about it. We relaxed with a few espressi and some delicious sandwiches from the school cafe. They have always had inexpensive prosciutto (both 'cotto' or cooked, and 'crudo' or smoked), turkey, salami and vegetarian panini, but recently they started making these great panini with a sort of spinach and egg thing in the middle... a perfect focaccia with strata (omelette) and a bit of mozzarella, toasted until its warm and the cheese is all goopy. It goes perfectly with a new condiment I discovered called Harisa. Its North African originally. The best way I can explain it is kind of (please excuse the gourmand vocab that is about to go everywhere) a tomato and onion confit, but with definite middle-eastern and mediterranean spices mixed in.

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For those of you who don't know, I am the QUEEN of condiments. Ketchup? Put it on everything: scrambled eggs, chicken, shepards pie... Nutella? Puh-scuse me. I eat 1/2 toast, 1/2 Nutella breakfast every morning. Peanut butter? The only food I've smuggled across international borders... several times... really, too many times. Dijon Mustard? Call me a freak, call me French, but I eat it plain on a spoon. Honey? Spread it on everything, actually, savory or sweet, and dump it in tea. Olive oil? Well, that is certainly newer on my list, I can't get enough of it! When I discover a new condiment, its a little like Christmas. Then again, if you didn't already know that I was a condiment nut, you probably haven't seen my Christmas Crazy Eyes... they are coming...

Getting back to the days with mom! Michele, my host mom threw a giant dinner party for my mom and me, and Chelsea and her parents. The food was amazing, par normale: penne al pomodoro (in tomato sauce), fennel au gratin (baked), salads, roasted peppers, roasted potatoes, meat... delish. The maestro came, which was lovely. He is the funniest! We get along really well, and I'll miss him loads when I'm back in the States. After dinner, my mom proposed that she take my host family out the next night. Michele picked the restaurant - Perseus. Let me say, if you are EVER looking for an amazing Bistecca Fiorentina, go to Perseus - It was great. We also had "Fegate" - liver, cooked on bread slices - potatoes and salad... and of course, a giant flask of Chianti! A bit of explanation on Bistecca Fiorentina:

"A favorite of Tuscan cuisine, bistecca alla fiorentina 'beefsteak Florentine style' consists of a T-bone or porterhouse steak (traditionally taken from either the Chianina or Maremmana breeds of cattle), grilled over a wood or charcoal fire, and seasoned with salt and, sometimes, black pepper, and olive oil. Thickly cut and very large, steaks are often shared between two or more persons. Bistecca is invariably served very rare, sometimes garnished with lemon wedges if not accompanied by red wine; Tuscan beans are the usual side dish.

I LOVE THIS STEAK. Seriously. A lot.

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Look! A "T" for Thea!

Well, after the steak and chianti, all of us were in a pretty spectacular mood, so Michele decided to take us out for mojitos in the Piazza. This little stand is known for 2 things: deliciously strong drinks and loud salsa music. I don't know why it didn't strike me right away why I felt so at home with Michele, but I finally figured it out. While at the piazza, mojito in hand, I looked to my left and saw my host mom - an outgoing French blond woman who is sassy and charismatic to the extreme. Then, I looked to my right and saw my real mom - an outgoing French blond woman who is sassy and charismatic to the extreme. WHAT THE WHAT?

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They are best friends now, just so you know. After a night of steak and booze, they exchanged numbers and email addresses because they had a blast. I skipped school Friday (surprise, surprise... I missed NOTHING in any of my classes. Every TV show that shows the day kids skip school as the day when the school secretly has a giant fair or whatever was LYING... Yea, Hey Arnold, thats not how it is in the real world. You skip school, you are fine) and we went to the Salvatore Ferragamo (shoe) museum. He was a genius! We also saw the pair of 24-carat gold shoes he made. CRAZY!

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We went to a gelateria after the museum, and I tried a black sesame seed gelato.

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For lunch, we visited this great place - Trattoria di Ginone, near Santo Spirito. This is my favorite restaurant in Florence - they remember me and my story, and the food is unbelievable. First we tasted the new olive oil - it was pressed 6 days before we tasted it. Its green from the chlorophyll, and tastes a bit like plants, and is kind of nutty and bitter.

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We had a great salad with brie, fennel and olives for a primo:

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For lunch, my mom had a rabbit carpaccio and spinach, and I had pork chop under a pile of sweet onions.

