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Road Food

29 Oct

29 October 2019.

We get tired of restaurants. Yes, food lovers that we are, when we are on a long trip food-fatigue sets in. Figuring out where to eat every meal becomes a chore. In parts of Europe, a very casual evening meal (other than pizza) is hard to find. Sandwiches and salads in the evening in Paris? Forget about it! There are nights where we just want to stay in after a day of hiking or touring. When I have >16000 steps on my pedometer, going out to dinner is less appealing than pajamas, a movie, wine, and a homey meal.

Occasionally, we just want some hummus and veggies or wine and cheese. Or wine without the cheese. Even a piece of toast with peanut butter sounds good now and then.  Other times, we want to have something satisfying yet not too time-consuming.

Finding ingredients can be a challenge. In Italy, we have never found hummus pre-made. Only in the U.K. (or rentals in Switzerland owned by Brits) do we consistently find a toaster. Peanut butter is sporadically available and we like the Italian one but then there are seldom toasters in Italian apartments. Luckily, everyone has cheese.

Parisian markets are always so orderly and colorful.

Over time and extensive travel in Europe, we have collected some recipes and adapted our cooking style to the equipment we find in rented digs, products available in the markets, and limited ingredients to keep it simple.

Sometimes there are great pans and sometimes there’s one battered old frying pan and small saucepan. Seldom are the knives sharp: We now carry our own set. Ovens are rare, microwaves are ever-present. One lovely apartment we rent each year in Switzerland has a slow cooker. Sometimes there are mixing bowls, always a colander (at least in Italy). We move in and assess the tools before deciding on a plan or going shopping.

Then there are condiments. Some apartments have those that are left behind by prior guests. Sometimes these are of indeterminate age and one sniff tells me that the oregano is beyond its use-by date. Never trust coffee that has been left behind! Ric considers it his community service to seek out and dispose of expired food items in apartments we rent.

Here are a few limited-ingredient recipes we turn to depending on the tools in the apartment and the products we can find. These do not call for a lot of ingredients you might have to abandon when you move on. If I can, I will squeeze that newly purchased oregano into my bag to take to the next place.

Salads

    • Everywhere we go we can find mixed greens, gorgonzola, a crisp apple (Pink Lady and Granny Smith are my faves), some nuts, dried cranberries, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. We sometimes buy a trail mix for the nuts and dried fruit. Many places sell pre-cooked salad chicken which is a nice addition. Boom! Great lunch. Sure, you have to buy oil and balsamico, but far less than paying for a couple of salads in a restaurant. Extra points for Ponte Glassa. Yum!
    • The same pre-cooked chicken mixed with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, dried cranberries or raisins, maybe some pine nuts or slivered almonds. Serve on a bed of fresh arugula. Very satisfying.

Pasta

It is so easy to make a limited ingredient pasta almost anywhere as long as you have a couple of pots and a colander.

    • We love this one from The New York Times Cooking website. Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Mint. I alter it a bit, substituting caramelized shallots for the raw scallions. (I cook them along with the pancetta.) I omit the butter.  For two people, one box of pasta makes two good meals.
    • In Italy, you can find frozen seafood for pasta or risotto.

      Frozen seafood pasta sauce. Just add spaghetti!

      It is amazingly good and very economical. All you need is a €5.00 package and a half-box of pasta to feed two very well with no leftovers. I have seen a similar product in the U.K. but not in the U.S. 
    • My favorite, when Romanesco is available, Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce. Takes no time at all. I have included the recipe below.

Soups

    • You can find the basic ingredients for chili almost anywhere. I have substituted Italian fagioli for kidney beans and if I cannot find chili powder, a liberal dose of paprika plus cumin, oregano, and pepper does the trick. A small batch will do it. No sense eating it every night for a week.
    • In most European markets you can pick up a bag of pre-cut veggies, called minestra in Italy. What you add to them is up to you, but it is a fine start to a batch of soup without having to buy all the veggies and chop them. I plop in some chicken breasts that I cube, herbs and seasonings, add broth, zucchini, mushrooms, and during the final half-hour, farro (aka, spelt).

Of course, sautéed fish or chicken is easy, but I find it boring. A tuna sandwich hits home when you are sick of what is in the cafes at lunch. Seriously. When we are traveling for six-to-eight weeks, simple things mean a lot. We have, in desperation and exhaustion after a long day of sightseeing in London, even picked up a bake-at-home pizza at Sainsbury’s. It was pretty good!

When all else fails, one can heat up some Crack Sticks…if you have an oven.

Apartment breakfast is one of three things: scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and bread (toast if we are lucky), yogurt with berries (followed by a late morning pastry in all likelihood), or toast with peanut butter. Ric also loves hard-boiled eggs, especially in Switzerland. 

