Sunday, August 30, 2009
Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.
Yes, bagels. Have you ever tried making your own? Have you any earthly idea where to even begin?
I wasn't all that intrigued by the idea of making bagels until an editor at work, Nick, brought in a homemade batch last year. They weren't just yummy — they were the best bagels I'd ever had.
I finally got around to trying out my own batch this past week.
Like any bread, this is how life as a bagel begins: flour, yeast, water, salt.
I won't bore you with the rising bit, except to share a tip. It seems to me that the rising part is far more flexible than you might think. Sure, it says "Let rise 2 hours" but you can wait longer, especially if you stick the dough in the fridge overnight. I'm a big fan of two-day bread baking. The first day is for making the dough. The second day for baking it. In between, time takes care of a lot of the work.
The dough gets divided up into balls. I added chopped onions to half of the batch.
Then they get shaped. I followed Mark Bittman's instructions in "How to Cook Everything" and rolled the dough into a log, then looped the ends together. As you can see, it made for bagels with personality. (See the pushy one in the center? The grouchy one in the last row? What, you don't?)
OK, now what? Pop them in the oven, right?
Pop them in a pot of boiling water!
Who knew bagels got boiled? I thought for sure they would fall apart and dissolve into a gooey bagel stew. But no, they held together nicely. A minute on one side, then flip. A minute on the other.
Now comes the baking. Some of the non-onion bagels got dunked in cinnamon sugar. Mmmm.
They bake for about 20 minutes. Half-way through, I sprinkled some with cheese. (The onion ones, not the cinnamon ones. Eew.)
And presto! Here they are. All pretty, looking remarkably bagel-like and tasty. They weren't as good as Nick's, but they were dang delicious.
One warning: Bagels made with no fancy chemicals get stiff and inedible quickly. If you like the way the bagels turn out, invite friends over immediately. When else will they get invited to a spontaneous bagel party?
On my list of subjects to explore (other than, umm, managerial accounting):
- wineries (and breweries)
- hiking trails (and vistas)
- food (restaurants, markets, artisan anything)
My first weekend here, I set out to find a trail. I figured I'd just go through one of many lists online and check them off, see where I ended up and what dazzled me.
Mint Springs Valley Park was my first foray near Charlottesville. It's just 20-25 minutes to the west, beyond Crozat, down winding wooded roads certain to make you pull over at least once and consult your map. It's amazing how quickly you leave the land of Target and 7-Eleven and reach open pastures.
Mint Springs Valley Park supposedly had two lakes for swimming, plus trails. I got there before the lakes opened at 11 a.m. Yes, they open. They are fenced off and, well, really resemble ponds more than lakes. (Look closely...)
When I first pulled into the park, a cluster of deer were grazing by the side of the gravel road. I stopped in astonishment. They lifted up their elegant necks, stared at me a moment, and leaped gracefully into the woods.
I drove on to a parking spot, where I sat for a minute or two in the car gathering my things into a backpack. I hopped out, shutting the door rather loudly, and then realized with a start that the deer had returned, just a few yards away, and were now scattering back into the woods.
One lone deer remained. He seemed like a buck to me, all serious stare and giant ears, just watching me. What would I do next?
I walked slowly to a nearby tree and sat down, waiting and watching and hoping that all the deer might return to graze.
No such luck. After a minute or two, he bounded into the woods.
And I set off for the opposite side of the woods, where the trails were clearly marked.
Mint Valley Springs doesn't have the incredible vistas of other areas, but it does have a thick forest with few other hikers around. The trails are relatively short — a half-mile or maybe two miles. They make for comfortable wandering in the woods, under the brilliant canopy of green.
I liked how well the trails were marked. Free maps are available at an information board at the forest entrance. They show all the different named trails, the length, plus landmarks like a giant tree.
I met only a few other hikers on the trail — a father with his two kids. All else was quiet, peaceful except for rustling of leaves and the chirps of birds and insects. It was a bit disconcerting and eerie for someone used to the soundtrack of town life.
My favorite bits were the trees that seemed to shape themselves into modern art. Check out this wooden work. Can't you just see it in a fancy gallery with an undecipherable title?
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Today my roommate and I went coffeeshop exploring and found a branch of Shenandoah Joe's right nearby. There is a larger version closer to downtown that is reportedly always bustling. This smaller outpost was quiet. On a Saturday afternoon, a handful of people were reading or chatting. It felt relaxing. Tension I didn't even realize I had started to melt away.
I ordered a delicious iced mocha; my roommate ordered a latte, which came festooned with an exquisite leaf! I love the care put into details in Charlottesville. It seems like there is a sense of quality infused in many more things than a typical U.S. town might have.