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We went to the giardino di boboli after lunch, and it was just so beautiful!

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Finally, we had one more dinner as a family (that is to say, me and my mom and my whole host family). Delicious! Pesto on ravioli, beans and peposa - a beef stew with wine and peppercorns - and raw artichokes. Dessert was cheese, and chocolate cake with homemade chocolate sauce!

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 07:01 Comments (0)

Paris

Days 7-9

Well, Paris... what is there to say? I guess I will start by saying that I stayed with my cousin Virgile and his wonderful girlfriend Paloma in the 10e arrondissement (neighborhood). I decided to do a culinary tour, but on a budget, which meant sticking close to shops and markets. I started off the day right with pastry (pain au chocolat to be specific) and baguette!

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Later that day, I headed over to the St. Quentin market. It was nice to be back in a place where the rabbits don't need to be skinned to be for sale (just kidding, that mega-grossed me out). There were tons of other things too - produce, sausages, cheese (CHEESE!) - to keep me occupied though.

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Inside the market place were also some restaurant-type things. I decided to try the Brazilian food, and I'm glad I did. For around $12, I got a huge, delicious meal:

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The next day, I had (drumroll please) PASTRY FOR BREAKFAST! This time I opted for an "etoile pistache" or pistachio star.

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I went across the city to a different market to see what I could find. The Marchet Mouffetard is super cute, and has a ton of options for hungry, broke culinarily-interested college kids (a huge audience, I know). I started with some fresh figs, that were sweet and tender:

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I headed around to several stands, to see what my choices were:

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Eventually I settled on a Vietnamese Spring roll - like I said, colonialism is bad except for the fact that it brings delicious food across the planet.

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I decided to treat myself to lunch - a nice pate with some cornichons (little pickles) and baguette, a glass of Chardonnay and some salmon with shallot rice. Perfect!DSCN2151.jpgDSCN2152.jpg

The next 12 or so hours unfortunately got wiped from my camera, but I had dinner with my uncle and grandfather - it was great to see them, and the food was out of this world. I had veal steak (the first time I've ever had veal... eh, not worth it if you ask me) in a morelle mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes, and a chocolate mousse with a salted caramel swirl (wish you could see it, it was beautiful). After that, I saw Natas Loves You play at Le Regine's - what a great show! They are truly amazing, super creative and really fun to be around, and I was dancing the whole time. I was dismayed, however, at the 12 euro price tag attached to my small gin and tonic... where does Paris think it is... Paris? I'm told that all the drinks in the city clubs are about that expensive, and that I also shouldn't have been shocked by the girl who tried to get with the lead singer of the band by making out with the girl standing next to her. Hey, I'm from Barnard, you don't have to tell me about it, but for some reason the swarms of scary-thin girls dressed to the nines throwing themselves on each other for male attention caught me off guard this time... The taxi dropped us off a bit farther from home than I was expecting, and we got harrassed 3 time in 10 blocks. I don't care what anyone says about Italian men, I have never been confronted in any Italian city like I was by one loony. What bothered me more (because I didn't really care about him... I mean, hey, a guy in New York spit on me as a come-on this summer... anything is better than that) is that an entire restaurant of people watched it happen, watched me yell "arrĂȘt" (french for Stop) 5-10 times, and didn't do or say anything until I yelled "Go Away" in English. That's apathy on a whole new level.

Eh, no harm no foul... I started off the next morning with (YOU GUESSED IT) pastry - pain au swisse this time (kinda like pain au chocolat, but not quite as good). I headed to the musee d'orsay for the afternoon

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After walking all around, I was starving, so I went for a chevre chaud salad. It should be a brick of hot goat cheese that sits on top of a garlicky, golden crouton the size of your head, resting on top of mesclun greens, doused in good olive oil. What I got was not. It was pretty, but it tasted like crap - the toast was burnt, as were the herbs on top of the goat cheese (they clearly just shoved the whole thing under the broiler... WRONG) and carrots and walnuts belong together in their own salad, somewhere far far away from this dish...

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If you are ever around Musee D'orsay, keep away from this restaurant - its horrible.

With the bitter taste of burnt toast and dashed dreams (okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, but not really) I needed culinary refuge. On the advice of Paloma, we headed to a little French pastry (agian!) shop, tucked down an alley. Splendid!

