Near the end of August I traveled to Trenton, Maine to join my friends Molly and Stefan on their wedding day. We all met in Portland, Oregon where we attended Reed College. The long weekend was filled with many familiar faces from those days.  Old friends traveled from all corners of the country and the globe to join the celebration, and it was truly one of the most beautiful I have attended.

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Molly grew up in Trenton and the wedding took place in her father's backyard which is quite a sight, especially when the tide rolls out in the evening.


It was my first time visiting Maine.  The trip was brief, just two nights, but my traveling companions and I made the most of it.  We took a surreal, fog-filled cruise on the Margaret Todd and enjoyed some Bar Harbor night-life.


We went for a short hike and took in the incredible air from the shore. (Next time I will plan a trip long enough to really enjoy Acadia National Park).


And of course, we ate a lot of fresh seafood.

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Many of us stayed just down the street from the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound and it became a quick favorite that we visited multiple times. 


This family-owned, no frills establishment serves fresh boiled lobster, steamed clams, steamed corn, chowders, stews and pies and I think we wound up sampling just about everything.


Unsurprisingly, the wedding dinner was also incredible.  Late summer salads, plenty of locally brewed beer, and a lobster bake on-site. Enjoying this amazing meal under a light-filled tent on the shore with so many of my favorite people is a memory I will not soon forget.

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Congratulations Molly and Stefan!

(For more Maine photographs, visit my Flickr album.)

Buenos Aires - Day One

BAbuilding For as long as I've been accruing them, I've been inexplicably nervous about my frequent flier miles expiring or disappearing. Nick and I recently took care of the whole lot by taking a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  We took an overnight flight from Chicago and arrived at Ezeiza airport on a Thursday morning.

We checked into the lovely, family run Four B&B in the San Telmo neighborhood. This renovated colonial house offers stylish rooms designed by Cuban artist Reinaldo Lopez Sobrado and a gorgeous rooftop patio.  The rooms are reasonably priced and the proprietors are exceptionally nice -- even letting us borrow dishes and an electrical adapter that we had forgotten to pack. Best of all, breakfast arrives any time you wish.


After we unpacked a bit, Nick and I took a quick walk around the neighborhood as we waited for our friend Peter, an English instructor, to meet us after his morning class.  Peter and I met in Iowa during my first year of college.  Even though I ended up transferring to Reed and he's moved all over the world, I've been lucky to keep in touch with him over the years.

We spent most of the afternoon walking up and down Florida Street attending to housekeeping details like exchanging money and buying a sim card for my phone. After a bite to eat, Peter went to his second class of the day and Nick and I returned to San Telmo where we ended up at Bar Dorrego just up the street from our hotel.


San Telmo is the oldest residential neighborhood in Buenos Aires and the cobblestone streets and glorious buildings are well-preserved (as a result, it is also a bit touristy). Bar Dorrego dates back to 1881 and overlooks Plaza Dorrego, which fills with vendors every Sunday during the San Telmo Antique Market.  This classic cafe has gorgeous woodwork (now carved with graffiti), a black and white checked floor -- and like most cafes in Buenos Aires -- will keep your table well supplied with peanuts while you drink.


Quilmes is the beer of choice for most Argentinians.  We decided to give their stout a try and it ended up being a nice first drink for the evening. While Bar Dorrego is a bit over-priced due to its location and history, I would still recommend getting a drink or two in this lovely old cafe.


Afterward we made our way to Palermo Viejo to meet up with Peter and his lovely girlfriend Pao. We shared a bottle of Genesis Malbec from Mendoza and ordered dinner from Gourmet Empanadas. Gourmet Empanadas has several locations across the city and the assortment we ordered really hit the spot (I especially enjoyed the tomate, queso y albahaca).

