Monday, August 29, 2011

The no good very bad fat day

I am home from Europe. And I am not happy to be here.

I'm being a grump today.

I woke up this morning, reached for my laptop from my desk, and I dropped it. I DROPPED IT. And the screen cracked. And since it will cost my first born+an arm+a leg+my sanity to replace it, this is just a little something I'll have to live with for now.

It looks like lightning struck my desktop.

People keep asking me, "how was Europe?" and this makes me almost burst into tears because I just want to run to the airport and hop on the next plane back and re-live my summer over and over again. It was magical. I learned more about myself than I thought I could. I met amazing friends. I saw the most beautiful places. For two gorgeous months, the continent was my playground. Museums, sights, rich history, delicious was all at my finger tips. I just lived. I didn't need to worry about exams or graduating or the lab or anything because it was all so far away.

 Pondering the meaning of life in a coffee shop in Prague.

Le sigh. All good things must come to an end. It was time to be responsible and come back home.

To make matters worse, I'm having a fat day. Well, more like a fat week. Along with the extraordinary photographs and memories I brought home from Europe came some vacation weight. My clothes aren't fitting quite right.

And all I want right now is something sweet.

Oh the tough moments. The hard decisions that really define us, build character, and all that nonsense. Should I run to the mini mart across the street for some ice cream? Should I go to sleep with my aching, unsatisfied sweet tooth? It's so blistering hot outside that I almost stopped breathing while taking out the trash. Ice Cream sounds good. Cool, refreshing ice cream.

Cool, refreshing, toomanycalories ice cream.

Luckily my best friend gave me a recipe for days like this--for those no-good-very-bad-fat-days when the Texas heat is really kicking your butt.

As I stirred the ingredients together, I already started feeling a just a little bit better. It's nice to have something sweet to look forward to, isn't it? And it's even better when that something sweet is only about 200 calories:)

Frrrrozen Lemonade Pie
1 can fat-free condensed milk
1 package of crystal light lemonade mix (not the individual packet, but the kind that makes a 2 quart pitcher-full)
1 container thawed cool whip
1 graham cracker crust

Mix the lemonade powder and condensed milk until the crystals have dissolved, then fold this into the cool whip.

When all the ingredients are incorporated, spread the mixture into the crust.

If you want a more pudding consistency, pop it into the fridge in the morning and it will be good to go by the end of the day. You can also freeze it for a few hours for a slightly harder texture. It all depends on how you like your pudding-pie! I happen to be in the mood for a frozen treat, so this bad boy is coming out of the freezer after dinner.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Deep Fried and Delicious

A few friends and I decided to spend our last glorious weekend abroad in Dublin, Ireland. We made the most of our two days with a walking tour of the city, a pub crawl, an afternoon trip to the seaside village of Malahide, and of course, some yummy eats.

 The beach at Malahide Village

Dave, our hilarious, obnoxious, English-bashing tour guide took us to a pub that served an amazing stew in Dublin's notorious Temple Bar area. It was a fun experience, but the following day we decided to hit up a pub in a slightly less touristy area north of the River Liffey. We were served massive pots of delicious Irish stew with tender meat and vegetables. And for dessert? A deep fried mars bar.

If you've been to the Texas State Fair, you're more than familiar with all sorts of deep fried things from bacon to butter (what?!).

Deep fried latte? What the what?!

Actually this dish is *GASP* not Irish! It originated in chip shops in Scotland in the 90's and its popularity has spread ever since. It combines a gooey, marshmallowy (new word?) chocolate bar with a crunchy sweet batter, and don't worry, it's an excellent source of sugar, fat, and calories.


This brought back a fond, sugar rush of memories from my childhood...and from about four months ago. When I was eleven, a friend and I approached my mom with a handful of snickers and milky way bars, begging her to fry them for us because we had seen someone do it on TV. That woman is always looking for crazy kitchen experiments, so of course, she agreed. Half an hour later we were buzzing around the house and jumping on the couches with chocolate smeared all over our lips. About ten minutes after that, we were passed out on the living room floor in a food coma.

Now we fast forward to college, where few things have changed. My friends and I experiment in our apartment kitchen, which has led to some epic disasters (jack daniels shots with bacon?), but our latest experiment was a beautiful success--oreos fried in a pancake-like batter. I dare you to try it.

Fried Oreos Recipe

1 package of Oreos
2 cups of Bisquick
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups of milk
vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar (optional)
Ice Cream (optional)

Preheat the oil in a deep pan until it reaches about 350 degrees. Be careful.

Seriously, be careful.

Place some paper towels on a plate. The cookies will go straight from the fryer to this plate to drain.