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I ended up with a small lemon tart - delicious lemon custard in a shortbread shell - and little puffs of pate de choux, filled with vanilla pastry cream with a hard caramel crack dip on the outside. Wonderful, amazing, spectacular... how many other words can the thesaurus find to describe them??

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Like in London, I felt the rush of leaving in a few hours, so I couldn't just eat pastry (again). I headed over to little-Delhi alley, and as beautiful as it was, everything was closed!

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I had been so impressed by the spring roll earlier, that I headed over to a Vietnamese place right around the corner from the apartment for dim sum (and then some...)

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We took a night train back to Florence, so I packed a Mediterranean feast for the trip: tabbouleh, hummus, tzatziki and carrots... delicious!

I have to say, I'm super glad to be back in Florence - I may be French by blood but the more I'm here, the more I'm convinced I'm Italian by soul. The French have their masterpieces - filling the halls of Musee d'Orsay and every corner pastry shop - but it seemed to me that the general climate was one which I didn't quite synch with... I'm glad to be back where the wine overfloweth and people not only don't look at you funny for eating 5 courses at every meal, they encourage/expect it.

Posted by Traveling Spoon 07:54 Comments (0)

Galway and the Cliffs of Moher

Day 5

On the third day in Ireland, Catherine and I booked a trip West. We headed first to Galway, a large-by-Irish-standards city. From there we headed to a family farm in nearby Clare. It was WONDERFUL, and the weather we had couldn't be beat. We walked up their mountain, and got some amazing views:

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After our hike, we went into the grandmother's house, which had been converted into a sort of a cafe. We noshed on homemade baked-goods and sipped tea. I chose the award-winning carrot cake over the apple pie, chocolate cake and tiramisu cake (I'd had quite enough of Italian food), and BOY OH BOY I was happy!

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From there we took a scenic drive towards the cliffs, and I snapped some shots of the beautiful countryside - Dublin was a bit boring, but Ireland is fantastic. They say there are more types of green here than anywhere else, and I absolutely believe them:

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The cliffs were our final destination. For those of you who don't know,

"The Cliffs of Moher (Irish: Aillte an Mhothair, lit. cliffs of the ruin, also known as the Cliffs of Mohair) are located in the parish of Liscannor at the south-western edge of the Burren area near Doolin, which is located in County Clare, Ireland. The cliffs rise 120 meters (390 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag's Head (Irish: Ceann na Cailleach), and reach their maximum height of 214 meters (702 ft) just north of O'Brien's Tower, eight kilometres away. The views from the cliffs attract close to one million visitors per year. On a clear day, the Aran Islands are visible in Galway Bay, as are the valleys and hills of Connemara. O'Brien's Tower is a round stone tower at the approximate midpoint of the cliffs. It was built by Sir Cornelius O'Brien, a descendant of Ireland's High King Brian Boru, in order to impress female visitors.[1] From atop that watchtower, visitors can view the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, the Maum Turk Mountains and the Twelve Pins to the north in Connemara, and Loop Head to the south."

They are spectacular. Awe-inspiring. Dangerous.

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After the cliffs, we grabbed a late lunch. I am not kidding you when I say that Ireland will serve you bacon as a main meal. Its fantastic. Naomi, get yerr bum over herr!

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On the way back, we stopped at another beautiful cliff-beach thing, and took a few more photos.

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It was right next to a farm that had alpaca and sheep!

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The long and winding road returned us to Galway, before we headed back to Dublin.

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 07:37 Comments (0)

Wicklow

Day 4

Wicklow, or Ireland's Garden, is the area surrounding Dublin. We took a day trip out with a company called Wild Wicklow Tours - I don't think I have ever spent a better 25 Euro! It started going through the ritzier part of town, and we saw some gorgeous houses:

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We stopped at another Avoca, but I didn't make it in before I got a delicious roasted pork sandwich. It was served on a toasted ciabatta bread, with a pumpkin apple sauce and spicy mustard.

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Once I made it in, I was super impressed. Avoca has some amazing desserts! If I get the Avoca's cookbooks, all these desserts and more are yours to eat...

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When I got back on the bus, the bus driver and tour guide Steve asked if I wanted to make my coffee Irish... well OF COURSE I DO!