We took a cab up to Sugar, a bar in Palermo, where one of Peter's friends was celebrating her birthday. Nightlife in Buenos Aires really is a late affair -- Sugar's 5 peso pint "happy-hour" runs until midnight!  We drank a few Quilmes and got to know their awesome Colombian friend Arturo. Peter and Pao had to work in the morning, and Nick and I were exhausted from our sleepless flight, so we parted ways around 1 a.m., looking forward to our first full day in the city.

Stay tuned for day two!

Homemade Pasta for Hectic Nights

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I bet some of you are wondering if I skipped out on my return flight and remained in South America.  Sadly, no.  Nick and I returned to Chicago as scheduled, but I've been frantically catching up at work since.  Whatever level of relaxation was achieved on vacation has been quickly and thoroughly reversed. I have the first two days of photos up on my Flickr account, but I haven't found the time to go through the rest or post about it yet. I will soon.  It was an amazing trip and I am looking forward to sharing it with you.

When life is busy, we still need to eat -- but sometimes the convenient options just make me feel more rundown.  Next time you find yourself reaching for an uninspired box of mac and cheese or a bag of ramen, consider how quick and satisfying it is to make your own pasta. Forget the fancy machines and pasta roller attachments.  They aren't necessary.  Using only flour, a few eggs, a rolling pin and a knife -- you are minutes away from tossing your own fresh pasta into boiling water. I was recently reminded of this by the Pioneer Woman.  She offers her friend Ryan's great rule of thumb: 1 cup of flour plus 2 eggs equals pasta for 2 people. 
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Pour a cup of flour on the counter.  Make a well in the center.  Crack two eggs into it and mix the dough with your hand, kneading until it is smooth.  Let the dough rest for about 5 minutes and then roll out on a lightly floured surface.  Slice into strips with a knife (a pizza or dough cutter works well too) and cook for 2 minutes in salted boiling water.  I tossed my pasta with some olive oil, garlic, dried basil and sliced tomatoes.  

It's going to be another late night at work -- but at least I know I have the other half of my pasta dough waiting for me in the refrigerator. 

Buenos Aires

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Nick and I are crossing our fingers that the storms hold out for a few more hours. We are scheduled to leave for Buenos Aires this evening and the forecast isn't cooperating.  We have a growing list of places to visit, but if anyone would like to suggest an addition, please feel free to post it in the comments or send me an email. We'll be back in about a week and I look forward to sharing our adventures!

(The photo is from the bridge near 18th and Wentworth in Chicago.)

Giving Thanks in Ohio

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I spent Thanksgiving in eastern Ohio. Despite being firmly planted in the Great Lakes snowbelt, this area of the country welcomed the holiday with sun and unseasonable warmth.

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We took advantage of the weather by hiking through nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Just minutes from busy towns and factories, the Cuyahoga River cuts through the state creating rocky hills and deep forests.

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A blanket of snow highlighted the vegetation and made the air head-clearing and crisp. (Which was welcome after a raucous night of Clue and Great Lakes beer.)

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Jerry and Christi, our hosts, made a delicious Thanksgiving feast for us.  I contributed two dishes from other food blogs: The Pioneer Woman's Whiskey Glazed Carrots and Orangette's Cream Braised Brussels Sprouts.

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Both dishes were delicious, but in hindsight, I should have paired one of these vegetable sides with a less-rich partner.  Though, what would the holidays be without a bit of decadence?

Snapshots of Portland

Without taking up too much of your time, I wanted to share a few more photographs from my August trip to Portland. Mothers_2

Matt and Anastasia's rehearsal dinner was held at Mother's Bistro.  This charming restaurant was the perfect venue.  The late afternoon light made the chandeliers sparkle.  I really like this photo of my grandfather, Landon Petrie, and his amused expression.


Matt and Ana were married at the Hoyt Arboretum.  The weather was perfect.


Oh, how I miss Stumptown Coffee.  Matt and Ana's wedding reception was held at the fabulous Kennedy School, a converted elementary school that now hosts restaurants, bars, a hotel, a movie theater, reception halls and a hot tub.