Blend the bisquick, eggs, and milk until smooth.

Dip the oreos in the mix and gently place in the hot oil. Hey, don't drop them! The oil will splatter and you'll be in pain and this wont be fun anymore.

Keep checking and turning the cookies, they will turn a lovely golden brown color and they'll fluff up nicely.

Remove them and let them drain on the paper towels before serving them to your hungry friends. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Teatime Therapy

If you have never experienced a traditional afternoon tea, GO DO IT NOW.

It's the civilized thing to do.

I, like my mother, am more than content with my daily cup (or three) of microwave-made tea. However, sometimes it's nice to break out those linen napkins and be a little fancy shmancy. Sipping on tea with some buttered scones and tiny finger sandwiches is relaxing, and turns something mundane and simple into an elegant ritual. My favorite aspect of English culture is that people make time to enjoy these little luxuries.

Teatime at Brown's Cafe, Woodstock Road, Oxford

Check out this spread of scones with butter and jam, salmon and cucumber finger sandwiches, a sampling of cakes, and a pot of earl gray tea. My favorite part, of course, was the bowl of sugar cubes!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hidden Gems- London

I’ve been in England for about a month now and I’m pretty sick of British food.

Say what you want. Tell me that I haven’t been ordering the right stuff or eating at the right places. But let’s be honest here, is it really known for being the most amazing cuisine in the world? Now, I would never totally hate on British food because that would mean hating on comfort food. What’s not to like about meat and potatoes? At the end of the day, British food is honest, unfussy, and simple...

...and heavy and, well, unimaginative. Look, I need some complex flavors. And where’s the pizazz in fish and chips or steak and ale pie? However, I must admit that there is ONE traditional dish that I can’t seem to get enough of, and surprise, it's a dessert.

I know. I’m a glutton for sweets. I believe in pre-dinner desserts and midnight sweet snacks. Every day. These ladies had the right idea.

Midnight cheesecake solves everything. You go girls.

If you haven’t had this delicious dessert before, here’s the run down. Sticky toffee pudding is a moist, steamed sponge cake made with chopped dates and topped with a velvety toffee sauce. Many enjoy it with vanilla custard, but I like mine a la mode. This dish is a heart-warming, soul-satisfying sweet treat.

We wandered around the affluent, elegant Notting Hill area of London, looking for a place that was still open, and more importantly, serving sticky toffee pudding. We hopped from pub to pub with no luck. It was ridiculous, really. I mean, an hour to find a place serving sticky toffee pudding in London?

Just when we were about to throw our hands in the air and give up, we found Ffiona's.

It was a busy night, so we were lucky to be seated after a group failed to make their reservation time. After a month of eating in chippy's and pubs, I had no idea what to expect, but Ffiona's turned out to be one of the coziest little bistros I have ever been to. It was romantic and glowing with candlelight. It was so intimate that I felt like I was eating in someone's home. Ffiona herself bustled around the restaurant, serving, cleaning, and taking orders. She was a little overworked, a bit eccentric, and maybe even bossy, but she was amazingly quick and attentive. She had a sort of don’t-mess-with-me attitude, and I could tell that she had a following because she was on a first name basis with some of her customers. It was charming. 

It is a bit on the pricey upmarket side, so I would save it for a farewell to London dinner, or just stop by for coffee and dessert. But if you're looking for an "off the beaten path" restaurant in London, I would highly recommend Ffiona's.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Best Day Ever: Tuscany

My friends (strange, nocturnal creatures who sometimes sleep until well into the afternoon) constantly make fun of me because I typically fall asleep just when the party is getting started, and wake up bright and early the next morning when everyone is usually going off to bed. I prefer to have classes in the morning. And the last time I consistently slept in, I think I was in 8th grade.

There were so many days during the trip when I tried to force myself to remember that this was a vacation—that I didn’t need to plan every moment or wake up at the crack of dawn every morning.

But what’s better than waking up early when everything is quiet and peaceful? I feel like I don’t have to rush, I can just take my time to ease into the day brimming with possibilities ahead of me. And isn’t that what this trip is all about? Having days full of beautiful experiences?

Since a friend told me that I absolutely had to go to the Mercato Centrale, and only before the afternoon tourist rush, I took advantage of the early morning quiet in Florence and made my way to the famous covered marketplace. I sipped on a cappuccino at a café while nearby shopkeepers chatted with me in broken English. They slowly enjoyed their coffees while flipping through newspapers, and then they hurried back to their stalls to set up their cases of meats, fruits, breads, and vegetables for the day. I bought a few apples from a friendly woman who proudly told me about her son who moved to America. Everyone was helpful and kind. I walked around, tempted to buy some fresh pasta or cured meats, but I left before my hungry eyes could get the better of me.

