Sunday, August 26, 2007

All the gooey details

Hello, my most patient of friends/readers/ random finders of this blog. I vow to never again be as lax as have been this month with my posting. I offer no excuses -- a busy life is no reason not to be totally obsessed with eating food, writing about food, and taking pictures of food, right? :)

And, as I promised, on to all of the gooey food details from my vacation!

First up, Turkey (the country, not the bird).

Turkey was fan-freaking-tastic.

We went to Kusadasi to see the ruins of Ephesus (as in the city from the book of Ephesians in the Bible -- seriously old and awesome ruins) and to Istanbul.
I LOVED Istanbul. I seriously think I could live in there. The city is vibrant, beautiful, unique, metropolitan, and swarming with people. Oh, the apple tea, the carpets, the mosques, the tiles, the bazaar (swoon!).... I have only good things to say.

A small slice of Istanbul.

Me and some of the best tiles ever. :)

Kusasasi was also pretty fantastic -- it is a vacation city (though we didn't get to spend much time there -- we spent our day climbing around the old city of Ephesus) and it is much smaller than Istanbul. On the plus side, we had the most hysterical tour guide in Kusadasi -- I'm going to try and relate to you how she sounded. However, I warn you that translating an accent into written language is hard and some of the humor might get lost.
What she said was: "My dear guests, our driver Mr. Ahmeet will be taking us to the Third Ephesus" (She said "my dear guests" at the beginning of *each* sentence -- it was awesome --and she was referring to the fact that Ephesus was rebuilt three times).
What she sounded like, however, was this: "My deeeeeeeer guests, our driver, Meeestery Meat, will be taking us to Tuuuuurd Ephesus." Her accent was a bit like a vampire from an old movie crossed with a cheerful (Turkish) school teacher. We loved her, and couldn't stop giggling about our driver Mystery Meat, and our journey to Turd Ephesus.

The original Nike (the goddess) sculpture in Ephesus. Can you figure out where Nike (the company) came up with the "swoosh" design?

Those crazy Ephesians and their two story buildings.

Those crazy Kusadasians and their "magic atmosphere!" (This was seriously the sign for the bathrooms at Ephesus.)

After we left the ruins in Ephesus, there was a small market. In this market, from a street vendor, I bought God's own figs. No really. These figs were transcendent. After tasting just one, I shrieked/moaned with delight, and shoved another one greedily in my mouth, (with complete and utter disregard for any potential lurking intestinal disease.) They were achingly sweet, perfectly ripe, and almost erotically lush. Take a look:

The fruit of the gods. I've never had figs like these before.

In Istanbul, I had a delightful, though much less palate-altering, meal. For lunch one day, just outside of the Grand Bazaar, we feasted on kebabs and rice. This was my plate -- perfectly seasoned chicken, delicious rice (it tasted nutty -- I think it was browned before it was steamed. Regardless, it was damn fine rice), tomatoes, and french fries (which I didn't eat. Who goes to Turkey and eats fries???)

Note the darker pieces of rice. Yum!

For drinks at that particular meal, I went with their house specialty imported beer: Miller Lite. Yes, I'm serious. (And, more importantly, who goes to Turkey to drink cheap American beer? Me, apparently. In my defense, it seemed slightly safer than the tap water)


Next up, food wise, Naples. Italy in general has um, how do I say it?,, astounding food. I know I don't need to tell all of you the glories of sweet fruity olive oil, the beauty of the fresh produce, or the siren call of wine. However, if you'll indulge me, I will fill you in on our day of yummy food in and around Naples.

We first went to Pompeii (it was entertaining, but the ash bodies just made me sad. I will point out that however big you think Pompeii is, it is at least 4 times bigger. The ruins are huge.) and then we jaunted up the Amalfi Coast. Seriously? Double swoon. I believe I would give my left arm to be independently wealthy and be able to buy a big, gorgeous house on the Amalfi Coast.

Anyway, my friends and I settled in for a long, leisurely Italian lunch at a cute cafe near the Coast. We started with some antipasti:

My plate, from the top, clockwise: mussels in decadent tomato sauce, perfectly tender grilled calamari, crusty fresh bread, and marinated veggies -- eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. There was also an assortment of cheeses available, but being allergic to milk, I of course didn't take any.

Next course was the pizza. Now, those of you who have been reading my blog for a bit, might remember that in my post in April, I pointed out that eating pizza in Naples (the birthplace of pizza) was one of my 25 things to do before I turned 50. Well kids, mission accomplished....and oh, what a sweet reward. My frutti de mare pizza was exquisite. A delicious crispy/chewy crust -- lightly blistered on the bottom with charred spots. Perfectly balanced tomato sauce. Tender seafood. A glorious trinity of textures, flavors, and smells. It was all I dreamed and more.

Accomplishing a goal sure feels (tastes) good!

After lunch, we strolled around the shopping area and picked up jewelry, admired some inlaid wood (which the region is famous for), and perused the fruit stands. Apparently, other than inlaid wood, Sorrento is also famous for some hard-core lemons. Um, limoncello anyone? Anyway, check out the size of these babies:

They were huge -- and incredibly fragrant. I only wished I had stayed in Naples for longer so I could have made a batch of lemonade, or a tart, or marinated some fish,.... or, or, or (I could keep going with a million ways I could have used those glorious lemons).