The Kennedy School is owned by McMenamins, a company that also happens to brew Terminator Stout.  They will make this formidable beer into a heavenly stout-chocolate milkshake.  The next day we met my friend Kenna's beautiful new daughter, Isadora, and ate brunch at the Cup and Saucer Cafe.


We spent one afternoon wandering around Reed College. I found this noble chair in the faculty lounge  The staircase leads to the old chapel in Eliot Hall that is used for small musical acts and author readings.


The blue bridge connects the two sides of campus that are divided by a small river canyon.  The lights that illuminate the bridge at night are blue.  This giant tree sits in the middle of our quad.


I somehow spent many hours in the Reed Pool Hall, without playing much pool. This door with the inspired decoration leads to my old Renn Fayre office, which had a similar decorating scheme.


Laney, my grandmother Schwab's best friend growing up in Chicago, now lives in Portland.  She is a wonderfully sweet, intelligent, and startlingly energetic woman. She was sort of a proxy grandmother to me during my time at Reed, even attending my graduation. Here we are sitting on the steps of Eliot Hall with my parents.


And finally, we made a stop at Otto's Sausage Kitchen, just up the street from my alma mater.  They grill sausages outside and have a delicious deli and beverage section as well.

To Portland, with love.

Holland, Michigan


In early July Nick and I took an Amtrak train from Chicago to Holland, Michigan.  We were met at the station by a very sweet young woman who was the keeper of the Dutch Colonial Inn where we had two nights reserved. We had decided on Holland thanks to the New Holland Brewery.  Nick and I are fans of many of their offerings, though most notably their Dragon's Milk.  The bed and breakfast is only about a mile from the brewery and we walked straight there after checking in to our room. 


There were a large number of IPAs on the chalkboard that we had never heard of, so we decided to start with a sampler tray:

Klomp Hatter IPA:  This one reminded us a bit of Gumballhead, with the hops kicking in at the end.  It was pretty good. 
Urele Heavy: A Scotch ale with a light front, a sweet end and a malty roundness throughout.
Nitro Hatter IPA:  This tasted bland and thin to us.
Belgian Hatter IPA: Smelled a bit like cough syrup and had a sharp astringent finish.
Imperial Hatter IPA: Very sweet with a muted hoppy-ness.  Full and luscious at the end.
Black Hatter IPA: This may have been the favorite of the bunch. Very dark in color and had a full earthy taste of toasted barely.  Not terribly complex, but strange and tasty.
Czarist stout: A very chocolaty stout with a frothy mouth-feel that finished pretty thin.
Existential: A sweet and hoppy barleywine.  Very good.


Their food was decent.  I ordered the annoyingly named "Treehugger" for eight bucks ("Vegetarians delight in this display of roughage! Served on a toasted focaccia bun, we pile hummus, cucumber, red onion, Roma tomato, sprouts, chipotle ranch dressing and dill havarti cheese.")  We learned, to our surprise, that the New Holland Brewpub does not own a deep fryer, so no fries...


After we ate we decided to move out back to their patio and ordered some tried and true full sized beers: the Dragon's Milk and Existential.  We had planned our trip around the brewery hours, and were well aware that the website claims the brewpub is open until 2 am on Saturdays.  However, again to our surprise, the kids who run the place (seriously, they all looked about 17)  closed up shop around 12:30 even though the place was packed.  This resulted in a mass exodus of very intoxicated patrons wandering out towards their cars and calling it a night.  Yikes. We walked home with a 22 to share in the garden.


Overall we weren't sure what to think of the New Holland Brewery and Brewpub.  Perhaps we just had bad luck, but no one seemed to know much about beer or really be old enough to drink it.  Their food was mediocre and they seem to be in need of a new manager if closing up shop an hour and a half early when the place is packed makes sense to them.  We were somewhat underwhelmed with the new beers we tried, but we do love the Dragon's Milk and Existential.  All in all I am quite glad we made the trip to the brewery, but I think in the future we will stick to those beers that the New Holland Brewing Company has deemed worthy of distribution. 