As I mentioned before, our hostel in Florence set up all sorts of fun and relatively inexpensive excursions and tours. You could go on a nighttime bike ride around the city, take a cooking class, or even go horseback riding through Tuscany. We opted for a wine- tasting tour cleverly called “chiantipsy”.

Our first stop was Greve, a town located in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany. This area is known for having mineral-rich soil, and locals have been producing wine here since, well, practically forever. We learned that the mark of a true Chianti Classico wine is a black rooster label on the bottle. Here’s the story behind it.

The basement of a cheese and meat store in Greve. Heaven.

The legend of the black rooster goes back to the time of city-states in Italy, when Florence and Siena fought to claim the Chianti Classico region as their own. The fighting was getting pretty ridiculous, so the leaders decided to settle this dispute with a competition. A horseman from each city was to set out at the crow of a rooster, and the border would be established wherever the horsemen met. Fair enough. The Sienese chose a happy, well-fed white rooster while the Florentines starved a black rooster. Animal cruelty much? But wait! He soon became the star of the city because he was so hungry that he woke up  early in the morning and crowed, allowing the rider to get a head start on his journey.

The black rooster is a symbol of authenticity, and he has been since 1398. Our next stop was a nearby vineyard for a light lunch and chianti tasting. Our guide told us that Lorenzo, a close friend of his, is a twelfth generation wine-maker. His ancestry dates back to the time of the Medici family. Yes, I’m talking about the same Medici family who essentially financed the early Renaissance. Lorenzo’s family was extremely wealthy, but they were reduced to farming-class status after a number of disputes with the Medici’s, who clearly weren’t the kind of people you wanted to piss off. So ever since then, Lorenzo’s family has been farming in Tuscany.

I’m not sure what I expected, perhaps a man dressed like a count or a lord or something like that, but Lorenzo was far from this. He wore jeans and a casual cotton shirt. His curly black hair was pulled back in a ponytail. He was smiling, down-to-earth, and shy. As he led us through the garden to his grand house, he lovingly checked on his olive trees and grapevines, delicately brushing the leaves with the tips of his fingers. He spoke about his estate in Italian while our guide translated. He spoke of his family’s wine with pride, and warmly invited us to explore his home.

We walked into a great room with tables set up for lunch. The meal was simple, yet delicious. We ate slices of bread with prosciutto and salami, and sipped on two kinds of red wine. Lorenzo served us olive oil produced on his estate, generously drizzling it onto our plates. And if it had been socially acceptable for me to lick my plate, I would have. Finally, we were served a delicious penne pasta with tomato sauce. It felt like something out of a movie. I was eating a beautiful meal with wonderful people, looking out the window onto softly rolling hills covered in grape vines and olive trees.

I don’t know much about wine, but I could definitely tell a difference between the Chianti and the basic red wine we were served. The first wine was light and fruity, while the chianti had a deeper, richer taste.

We ended our trip at a grappa factory. I had never heard of grappa before this tour, so I was fascinated by it. Originally made to avoid waste, grappa is a byproduct of fermented grape skins, so all the left-overs after winemaking. At the factory, a portion of the grappa is stored in great barrels, giving it an amber color as well as a unique, aged flavor.

Many people use it as a ‘digestivo’, or an after-dinner drink to aid in digestion. Some even drink a little with espresso to create ‘caffe corretto’. First you enjoy the espresso, and follow it with a few ounces of grappa. Delicioso!

I enjoyed the smell of it more than the taste. I can only describe it as similar to vodka, but with a sweet flavor. Overall, not bad, but I don’t think I can handle it straight!

As if that wasn’t awesome enough, we were served fruit skewers drizzled with creamy balsamic vinegar, which reminded me of a recipe I recently came upon.

Macerated Berries with Balsamic Vinegar
1 quart of strawberries, washed and sliced
1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey
chopped mint or basil

Simmer vinegar over medium-low heat until reduced by half. At this point it should be thickened a bit and a little sticky. Remove from heat and stir in honey. Pour over berries and let sit for approximately 10 minutes. Stir in herbs and serve atop vanilla ice cream.

(sorry, I had to!)

I am so absolutely in love with Italy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Madrid in a day.

A somewhat last minute trip to Madrid? Well, why not.

I would be lying if I said that the main purpose of this trip was not to eat Spanish food. You’re probably asking, Megha, you seriously went all the way to Spain just for food? And the answer is yes, yes I did! You see, I have always been in love with the idea of eating little tapas and sipping on sangria, but I have never really experienced authentic Spanish cuisine. I wasn’t sure if it really was as amazing as I wanted it to be or if I just romanticized the whole thing in my head.