That care surprises me each time, in a delightful way. Charlottesville is sliding into my heart already.
2214 Ivy Road
Saturday, August 8, 2009
One is a lovely blog from my friend Erin, who is tackling a food challenge called One Local Summer. The gist: "prepare one meal each week using only locally grown ingredients - the exceptions are oil, salt and pepper, and spices."
She lives in D.C. and has a plethora of farmers' markets available. You can read all about her delicious meals at New to the Market.
I also learned, courtesy of Erin, what gooseberries are:
CREDIT: New to the Market blog
Here's how she describes them: "Sort of a cross between grapes, raspberries, and sour candy. Delicious and addictive."
I think they look like grape basketballs ...
Friday, August 7, 2009
Hello, comfy bed that does not have a red ladder attached!
Hello, enormous fridge, stove with a luxurious four burners, and toaster!
Hello, cheap Internet access, air-conditioning, and my steadfast Honda Civic!
Hello, ICE CUBES!
Yes, I'm back in the U.S. of A. and happy to be.
That's not to say there isn't plenty I wish I could have packed up in my suitcase and transplanted into America. Like, say, lackadaisical dinners that don't begin until 9 (er, 21:00) ... or inexpensive cheese shops ... or environmentally smart toilets that offer two flush options. (Sorry, did you care about that?)
Still, it's very, very, very nice to be home.
I am in a bit of a Tasmanian Devil whirlwind now, getting geared up for a classes next week and an impromptu family trip to the Outer Banks this weekend. Eventually, I'll go through my camera and post more and better photos (as opposed to the blurry/grainy/bad-lighting of the iPhone). And add videos. And include detailed location info on the restaurants. And clean up the typos.
I'm also debating whether to keep this blog up with sporadic food and travel posts or start a new blog based around Charlottesville and/or life as an MBA student. Any votes either way?
Thanks for reading along. I really appreciate the encouragement and cheerleading, which kept me posting. More adventures will be unpacked soon ...
For my last meal in Europe, I bought a limeade, avocado, tomato and
bacon salad, and a pear and butterscotch yogurt for about 6 pounds.
I'm trying not to think about what everything translates to in dollars.
(Dear Dollar, I miss you. I have had fun with the Euro and the Pound,
but they have their limits. I find your company much more pleasant,
with far more possibilites. Let's get together soon, OK? Love, Me.)
Mouth-watering fried coating with moist delicate fish ... crispy blazing hot fries... It made grease kisses on the paper it came charmingly wrapped in.
The package was so hot I could barely eat it for the first few minutes, not that that stopped me from trying.
And talk about quick! I think I was in and out in 60 seconds, maybe 75 because I asked for a bottle of water, too.
Bad news: timing. My tummy was so heavy for the next few hours, a not- so-pleasant feeling when your feet want to be dancing ...
19 Theobalds Road
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Tomorrow I fly back to the States.
Today I have a handful of hours to savor London, an appropriate
transitionary stop before America.
I decided to go to Tate Modern, one of four Tate museums in the UK and
not all that far from my evening plans: swing dancing. :)
The Tate Modern is right across the pedestrian Millennium Bridge over
the Thames River, a short walk (well, if you know where you are
going...) from St. Paul's stop (hi, Paul!) on the tube.
(I love the British wordings. It's not "EXIT" but "WAY OUT." Not
"Hungry?" on a sign for the museum cafe but "Feeling Peckish?" I feel
a bit like I'm in an urban futuristic version of Winnie the Pooh.)
The Tate Modern arranges its awesome collection, by so many huge
artists, not by chronology but by theme.
So I just wandered through Poetry and ... oh, bother... was it
Emotion? Dreams? Dreams and Poetry?
Well. Something like that.
Obviously there is a bit of latitude in such a title. If the room were
full of representations of Tractors and Cows, I would not have such a
(My subconscious knows and just won't cough up the right words. Hmfph.)
Anyway, it was full of familiar faces from this trip: Miro (a dreamy
blue background, a few black lines, a white shape he later revealed
was a horse), Picasso (nudes with geometric thighs and breasts),
Calder (a mobile overhead with primary-color shapes), as well as
others I just got introduced to. (And like a clumsy guest at a party,
I've already forgotten their names. Bollocks.)
I had read the the restaurant on the 7th floor has beautiful views of
the city and good food, too, so I'm taking a break before tackling
Energy and Process. Or was it Energy and Progressions?
Monday, August 3, 2009
and we opted for the ferry for Leg No. 1.
One hour on the glorious Lake Como for 11 euros or two hours for 8
Two, of course.
We're waiting in the ferry station now, as a less-than-picturesque
shower, complete with thunderous grumbles, overtakes the day.