Restaurants

We do eat in restaurants. Wonderful restaurants! We love to try the cuisine of the area we are in or maybe find out what Indian food is like in Switzerland because eating rösti gets old. On a long-haul trip, we eat out two-or-three nights a week and at least half of our lunches. As regular readers know, we try pizza everywhere. On our 2018 trip, we had pizza nine times in seven weeks. Not that there is anything wrong with that. And my jeans still fit. Walking 16000 steps per day helps.

This is rösti, an evilly good Swiss staple. There is a pile of potatoes under that mountain of veggies and cheese. Not a diet-friendly choice.

Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce

For 4 people

Orecchiette are the “little ear” pasta found most everywhere A particular shape that works well with this treatment. My measurements are an unfortunate mix of metric and U.S. standards. I do not measure when making pasta, so use your own judgement.

INGREDIENTS
4 Italian pork sausages, remove casings and tear into bite size pieces (about 1/2 pound)

400-500g dried orecchiette

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

One large Romanesco (Italian broccoli), cut into florets

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Chili pepper flakes (I use ½ teaspoon full and Ric adds more at table)

½-1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2/3 cup (or more) white wine

Anchovies to taste (I used 5 or 6 chopped finely)

Grated Pecorino, may substitute parmesan if needed but use fresh, not Kraft

INSTRUCTIONS
Add olive oil to a large frypan and over medium sauté the cut sausages until they brown and are cooked through.

Remove from the pan and set aside. The sausage meat will remain in compact shapes unless you break it up with a spoon as it cooks – the choice is yours.

Add broccoli, garlic, and chili to the same pan and sauté the for about 5 minutes. If you prefer your broccoli more cooked, add a splash of water or wine, cover and cook till the broccoli is cooked to your liking.

Start the pasta and cook until al dente, usually a couple of minutes less than the package says.

Increase heat, add the sausage meat, wine and anchovies and reduce the liquid – this should take about 5 minutes.

Drain the pasta (save a little of the cooking water) and combine with the meat/broccoli mixture. If it seems dry, add a bit of the saved cooking water. Mix well and serve with grated pecorino.

Retreat on the Alpe di Siusi

15 Sep

15 September 2019.

Sometimes you just need to escape even while you are away. Rick Steves calls this a “vacation from your vacation.” While we aren’t really in need of further relaxation, we do like the atmosphere of the Alpe di Siusi and it has become a tradition for us to pass a couple of nights there and be able to hike in the mornings without worrying about an early bus from Ortisei or racing to beat the last gondola down at 17:30. It’s a looonnggg walk if you miss the last ride.

Cabinovia

The gondola up to — and down from — the Alpe di Siusi. It only runs until 17:30 so don’t miss the last ride!

We are based for 2 1/2 weeks at the incredible Residence Astoria, our home in the Val Gardena the past four years. (See Training cats from 2016.) Taking only our backpacks with a change of clothing, we headed to Hotel Saltria for two nights, partaking of their half-pension plan and enjoying the convenience of being right there in the Alpe di Siusi for an early morning hike as recommended in our book, Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena. It’s good to travel light as this journey takes 3 buses and a gondola over the course of 90 minutes. Not fun with heavy luggage.

Hotel Saltria

The Hotel Saltria is a larger property, yet retains an intimacy

Arriving at the hotel, we had time for an hour’s walk in the afternoon sun through mountain meadows, then a shower before dinner. No extended Italian eating hours here! Dinner is from 19:00-20:30 and almost all of the guests arrived in the first 15 minutes. (We did see one couple, clearly new to the concept and not Italian nor German, waltz in at 20:28 and they were seated and served. I think they got the dregs of what was left, though.)

Rifugio

A rifugio on the Panorama hike. The pond is used for fire-fighting (rare) and snow-making in ski season.

The next morning we were on the trail before 10:00 and took what may be our new favorite hike in the Alpe di Siusi, Panorama to Zallinger. (I’ll be writing that in detail for another post.) This was a long-ish one. Leaving the hotel a few minutes before 9:00, we did not return until 15:30 what with transportation, a coffee stop, a lunch break, and a 10 km walk. If we had tried to do this from Ortisei, we would have been gone from 8:00-18:00.

It was so nice to be catered to for breakfast and dinner. No shopping (which we do daily when we are in a self-catered situation), no cooking or food prep of any type. We just showed up and let the hotel staff take care of everything.

Dining room Saltria

The dining room at Saltria. There were people of all ages: young couples with new babies, young couples alone, multi-generational groups, and people like us.