Oh, and one more thing, Holland doesn't allow beer or wine sales on Sundays --only liquor... This was an unfortunate surprise to us when we went back for one last try on Sunday afternoon.  Plan accordingly if you visit.  They neglected to mention this on their website we visited, but they now have a small button asking for help in repealing Sunday prohibition.


We really weren't heartbroken to use our time in other ways.  Holland is a charming little town and thanks to the Dutch Colonial Inn, we were able to fully enjoy it.  The Inn had two bikes that they allowed us to take all over town.  We biked the seven miles to the shores of Lake Michigan where the "Big Red Lighthouse" sits.  The views were breathtaking and the weather was perfect.


We then biked over to Windmill Island on the other side of town.  We paid the small admission fee and went straight to "De Zwaan," a 240 year old working Dutch windmill.  Our tour was run by a sweet and knowledgeable young woman dressed in traditional Dutch attire. We were able to climb all around the windmill and learned quite a bit about the tradition behind various decorations and how the milling process works.  Flour is still milled at De Zwaan and visitors can buy the flour in the gift shop.


We then spent about an hour laying around on the lawn and framing shots of Nick fighting the windmill.  Other attractions at Windmill Island include: a working antique carousel, homemade fudge, a working antique Amsterdam street organ, a miniature village and old-time klompen dancing performances.


We returned to the bed and breakfast to lay around and plan for dinner.  Our options were very limited on a Sunday night in Holland, Michigan.  We were going to order a pizza and call it a weekend, but our lovely inn keeper once again came to the rescue.  She scoffed when I asked for delivery recommendations and basically made us take her car back out towards the lighthouse to have a civilized dinner.  She recommended the Piper Restaurant on the water.  They had a lovely balcony overlooking the docks and the cool evening felt wonderful. 


We were both still in the mood for pizza, especially now that we had found a place with a wood oven.  Nick ordered the Meaty Medley: Italian sausage, smoked ham and pepperoni with a five-cheese blend and tomato sauce.   


I designed my own with asparagus and goat cheese.  It was all very tasty.


Holland, Michigan is a beautiful town.  We experienced some great food, interesting beer, gorgeous scenery and unbelievable hospitality.  This was an easy trip from the city and one I would highly recommend.

Waupaca: Chez Marché Café


I have written extensively about Waupaca, Wisconsin -- a small town on a chain of lakes where my family vacations each summer.   A few years ago a small café moved into the space adjoining the Waupaca book store in the old downtown area.  My family has dined here on a few occasions and each time it gets better.  Chez Marché uses local and sustainable products to create vibrant, fresh dishes. 

On our most recent trip my mother ordered a bowl of their Curried Tomato Soup.  I spooned some on top of my bread to enjoy.  It was delicious. One of the fantastic things about this restaurant is that they have posted dozens of recipes on their website.  Sadly, the recipe for this sweet and spicy soup is not included.  I would love to be able to make this for myself in the late summer when there is always an abundance of tomatoes.


My father ordered a simple side salad with some beautiful greens and stunning tomatoes.


We enjoyed good quality olives with excellent bread as we waited for our main courses.


I ordered the Complex Salad: Fresh mixed greens, goat cheese, a poached egg, croutons and herbs in a house vinaigrette.  In addition the salad arrived with cucumbers, tomatoes, thinly sliced onions and one glorious yellow nasturtium.  I should have made a point to ask for the egg runny, as it was slightly cooked when it arrived to me (and warm runny egg yolk on a salad is something I find quite delicious).  But this was my oversight and the salad was otherwise bright, flavorful and satisfying.


My brother Evan ordered Sautéed Garlicky Greens with melted Carr Valley Fontina Cheese.


My father ordered a special for his main course: A rich summer squash gratin.