We also enjoyed our fair share of cafe, the aforementioned limoncello, and some gelato. "Wait!", I hear you say. "Kristel, you can't have gelato. Hello? Dairy allergy?" And to that I reply one word: Sorbetto. Yes indeed, folks, those Italians make some of the best sorbetto in the world. And I was lucky enough to have life-changing dark chocoloate sorbetto with chunks of dark chocolate while in Sorrento. I am at a loss for words to describe the experience of eating this dessert. It was unlike any sorbet I'd ever had before -- incredibly smooth, deeply flavored, and impossibly rich. If I lived in Italy I think I'd weigh 500 pounds. Look, I won't even stop eating it to take a picture:

* Friends of Kristel (I'm looking at you, Melissa, Jason, and Ben), if you do not want your picture on this website, let me know. If not, you and your gluttonous, gelato eating ways will be on display for the world to see.

Next up, Rome! In Rome I saw approximately one million amazing things, including: St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, the Spanish Steps, and lots of sculptures. Here I am in front of the Trevi fountain:

I also saw (but did not eat) a very interesting flavor of gelato:

I guess it keeps you, uh, primed and ready.

In related news, another funny Roman food sign:

I find this hilarious. I'm not sure why. I think it is the "only from we" bit.

Onward we slog, on this pictorial tour, towards Florence. Florence is clearly a beautiful city with amazing architecture:

The camera just doesn't do justice to the intricacy of these churches.

Hello, awesome door.

Perhaps more importantly, Florence is the home of some amazing leather. Including a new leather blazer that hangs proudly (and so far unworn) in my warm southern California home.

Perhaps most importantly, it is the home of the best plate of pasta that I've ever eaten. Hands down.

I personally have problems making properly al dente pasta. It is always either too raw or a little too soft. Even at restaurants I find that it tends to fall just short or just over al dente. Well, some crazy Florence voodoo magic was at play here (or the chef was just really good) because this pasta was what pasta is meant to be. It defined the word toothsome. The noodles were chewy, but not elastic, tender, but not soft, flavored, but not strongly. In a word, perfect. Oh, and the sauce was pretty much divine. I inhaled this plate of pasta, pausing only long enough to reflect, "sweet lord, this is the best carbohydrate known to man (or woman)."

It may not look like much, but I would give almost anything to be able to create a pasta dish this good.

Finally, the food on the ship. I don't really have much to say about the food on the cruise ship. I guess I could say that there was a lot of it. The quantity far outshone the quality. Etc. I did take a picture of the one dish on the ship that I thought was superb. My salad of lobster, crab, shrimp, grapefruit, avocado, and cilantro oil was wonderful. Of course, it would be difficult to make those ingredients taste badly. Nevertheless, here is my favorite dish from the ship:

Check out the size of the claw meat!

And, to wrap up - I did go to other places on this trip -- I just have no food related pictures. I was in Venice (sorry, no pictures, period. I'd been to Venice before, and just wasn't feeling the picture taking vibe while I was there this time),

Athens, Greece,

and a few villages in Marseilles, France.

Thanks for taking the time to read my account of food and fun from this vacation. I leave you with the image of me doing what I did best on the ship: drinking wine.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Sweet mother of all things good and holy. This week? Gah.

Our power was out for nearly 24 hours. In stifling heat.

There was a HUGE accident on the 101 right outside my house yesterday. Traffic was backed up for literally 6 miles. Getting to work yesterday was misery incarnate.

My camera charger is missing. And, without it, I can't upload photos of the trip or of subsequent delicious food, so I can't blog about anything.

My luggage is still traveling Europe without me. Most recently, Princess Cruises told me that they shipped it from Barcelona, to Belgium, to the U.K. We'll see if I ever receive it.

Work is, well, work. And therefore, all consuming.

M is having neck surgery today -- getting 3 vertebrae fused together. Enough said. :(

I could go on -- but I have a feeling you might get bored. The moral of this story? I'm frazzled. And feeling guilty about not posting. I will. I promise. Very, very soon. Until then, read the archives. I recommend the recipe for smoked salmon pizza.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I'm Back!

Hello, hello, my dedicated handful of readers. :)

The Mediterranean did me well. Princess Cruises and Air France? Not so much.

To make a very, very long story short, we had a wonderful vacation around the Mediterranean (Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, and France), save for the overwhelming incompetence of both Princess Cruise and Air France. Princess Cruise line lost our luggage at the beginning and at the end of the trip, served us staggeringly mediocre food, and provided us with tour guides that lacked any semblance of a personality. Granted, we did have a few good meals, the staff on-board were very nice, and we did run across at least one entertaining guide. On the whole, however, Princess was disappointing. The actual ports, though? They were wonderful.

I'd love to show you some of my pictures, but as the result the aforementioned incompetence of Princess Cruise line and Air France, I am still missing two of my pieces of luggage. In those bags, other than my clothes, shoes, jewelry, gifts, souvenirs, toothbrush, etc., is my camera charger. Without that charger, I can't upload any pictures. Therefore, until either Princess or Air France manages to get their act together, you will have to wait with bated breath for shots of food and fun from around the Mediterranean and the stories of the same.

However, in the meantime, I thought I'd share some pictures of The Best Soup Ever. A few weeks before I left for vacation, I invited some friends over and made the Best Soup Ever for the first time this year. It was just as delicious as we remembered -- tangy, smokey, herby, salty, and fresh. If you haven't read the recipe, please do. You can find it here. Enjoy!

The garnishes, clockwise from the top: diced heirloom tomatoes, limes, hot sauce, shredded smoked trout, shopped cilantro, minced basil.

Words don't do justice to the deliciousness. No, really.

Seriously, make this soup.