Breakfast was spread across a room bigger than our home living, dining, and kitchen areas combined! Set in a huge “E” shape, were baskets of various rolls and pastries, 8 types of preserves, 4 kinds of honey including one that was still in the comb, fruits, fruit salad, yoghurt, soft boiled eggs, a vegetable juicer, salad ingredients, 4 kinds of sliced meats, and at least 4 types of cheese. Beverages were on a separate buffet and the waitress made cappuccino, espresso, or “German” coffee to order.

This part of Italy is so Austrian that the first words out of anyone’s mouth are generally in German. In fact, this past week one of the German-language newspapers of the Südtirol expressed sadness on the 100th anniversary of the annexation by the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. Memories are long. So we were offered “German” coffee whereas in most of Italy we would have been asked if we wanted “American” coffee.

German is more prevalent in the Alpe di Siusi than it is even in the valley. A couple of our servers had trouble with Italian. One stumbled over the number 6 (sei in Italian) until I used the German word sechs. Some transactions became amusing mixtures: I told them I wanted my coffee senza milch. That high-school German comes back on occasion.

Vegetables

A sampling of the many vegetables available every night.

At the hotel, none of the food on the menus was described in English. Our evening meals — five courses if you wanted to eat that much — were described in Italian and German and the cuisine was decidedly fusion. Pasta or prosciutto and melon for a first course followed by roasted veal and a beetroot/potato puree. Or a cheese strudel as a starter with mountain lake fish on a bed of leeks with lardo. (Lardo is what it sounds like, though quite refined, a Tuscan specialty.) Like I said, fusion, or as our Italian friend would say, contaminated (contaminazione in Italian is a little pejorative, but serves as a false cognate in this case).

After our long day hike, we could have refreshed in the indoor-outdoor pool or worked on our skin cancer, but we retreated to a pre-dinner shower and coffee on the terrace overlooking the magnificent peaks. Just as the sun was setting, we headed to dinner, now greeted by a huge salad and vegetable buffet spread over the enormous “E” that once held breakfast. Perfectly sauteed artichokes, two types of asparagus, grilled peppers and eggplant, marinated mushrooms, more salad ingredients than the farmers’ market, and a cheeseboard.

Pasta

My primo one night, pasta with smoked salmon. Sensibly small portion as there was more to come.

That was the first course. After that, there were soup, a primo, a secondo, and dessert, plus (more) cheese and fruit. We confined ourselves to three courses (no soup nor dessert) but indulged in a fine and reasonably-priced wine list.

My middle-of-the-night trip to the bagno was blessed with the lovely sight of the great mountain peaks bathed in moonlight. That alone was worth getting up for at midnight.

Travelers often complain about “touristy” areas and that so many places are over-crowded, or that they encounter too many Americans carrying Rick Steves’ guidebooks. If one wants to have an experience unlike any you are likely to have in North America, this is a fine place to add to an itinerary.

Laurel and the Sciliar

Just starting out on the Panorama hike. Perfect day!

Postcard from England: Stone circles and urban hikes

10 Jun

10 June 2019.

Can it be ten days since we returned from our spring trip? Wrestling with jetlag, re-entry, laundry, and catch-up gardening took more than a week but the last segment of our 6-week trip is worth relating.

The weather gods continued to smile on us. I am sure the citizens of Wiltshire would have liked some rain but it suited us to a T to have sunny days and fluffy clouds. We even shed our jackets a few times.

From Wales we headed to Wiltshire, home to Stonehenge and the Avebury Circle as well as the city of Bath and the ancient city of Salisbury, where we made our base for four nights. Should have made it five nights.This is a rich, full area with much to see and mileage required to see it.

Stonehenge

It is a challenge to depict the size and the impressiveness of Stonehenge.

We barely stopped at Bath, only long enough to see the Roman bath complex. The center of the city was a madhouse of tourists! We had hoped to return another day to see more, but driving in, parking, and driving out bordered on the ridiculous. We had initially planned on staying in Bath, but although I had been trying to book 6 months in advance, lodging was scarce on this Bank Holiday weekend. So we moved on to lodgings in Salisbury.

Stonehenge was first on the agenda and so much more impressive than I expected! We arrived at opening and the crowd was minimal. Efficient buses ported us to the circle, which cleverly is not visible from the Visitors Center so the monument is revealed dramatically. I thought I would at least be interested but seeing Stonehenge in person is a pretty magnificent thing. We found the VC absorbing until late morning when the crowds became annoying, so we took off for Avebury.

Avebury is gigantic! I had read about it but did not have a good grasp until we actually arrived. The henge is so large there is a village inside the circle. With a pub. A great place for lunch and good timing as we were peckish by now.