My mother ordered Prosciutto and Fontina Sacchetini: Small "purses" of pasta filled with Fontina cheese, prosciutto ham, basil, garlic and pepper in a light cream and herb sauce.


The space is quaint, with tables, chairs and tableware in dozens of styles.  Local art adorns the walls and the stage in front is often used for local music and speakers. The Waupaca Peace Group was holding a small meeting and my mother spoke with them about the Peace Group she belongs to in Woodstock.   This restaurant definitely has a community feel to it and the service is always relaxed and friendly.  This restaurant lets us take a break from the more typical grilled food and beer offerings in the area and have a civilized, quiet and local meal together.  (Though we do love our ham/veggie burgers and beer).


The few times we have visited Chez Marché there have not been many other diners.  If you ever find yourself in the area I would highly recommend this restaurant.  We are worried that we will drive into downtown Waupaca one summer to find the café gone.  This little gem deserves to stay around. Bonni Miller, the chef and owner, and has created some lovely dishes.  In a few years I would not be surprised if they are putting out some of the best food in their greater-Wisconsin area.


Img_1740 At the end of June I traveled to Baltimore with my office and several hundred of the nation's preeminent oncologists.  My trip was a bit rocky due to a canceled flight, a delayed flight and a botched Super Shuttle reservation.  I arrived at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront at about 2 am and soon began a succession of very early morning work hours.  One of the only perks with this work schedule was the ability to order room-service.


My room was huge, with two walls of floor to ceiling windows looking over the harbor, a king size bed and a large television.  I spent a few nice mornings with the sun rising over the harbor, the history channel and satisfying diner food delivered right to my door.


The food wasn't stellar, but it hit the spot.  I documented the occasion more for the novelty of the room-service experience than the culinary prowess of the Marriott kitchens.


My friend Mike grew up in Baltimore.  During our senior years at Reed College, Mike, Tamara and I ran Renn Fayre together.  Mike was also a guiding force behind Beer Nation, which kept those of age happily saturated with Northwest micro brew in campus beer gardens.  Naturally, Mike did not lead me astray with Baltimore beer advice.  I was able to make two visits to A Brewer's Art, once with my co-worker Aaron and a second time to meet up with my dear cousin Matt and his girlfriend Ana.  Matt and Ana had just relocated to Washington D.C. from Portland, Oregon and were kind enough to drive down on Matt's birthday to say hello to me.  While A Brewer's Art brews several delicious beers, their Resurrection Ale (an abbey-style dubbel) stands alone.  Sadly, they don't bottle yet.  They expect to start in the next few years according to the bartender.


After a particularly long work day and too many hotel meals, I decided to take myself out to dinner.  Having little energy and limited Baltimore navigational skills, I decided to try one of the nearby Italian restaurants.  I settled into a sunny table at Aldo's and ordered a Pinot Noir and an Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and an aged balsamic vinaigrette.


The salad was perfect.  It was simple and full flavored with a hearty crack of black pepper.


My waiter, Jim, seemed to take a liking to me and was intrigued as to why I might be photographing my food.  I explained my hobby and Jim turned up the charm, starting with a complimentary Four Cheese Risotto.  The risotto was rich and creamy, with a nice subtle sharpness to the cheese.


My main course arrived with a complimentary glass of wine that Jim thought would be perfect with the fresh Porcini Agnollotti and Shitake Mushrooms tossed in Italian-Norcian Black Truffle Butter.  It was.


Perhaps the most exciting part of the meal was an aperitif of Limoncello Cream made by chef Aldo Vitale himself.  A combination of Meyer lemons, grain alcohol, sugar, cream and water create a silky, sweet and sour beverage that was a great end to a great meal.


The sun was just setting when I arrived back at the hotel.  I caught the water taxi at the hotel pier and rode around the harbor.  I switched boats and took the route towards Fell's Point.  From what I had gathered, this area of Baltimore was a newly gentrified district on the water with a number of bars and restaurants.  Upon docking I saw this was in fact true.  The historic buildings were gorgeous, yet marred by neon lights. The area was crawling with polo-shirts, sun-dresses, burnt-skin and bad shoes.