I bought a pair of gray REI convertible pants at the College Park
store before I left, and they have been awfully useful.
As shorts, they are long enough (covering the knees) to be Vatican-
friendly, a nice bonus.
REI makes them in sizes for short and tall people (and those who are
Goldilocks just-right, too) with nice touches like snaps and a button
at the waist, plus a hidden drawstring for any hiking weightloss (or
perhaps gelato weight gain).
My favorite parts, though, are the awesome pockets.
The two hip/side pockets are up higher than usual jeans, just two
slits a bit wider than a credit card. They have zippers and tiny
flaps, so they are invisible. Perfect for tucking money and cards
safely away while traveling.
There is one more pocket on one leg, on the thigh, really. It closes
with two snaps and is big enough to hold my iPhone and my passport,
which gives my legs a reassuring I'm-right-here pat when strolling
through a tourist crowd.
A terrific purchase, I'm happy to say. Next time, I'll tell you about
the super-duper jacket purchase. (Contain your excitement, please. :)
dish came with a few shrimp and these mini-lobster crustaceans that
yield only a pinkie-finger-size bit of meat - but it's so flavorful!
The village is in the middle of the upside-down Y of Lake Como, where
all three legs intersect. Which makes for an excellent view from the
shore of Bellagio.
yellow scoops are polenta, a cornmeal-ish creation, and the red ball a
We weren't quite sure what the bitter grilled leafy thing was. It went
well with the pungent (bleu?) cheese.
The menu only described it in English as "red salad."
Lake Como is beautiful. It reminds me quite a bit of Lake Tahoe in Utah, a still and glistening water ringed by gorgeous mountains. In Italy, the lake goes briskly up into lush foothills spotted with pastel buildings and, generally, a clock tower or church steeple in every village.
We got into our hostel in Menaggio, one of the lovely lake towns, two days ago. It's perfectly situated above the ferry, at a vantage point to overlook the town and across the lake to its sibiling village Varenna. Bunk beds, bread and jam for breakfast, wifi at 2 euros an hour. It is totally fine.
Despite my mental ambitions to kayak or mountain bike or hike, I have slipped into winddown mode. There are only a few days left in this 40-day trip, and I am content to let them be soaked in relaxing and exquisite views.
Shiloh and I spent the first night exploring the village square. We found a gelateria with homemade treats and ate at a nice ristorante.
Yesterday, we took a ferry (I love the ferries) across the lake to Bellagio, the village of which the fancy Vegas casino is named after. I am not exactly clear on why, having now seen the actual Bellagio. It is charming, but just as charming as every other little Italian village on a picturesque lake. The casino complex might as well be called Menaggio, in my book.
Bellago did have a cluster of boutiques selling Italian silk (scarves and ties and the like), lace and linens, all kinds of expensive baby clothes, elegant silver, jewlery. Not my kind of shopping, unfortunately. I'm holding out for a pair of vivid London sneakers.
We ate lunch at a modern restaurant called Far Out. I will dig up some photos in a bit. Homemade pasta was on my list, and I finally got some. Delicious. It makes me want to pull out my pasta maker (yes, I have one, thanks to one of my dear sisters) at home and learn how to properly work the crank.
Today, we are taking the ferry down the lake, snaking almost two hours from stop to stop, to reach Como. From there, a train to Malpensa. Flights await us in the morning.
Wednesday night, I arrive back in the States. And I am very ready. A hot bath, a comfortable bed, unlimited Internet, and many missed friends and family.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
(cappacinko?) and a buttery, flaky, soft crossiant with sweet jam
I really like the little clover design on the frothy milk, just a bit
of extra care
and delight in my breakfast experience.
I've come to believe that cafes with especially helpful or
conscientious staff also typically have very good food.
Perhaps my mind is therefore predisposed to enjoy the food more, have
an overall more pleasant experience, etc., but I'd like to think the
care such a person takes is simply woven into every aspect, and thus
makes the food of higher quality.
in France or coffeeshops in Amsterdam.
One gelateria in Corniglia also offers icy drinks with real fruit for
The nice woman behind the counter told us the strawberries were
organic and came from a boy who grows them in Vernazza, the next
village to the north. She emphasized that she only sold the strawberry
drink when they were in season and she could purchase them from him.
And wow, when ripe strawberries mix and mingle with ice, the creation
is so full of berry flavor. Perfection on a steamy summer day...
homebase, there is a concrete patio at the end of the main street (a
winding, narrow, carless alley, really).
The spot overlooks the sea, with views of the nearby towns on the
cliffs. It is the perfect spot to watch dazzling sunsets.