Avebury stone

Ric demonstrates the size of one of the stones in the Avebury Circle.

Sheep at Avebury

Sheep and tiny lambs graze freely around the Avebury Circle.

A principal ceremonial site of Neolithic Britain, Avebury is considered to be one of the largest, and undoubtedly the most complex, of Britain’s surviving Neolithic henge monuments. We walked about the stones, enjoying the company of the sheep, and having the good fortune to visit with a guide who could add to our understanding. How did these ancient people have the vision, the strength, and the patience to build these sites? It would be a fantastic place to visit with an archeologist.

Another day we ventured to the ancient site of Old Sarum. If you’ve read Edward Rutherford’s epic novel Sarum this is a must-visit. How fascinating to see the little hill, the castle ruins, and the foundations of the old cathedral! We happened into Old Sarum the day of a Roman re-enactment, luckily arriving before the throngs expecting to watch staged battles. As I re-read Sarum, it is delightful to picture the site with a better understanding of the topography. For an aerial view, click here.

Old Sarum Roman woman

At Old Sarum, a re-enactor demonstrates what Roman life was like.

Re-enactors practice their Roman battle skills prior to an exhibition.

Old Sarum Cathedral

From the castle ruins one can gaze down on the massive foundations of the old cathedral, The cathedral was demolished in the 13th century and the stones used to build the new cathedral and close at Salisbury.

 

Not to be overlooked is the city of Salisbury itself. On the Sunday we visited, the Cathedral opened its doors to tourists after services so as the congregation gathered for coffee, we gawked at the magnificence. It is almost impossible to comprehend that it was built over the course of only 38 years in the 13th century. Notre Dame took 856 years; Sagrada Familia was started 150 years ago and still isn’ t completed.

Salisbury Cathedral

We walked through the close after dinner one evening to find the Salisbury Cathedral bathed in a golden glow.

The Cathedral is set in a magnificent close, the largest in Britain at 80 acres. The close contains schools, Diocesan offices, museums, and private residences, some of which are magnificent mansions. Ric and I thought we’d take a short walk through the close one afternoon which turned into well over an hour by the time we passed through it and around the walls back to our lodgings. It’s huge and worthy of further exploration.

Rick and Jane departed from Salisbury while Ric and I hung out for another day and night intending to do very little. We caught up on laundry and then had time to check out the Salisbury City Walk sponsored by the Visitors Center. It was a great overview and lesson in history and culture. Would that we had done this Day One!

Since the day was divine and we were purposefully unscheduled, we decided to wander after lunch. Finding a path along the River Avon, we were soon diverted through a park and into the Harnham Water Meadows along a meandering path with more views of the cathedral, sheep, and eventually the small town of Harnham. This is the kind of thing we love to stumble upon: an “urban hike” or, if our timing is right, “a path to lunch,” as had we known, we could have eaten in a pub situated in an old mill in Harnham.

Harnham

This old mill at Harnham is now a popular pub.

So our day off from travel turned into a delightful opportunity to further explore Salisbury and revealed many sights we could have explored with more time. If you choose to stay in Salisbury, give it some time as there is much to enjoy. Good restaurants, too! Check out The Giggling Squid.

Swan and cygnets

On the River Avon, a swan and her (his?) cygnets settle in for the night.

Our last three nights were in lovely London. We’ve been there many times, last in 2017 for two weeks, so this stop was meant to be a relaxing return to a favorite city before our long flights home.

London did not disappoint. No iconic sights this time, though. We met friends from Seattle for wine and tapas, walked for several hours through Kew Gardens, last visited in autumn and a completely different experience in spring. We ate excellent Indian food at Punjab, took another long urban hike through the sprawling Regent’s Park, and enjoyed a final pub meal with a superb pie at The Queen’s Head.

Herewith a few of our dozens of photos from Kew Gardens. There is a Chihuly exhibition in progress, a lovely surprise.

For the entire trip, I averaged 16000+ steps per day on the Fitbit, about 7 miles, as nearly as I can figure. Not bad compared to what we manage at home.

For now, the consumption of chips, crisps, beer, and scones has stopped. No more Parisian baguettes nor croissants for now. Camembert is off the menu for a while. No full bottles of wine at dinner. SIGH.

Back to reality…and planning the next trip: Italy and Switzerland in September!

 

Postcard from Alsace: Wine, Wisteria, and Storks

30 Apr

30 April 2019.

It is always time for wine in France’s Alsace Region, but only for a short time in the spring do the storks roost here to rear their young. Until we arrived we had no idea about this annual migration nor did we know how revered the storks, or cigognes blanches, are.  They are symbols of happiness and faithfulness bringing fertility and good luck. There is a fun read here from the Seattle Times a few years ago.

