San Sebastián, Spain

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Having visited several small towns in Europe during early spring, I noticed a common theme of vacancy. These picturesque little towns, which during the summer squeeze thousands of visitors between their narrow streets, still await the onslaught of summer tourists. In the meantime, restaurants, shops, and (most criminally) gelaterias remain closed, and every street corner, building, and museum appears to be under construction. It feels as though you managed to slip behind the stage curtain prior to performance, watching the actors and their managers prepare for the big show.

There were better waves for surfing and blue skies the following day

La Concha beach, San Sebastián

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Pintxos – Exploring Tapas in San Sebastián

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My first attempt ordering at a pintxos bar was not so smooth. Traveling to San Sebastián, Spain alone, specifically to experience the famous food and beauty of this town, you’d think I would have been a bit more prepared. Unfortunately this was not the case as I stepped into, and then five seconds later, out of my first pintxos bar.

Pintxos (Basque term for Tapas) laid out at one of the dozens of pintxos bars in San Sebastán's Parte Vieja

Pintxos (Basque term for Tapas) laid out at one of the dozens of pintxos bars in San Sebastián’s Parte Vieja (Old Town)

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Dario – The God of Butchers

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Entering Dario’s shop, I felt more as if I was walking into a birthday party than a butcher shop. Generous amounts of wine, bread, cheese, and Dario’s renowned lard and meats were passed around. All the while ACDC and the likes blared through the shop’s speakers.

Posing with Dario under the meat statue and Dario sculpture just down the street from his shop

Posing with Dario under the meat sculpture and Dario relief just down the street from his shop

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Visiting “the Asian side” of Istanbul

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Visiting the only naturally occurring transcontinental city, we thought it necessary to at least see Asia. Having done little research and with no plans, we landed at the port of Kadiköy after a short ferry ride from Eminönü on the European side. The ferry trip itself was beautiful and provided a new perspective of Istanbul and the Bosphorus, the straight, which makes up a portion of the boundary between Europe and Asia.

Looking out from Eminönü port

Looking out from Eminönü port

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When in Istanbul….Have a Turkish Bath

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Lying with the side of my face pressed against the circular heated slab of marble beneath me, I listened to the echoes of women’s laughter leaping between the aged, domed ceiling and smelled wafts of orange from the mounds of fresh soapy bubbles. I had just entered the bathing room of Çemberlitaş Hamamı, a traditional Turkish bath constructed in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) during the Renaissance.
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The Foods of Istanbul

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Heading in to our exploration of Istanbul, my food-minded friends and I compiled a list of over 25 things that we had to make sure to try. Ambitious for a three-day period, I know, but we came home victorious as well as completely infatuated with Turkish specialties. Below are some of our favorite new things.

Simit

Our first simit

Our first simit

It looks like a bagel, tastes like a bagel, but is so much more exciting than a bagel for the following reasons. Continue reading

Istanbul: The Place or the Idea of the Place

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A person could easily spend a week exploring just Sultanahmet and the main bazaars in Istanbul.

Ayasofya (also known as Hagia Sophia)

Ayasofya (also known as Hagia Sophia)

Within these areas you can see jaw-dropping mosques and museums, such as the Ayasofya, New Mosque, and Basilica Cistern, and taste delicious, new treats like pistachio baklava, Turkish apricots, and Salep (a warm milk drink, dusted with cinnamon that resembles rice pudding). Continue reading

Exploding Stoves and Biking Through Tuscan Hillsides

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Elizabeth and I stood motionless in the kitchen, staring at each other wide-eyed like two Chinese parents who just witnessed their newborn speaking in the perfect English of a 40-year old British man. OK, bad analogy, but regardless, we were concerned.

The stove in the tiny B&B where we were staying had just exploded, and shattered glass shards coated the stone floor as dying embers clung to the few remaining bits of glass on the stovetop. Continue reading

Salad with Orange, Apple, Gorgonzola, and Butter-Toasted Hazelnuts | Vegetable Deprived

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Gorged on endless amounts of meats, cheeses, and pastas, I’m wondering where my vegetables have gone. It’s not that the menus of central Italian restaurants don’t offer salads, they do. You can almost always find an “Insalata Mista” (mixed salad) under the “Contorni” (side dish) section of the menu. However, as someone with an undying and often poorly understood (sad I know) love for vegetables, it makes me cringe to order the typical Insalata Mista. While the pastas are a miracle on a plate, the salads often consist of a handful of lettuce, topped with a mindless splattering of chopped carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, olives, or whatever else it seems was lying around unused in the kitchen.

There are of course rare exceptions, a beautifully simple and flavorful lentil soup, a fresh and thoughtful Capresé salad, but on the whole, it’s proving difficult in this region to find great dishes with vegetables as the focal point.

Because of my veggie deprivation, almost every night that we’ve eaten at home I’ve made a fresh salad. Below is one of my favorite salads to make here. Every time we eat it, I wonder how restaurants can even stand keeping their hands off the oranges at the markets right now. Bursting with juicy sweetness, the little orange balls of perfection would have me redesigning a whole menu around them.

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Salad with orange, apple, Gorgonzola & butter-toasted hazelnuts

Wash head of lettuce and pat out any dampness with paper towels. Saving the orange peels, supreme 3-4 oranges, as kindly demonstrated for us by Bon Appétit, or follow steps 1 and 2, removing the peel of the orange and then cut into thin slices as I did. Peel 1-2 apples, cut in half vertically, removing seeds and attached bitter interior. Place flat side of each apple half on board and slice thinly. Combine lettuce, oranges, and apples in a serving dish and toss with 1-2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice from the peels, 1 Tablespoon olive oil, and 1 Tablespoon balsamic.

Heat fry pan over medium-low heat and add ½ cup copped hazelnuts (better if peeled). Toss frequently for a few minutes until the nuts are light, crunchy, and slightly browned. Watch closely, making sure they don’t burn. Add 1 teaspoon butter to the pan and stir in with nuts for a minute.

Top salad with nuts, crumbled gorgonzola, fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

Serves 4 as side salad