I made my way to Max's Tap House.  This bar boasts 70 taps, more than 300 bottles and accolades from Beer Advocate.  It was super crowded, loud, brightly lit and had snotty service with a somewhat creepy clientele.  Not really my kind of place.  I was determined to try another good beer in Baltimore, however, and decided I should give the Clipper City Heavy Seas Loose Cannon a try.  This was a very nice ale with a formidable hop level, including my favorite Amarillo hops.


I left Max's as soon as my beer was done and decided to wander around Fell's Point to enjoy the architecture.  I came upon Pitango Gelato, a smart looking gelateria with a bustling crowd.


This was a truly lucky stop to stumble upon.  Pitango's uses grass-fed organic milk and high end organic ingredients to create gelato that rivals many that I have sampled in Italy. They eschew artificial ingredients, flavorings and extracts and use milk, cream and eggs from their own single-herd Pennsylvania farm. They also serve frozen yogurt and sorbet.


I ordered the spicy chocolate and, of course, pistachio.  This was one of the finest pistachio gelatos I have tasted.  Pitango flies in Bronte pistachios from Sicily, which are grown at the base of the active volcano, Mount Etna.  Needless to say I highly recommend Pitango gelato if you live near Baltimore.  For everyone else I simply highly recommend pistachio gelato.


I was initially somewhat annoyed that I had to travel to Baltimore for work. I used to think that I would enjoy business travel, but it can be quite lonely.  Luckily, I think I have a talent for truly enjoying loneliness, it just takes a few days to kick in.

I had a nice visit and would certainly not be disappointed to return to Baltimore.  The only other time I was in Baltimore was when I was about 6.  My cousin Matt who I mentioned earlier in this post used to live there.  He taught me how to tie a double not that week as we spent hours in his tree house.  Our dads took us to an Orioles game at the old stadium.  I think it was the fourth of July.  The fireworks went awry and started shooting into the crowds, directly at us.  I watched a woman two rows ahead of us have her hair go up in flames.  Our dads hoisted us under their arms and we ran out of the ballpark.  I think it is safe to say that this most recent trip was better.


The flight home went as planned.  I returned to find these beautiful flowers from Nick (anthurium and orchids).  He bought them at Fleur in Logan Square. Fleur is a sweet little shop with an excellent selection of exotic flowers and letterpress cards.  It was good to be home.

Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds Brewery


Saturday morning Nick and I rose bright and early and took the red line to Garfield where Ben and Paul met us.  Coffee and delicious Medici baked goods in hand, we drove to the Three Floyds brewery in Munster, Indiana.  We arrived around 10:30 to find the parking lot full of some of the best beer nerds around enjoying some truly gorgeous weather.  Picnic tables were brimming with the best bottles from personal collections and we were offered small tasting glasses and friendly conversation.  Around noon the door to the brew house opened and a polite stampede pushed the crowd into a haphazard line.  This line set itself apart from most by virtue of pulling us past more tables of now fairly abandoned (and perhaps a bit warm) bottles of incredible beers.  The line moved slowly, but the conversation with excited strangers was quite entertaining.  Occasionally a patron would emerge from the brew house with an arm full of 22 ounce bottles and a huge grin.


Once inside the brew house we bought pints of GumballHead to get us through the last leg.  There was a 6-bottle limit per person on Dark Lord, but there were other offerings available for sale as well.  We took off fairly quickly after purchasing our beer (the line took about 2 hours) and we were astonished to still see the line circling through the parking lot and down the street.  We estimated that there must have been about 2,000 people that came out for the event.