Ric captured a close up of this nest with both parents present. They were clicking away at each other, their method of communicating. The nest is perched atop a steeple. Note the supports. The towns build and maintain platforms to support the huge nests.

The storks feature prominently in town art,

We have had a full itinerary, one day taking a tour of a small portion of the Route des Vins d’Alsace visiting three family-run wineries, and another day exploring the beautiful and tiny villages, spotting storks, and enjoying the seasonal decorations that adorn every house, shop, and square. Wisteria drapes from walls, roofs, and trees, enhanced by bunnies, eggs, and other signs of the just-past Easter holiday. The air is fragrant with lilac.

The wisteria is at its peak while the tulips have just faded.

A day hike through the vineyards got us away from the hordes and tourist buses in Colmar, which has been our base for five nights. There has also been plenty of time to enjoy the local cuisine.

Flammekueche or tarte flambée, depending on your language choice. Think of it as Alsatian pizza. It is FABULOUS.

As usual, we are car-free. I can imagine why a car would be helpful in this region as public transportation is a bit thin. With the help of a taxi driver named Isa, we have managed quite well. Three times Isa took us to villages that were difficult to reach by bus. We feel like we have our own personal driver in Colmar. Three taxis were far more economical than renting a car for 4-5 days.

For now, I will let our pictures do the talking. Between us, we took far too many in four days: almost 500! Watch for a post (soon!) over at Project Easy Hiker as well about our backroads walk from Riqewihr to Ribeauville along with our visit at the Centre de Reintroduction which has helped in stork recovery.

One of the more brightly colored buildings, this one in tiny Riquewihr. Can you see the bunnies in the window boxes?

The decorations would be tacky on one house, kitschy on two, but when every building has them, it is a theme.

Even this restaurant in Turckheim was bedecked. This is where we had the tarte flambée along with seasonal white asparagus, another specialty of the region.

In Alsace, they use some very old wine barrels such as these beautifully decorated ones from a bygone era.

An eye test chart in an Alsatian winery. The real test for me was pronouncing the names.

Even in the overast that predominated our days in Colmar, the buildings are charming. No wonder this area is called “La Petit Venise.”

 

 

Bits and pieces from our 2018 trip

15 Nov
15 November 2018.
Our trip photos rotate on my screen saver and stir up memories to the point I don’t want to pause them so I can use the laptop. We have been home for a month and are still talking about our trip to Italy and Switzerland while planning for another adventure in the Spring.
Some are funny, some unusual, and there are cats.

Cats, cats, cats

We love cats and seldom get good photos. Somehow they know when the shutter is about to click and they look away. I had pretty good luck this trip.

High above Rapallo, Italy, we found a charming hotel and restaurant with about a dozen dependents who happily posed for us.

Another of the lovely cats of Montallegro near Rapallo.

A cold, glacial stream satisfied this hardy neighborhood cat. Lauterbrunnen, SW.

This little guy joined us for lunch one day in the mountains and shared our prosciutto. Fermeda Hütte near Santa Cristina, Italy.

We were enjoying strudel and espresso when the chef came out to offer this little guy his breakfast: thinly sliced prosciutto. Alpe di Siusi, Italy.

Signs and Labels

Amusing word choices and translations that don’t work.
I am sorry that  I neglected to take a picture of the sign above a place for parking bicycles that called it a “Bike Reck.”

Watch out for those dangerous, rampaging suckler cows! Seen all over Switzerland.

3-out-of-four in English. But we know what they mean. Pontresina, SW.

The lift had an official sign saying 4 people could ride in it, but this hand-written note warned us it was only safe for 2 people to go down. Beat the Paris elevator we had last year that only accommdated one person.

Findus is a big brand in frozen foods in Italy, but this product name in Switzerland threw us. They were good but not addictive.

Throughout Austia one can find the amusingly named Mozart’s Balls.

I am ham. Milan, IT. And why French?

Funny name for a hand wipe (Lausanne, SW).

Vending

Honor kiosks and roadside cheese vending were among our favorites.

Cheese vending machine found along a rural road in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, SW.

Same machine dispensed sausage.

Truly an honor kiosk: cheese and honey in an artful roadside box.

An enterprising person laid these out for purchase on the honor system, 5 Euros per item. Alpe di Siusi, Italy.

Uncategorized

No idea how to classify these gems.

10:30 in the morning is a great time for a beer break when you are hiking with your baby. Near Passo Sella, Italy.

Ric found this facility in a men’s room in the Val Gardena.

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