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In case you were wondering, that places me at a piece of cake, a pork sandwich, a coffee and a few shots of Jameson. It was 11:15 am. We continued on our way to see the beautiful countryside. Sorry for the rain spots, it was pouring and I was taking the photos from inside the bus:

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Ireland has a lot of sheep, and a lot of cows. Some cows were in the road... blocking our bus...

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We stopped at the lake owned by the Guinness family - it was windy and rainy, but it was awesome:

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We also went to the bridge from the movie PS I Love You - I haven't seen it, but now I want to!

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For lunch, I had a beef and Guinness stew, which was absolutely fabulous!

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In the afternoon, we went to St. Kevin's, which has a cool round tower, an old graveyard and church, and some awesome walking paths:

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Apparently, if a girl runs counterclockwise around the round tower three times, she will be married within a year... 19 is a little young, so I didn't partake in that tradition, but there are others which I did succumb to. Rumor has it, if you can touch fingers around his cross, anything you wish will come true! I could reach, but I'll never say what I wished for:

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On the way back, we drove through Van Morrison's neighborhood, and saw Jonathan Rhys Meyer's favorite local cafe (as those are two of my favorite gents, I was extremely excited). In any case, I couldn't have wished for a better day (sorry, I couldn't help it... the pun was crying out for me).

Posted by Traveling Spoon 07:28 Comments (0)

Dublin

Days 3 and 6 (with some other stuff in the middle!)

This will be a rather short post. As you enter the airport, you realize that most signs are in 2 languages - the national (Celtic) and the most commonly used (English). Only about 5% of Ireland speaks Celtic, and even less are fluent, but it is super cool to see it up everywhere.

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We started off the day with an Irish breakfast - its pretty much an English breakfast as far as I can tell. An English breakfast is comprised of:
- Fried Eggs
- Toast
- Sausage
- Bacon
- White beans in a tomato sauce
- Roasted mushrooms
- Grilled Tomatoes

It sounds weird to an American, and neither Kelsey or Catherine ventured out to try the local grub, but naturally I did. It was great! A bit heavy, I will admit, but completely perfect for keeping you warm in the constant drizzle.

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Dublin is a cool city, significantly smaller than London (like way, way smaller), but it has its charms. There are canals running through it, with small and large bridges running across is. The canals were originally built by the Guinness family to ship Guinness to all the local pubs (there are TONS of pubs in Ireland. In one town we went to there were 300 people, 1 post office, 1 school and 12 pubs). The canals now don't serve a purpose, but do split Souther Dublin - the ritzy area - from Northern Dublin:

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Cute little buildings line cobblestone streets. While the weather is almost always grey, the trim on shops is often bright red, green or blue.

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I wanted to try another classic of the British Isles - a Cornish Pastry - so I found a little stall that had award winning pies. Traditionally, a Cornish Pastry is a crust stuffed with steak, potatoes and onions. I had one of those, and also a cheddar, leek and bacon pie. This particular store had several other varieties, including chicken, sausage and spinach and feta. The original, however, can't be beat. Its sort of like a hand pie, but there is something about the way that the inside is lined with potatoes that holds all sorts of goopy, delicious bits inside that makes it extra good:

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We stayed in a nice hostel, in a room to ourselves. It also had a huge kitchen, so we decided to make Colcannon. Colcannon is a traditional Irish soup, normally eaten around Halloween time. Seeing as we found ourselves in Ireland right around Halloween, it only felt right. Its comprised of kale and potatoes and onions, simmered forever in a stock and then mixed with cream or milk. We had it with some awesome Irish soda bread that we picked up at a local supermarket.

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Dublin is also home to a store called Avoca, which I absolutely fell in love with. It was originally a knitting factory, but is now much more. Think of Anthropologie crossed with Ikea, and you begin to come close. Tons of cute merchandise for the home, clothes and silly books pack 2 stories. If anyone is looking for a Christmas present for me (hhem hhem) the Avoca cookbooks are available online! These two stories are sandwiched between a cafe downstairs and a restaurant upstairs, and boy is the food AMAZING! I tried a sesame beef and peapod salad, a roasted potato and french dressing salad, and an arugula/goat cheese/sun dried tomato/potato/bacon salad, all of which were superb! In addition to cute tea sets and the like, they have stacks of preserves - some delicious-sounding, others less so:

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All in all, I liked Dublin, but I LOVED Ireland...

Posted by Traveling Spoon 06:27 Comments (0)

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