That evening Nick and I opened one of the bottles.  Neither of us had tasted the Dark Lord before and we were in for a treat.  This Russian Imperial Stout pours out thick and opaque, like motor oil.  It is extremely dark and has flavors that keep rolling for several seconds after the most flavorful beers I have tried. The head was gorgeous, small, creamy and dark espresso colored and it smelled like honey and sweet malt.  The beginning tasted like cherries, plums and chocolate.  The middle was big and sweet like jam, raisins and rum, and the end was long and tasted of espresso and chocolate (Note: they use Intelligensia coffee in the brewing process).


I have never tasted a beer so complex.  This is truly a treat.  There is no alcohol content on the bottle, but judging by how chatty Nick and I were after splitting one, I think it is safe to assume it is up there.

Oh my. I wish I had $90 to blow on six bottles.  I only ended up with three and I owe Paul money for one of those.    Hopefully you were there to get your own.  They only brew these beauties once a year.  There was rumor that the Small Bar on Division was going to get a keg, and since I noticed the bartender was there I imagine this is true.  If you have a friend that lets you try some of her stash, know she loves you.  This is special stuff.

(*I didn't have my camera on me when we opened the first bottle.  I will be sure to post a follow-up picture of the beer in a glass when we open the next one.)

Brno, Czech Republic

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

November 11th-15th, 2005


We left Liszó, Hungary, spent one night in Budapest, and then headed to Brno, Czech Republic. There we visited a friend from college, Chris, who has moved to Brno with his awesome girlfriend Kate. They have a beautiful apartment and were kind to let us stay with them while we were in town.

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John and I arrived a bit worn-out from our quick-paced recent travels and spent a lovely few days with them eating, drinking, playing pinball, cooking, visiting the Mies Van Der Rohe Tugendhat home, and watching VH1's top one-hit wonders.


John and I had not had a chance to cook in a very long time. We jumped at the opportunity to use their kitchen and decided to try our hand at making pierogi. This was our first attempt and it went fairly well. Next time we make them from scratch I think I will have to research dough recipes better. The one we found made decent wrappers, but they were a bit too thick and bready for my tastes. A more delicate recipe would do the delicious potato filling wonders.


I also made some marjoram and olive bread. Typically I would not have chosen marjoram, but it was one of the few herbs I could identify in the grocery store. It worked pretty well, but didn't add too much flavor. I also used both green and black olives, chopped.


Both the pierogi and bread turned out well. We bought a selection of delicious Czech beers and shared a nice dinner with Chris and Kate. It was nice to relax with them for a few days and it certainly prepared us for the transition into a nice and slow six weeks in Poland.

Liszó, Hungary

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

November 8th-10th, 2005


Our Croatian friends set us up with a friend in Varaždin, Croatia where we stayed for a night. Our new host subsequently set us up with a place to stay in Liszó, Hungary--and drove us there as well!

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Liszó is a beautiful little village in the southwest, just outside of Nagykanizsa. It boasts pleasing, rolling hilltops on which grapes for wine are grown (you can see a few bunches that a local man gave me from his vineyard in the photo above). Nearly every home on our hilltop grew grapes and produced wine--generally at a low volume for personal consumption.


Many people in Liszó still use a version of the old-fashioned wine presses pictured above. Large beams that would take many people to manipulate are lowered and then tightened with a carved wooden crank.


We stayed with a young Australian man, Daniel, who had just moved to this village where he purchased a vineyard and an old mud house. We arrived at night and were greeted by Daniel who offered us his homemade wine as he finished cooking a giant pot of fantastic goulash over an open fire outside. The next morning the goulash was finished off with fried eggs and bread.


Daniel heats his house with a wood-burning oven that we cooked a meal of pasta and vegetables over one evening. Next year he hopes to weatherproof the house, which at this point is unsuitable for living in during the winter. It was very cold at night when we were there in early November. Daniel was hoping to spend this winter in Turkey where he would arguably be a bit warmer. I hope he made it.

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Our time in Liszó was unlike any other part of our trip. We only stayed three days, but it was a welcome break from the business of cities, trains, and restaurants. In Liszó there was little more for us to do than start a fire and drink wine. It was a very cozy place and one that I am fortunate to have visited.