One thing I learned is that in Spain, eating is much more than just a meal. It is an experience. It’s sitting at your favorite restaurant with your friends, sipping on wine and chatting late into the night. You take your time. You allow your taste buds to savor and appreciate every tangy, salty, and sweet flavor in your mouth. You observe the way the flavors mingle and complement one another.

My favorite place by far was Mercado San Miguel. It might not be as large or grand as some of the other markets I visited in Europe, but this is definitely a case of quality over quantity. If you want a true tapas experience, then this is the place to visit. Locals stand at the counters, drinking sangria while they snack on all the delicacies this place has to offer. So of course, we did the same.

First, we ate little foi gras sandwiches. A warm little patty of foi gras topped with caramelized onions and placed on a soft bun…what could be better? 

Next on the to-do list: fish. One slice of soft bread topped with salmon, tomato, cheese, chives, and drizzled with olive oil. The other with a garlicy jam, marinated pieces of squid, and herbs.

And finally, to wash it all down, sangria. Surprisingly inexpensive and served with a little bowl of delicious green olives. Yum!

I could go on an on about the different foods I experienced like croquettas (little creamy fried balls of deliciousness filled with spinach, fish, jamon, or anything really), paella, and tortilla. But I should really stop myself before I just go on and on forever. Why don’t I just move on to dessert?
We know churros as fried sticks of dough topped with cinnamon and sugar. We eat them at baseball games (what, we only do that in Texas?!) and all we really want in life are Ryan Reynolds and a lifetime supply of them.



Now, imagine them without all that cinnamon sugar nonsense and instead served with a cup of piping hot, melted dark chocolate. Yes, google images tells me that this is common knowledge to the rest of the world, but this was totally new to me.

The chocolate isn’t as overwhelmingly sweet as one would imagine. It’s creamy with a slightly bitter edge. The churros are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. We also ordered porras, which are the thick and soft pillowy version of churros. 

The verdict? Spanish food was even better than I imagined.

I was sad to leave sunny Madrid. Yes, I ate and ate and ate. BUT I was also able to experience some of the other beautiful things the city has to offer like the incredible and historic Plaza Mayor. I even rowed a boat for the first time in my life in Madrid’s beautiful central park, Retiro. 

This was a whirlwind trip, and it definitely left me wanting more.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

White Night in Tuscany

After a few days of sunny weather, the gloomy gray clouds and chilly air have returned. It was nice while it lasted, and believe me, I took advantage of it. I went to a beautiful park down the road and discovered the prettiest creek I think I have ever seen. I watched families picnicking (that sounds kind of creepy, doesn’t it?) and little baby ducks bouncing around on some lily pads in a pond. I even ate my lunch outside, and this time on a bench and not in the middle of the street!

Since I’m dreaming about beautiful weather, I think this would be the perfect time to tell you about my experience in Tuscany.

If you ever visit Florence, I highly recommend staying at Hostel Plus Florence. We walked there from the train station and were immediately greeted by friendly staff members who gave us tons of helpful resources and ideas! The hostel even has its own reasonably-priced café and bar, and the view from the roof is incredible!

Our first night in Florence happened to fall on “white night”. We failed to ask what that actually means, but we discovered that on designated Saturdays all the markets stay open until very late and the streets are filled with vendors and live performances. Kelsey, Jenny, myself, and a kind of strange girl from Florida who happened to be sharing our room with us made our way across town to see what this “white night” business was all about.

The streets were full of tourists and locals. A group of people gathered to watch some old black and white film, which was being projected on the side of a building. Vendors were selling big cups of sweet, fruity sangria. An Italian hard rock band was screeching and head-banging in the street, drawing a large applauding, drunken crowd. Local artists were selling jewelry and little trinkets. A butcher was making made-to-order sandwiches with fresh ciabatta and thinly sliced pieces of meat, which he carved right before your eyes.

So I know this is a given, but kids, you really shouldn’t trust people you don’t know.

You also shouldn’t trust people with skunk tail-looking highlights.

The strange girl from Florida with the weird name I can’t remember, who seemed to know where she was going but actually didn’t have a clue, was leading us further and further away from the markets. By the time we realized this, it was midnight and we were lost in a city that we had been in for about half a day.

I guess they say that getting lost in a city is the best way to truly discover it, right?

By the time we reached the hostel, it was well after 1am and we were cranky and achy, but the night had been so incredible that it didn’t matter. As I lay in bed, all I could think about was this: I had woken up in Venice and I was falling asleep in Florence.