Daniel sent me off with a giant bag of these gorgeous walnuts that a tree in his backyard produces. They were fantastic company for train rides through Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland. We spent one night in Budapest and then made our way up to Brno, Czech Republic.

IMBB #22: Rice Noodles in Beijing


We have arrived at our final destination before returning home --Beijing.  This city is full of friendly people, mind-boggling cultural sites, and of course-- delicious food.  One restaurant that we have been to twice so far is Chuannriver Restaurant.

I will post one day soon about the extent of our meals at this establishment.  Though, for now I will simply post about our Sichuan Style Rice Noodle dish in the spirit of IMBB, which I have been a lousy participant in of late.  But how could I be in China and not submit an entry to the noodle theme?

These noodles were not as spicy as we thought the double chili pepper image on the menu might entail, but they had a bit of a kick.  They had a very strange texture, though that is not to say they weren't delicious.  The noodles were served cool, seasoned with a wonderful combination of spices, and bathed in a savory broth.  They were also beautifully garnished with spring onions and minced garlic.


If you are ever near the main Beijing railway station and looking for a bite to eat, I would heartily recommend this restaurant.

Thanks to Cooking with Amy for hosting this event!

Zagreb, Croatia

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

November 4th- 7th, 2005


John and I visited Zagreb, Croatia after spending some time in Rome, Italy.  While in Zagreb we visited a huge indoor/outdoor market in the center to have yet another inexpensive and satisfying picnic.  We bought bread from Pan-Pek, a nice and hearty semolina loaf that had a lovely golden brown color. 

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It was perhaps not the freshest, as the crumb and crust were a bit dry, but we did visit late in the day.  Overall, the quality of the bread was nothing to write home about. We also bought two white farmer's cheeses from a stand.  The first was of a hard texture with a very salty taste and a strong, pungent smell.  It was very good, but perhaps a bit too salty for us. 


The second was a gorgeous soft cheese with a subtle tangy flavor and a smooth, cool texture.  It went well with the bread.


We stayed with two lovely girls, Mia and Danicza.  I will forever be indebted to them for introducing me to ajvar, a spread of sweet red pepper, eggplant, garlic, and spices (with origins in Serbia according to Wikipedia).  I am completely addicted to the stuff now but have yet to find any as good as the one they had me taste.  They kept us out late and showed us a great time.  I wish we had had more time to spend in their city.  Thanks!

After a brief stay in Varaždin, Croatia we made our way to Liszó, Hungary.

Rome, Italy

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 27th- November 1st, 2005


When John was young he spent a few summers living in Rome with his family.  As a result he has many fond food memories from the city and we were excited to seek them out together after visiting Venice.  The two favorites concern two very important food groups: Gelato and Pizza.


We sampled the Gelato at Giolitti, which is often heralded as the best gelato in Rome, and found it pleasing.  The best thing about our visit was watching a well-to-do middle-aged man in a suit slink up to the gelato counter looking like a heart-broken small child with an empty cone in one hand and a palm full of fallen gelato in the other.  The help behind the counter quickly repaired the situation with a fresh serving and the man went back to his table with a huge smile.  I think a country where ice cream is not just reserved for small children must be doing something right.


However, the best gelato by far can be found at Fonte Della Salute on Trastevere.  As well as having tastier gelato and a better flavor selection, this establishment feels more welcoming and than Giolitti. John used to live nearby Fonte Della Salute and became quite a regular here as a child.


Though I sampled countless flavors of gelato in Rome, I always come back to the pistachio.  The sweet, slightly salty, nutty flavor combined with the impossibly creamy texture is irresistible.


Just down the street is Pizzeria Ai Marmi (Trastevere, 53-55-57-59) where, conveniently, the best pizza in my opinion can be found.  Sit outside, enjoy some wine, and people watch for the best experience.  Our favorites are the four cheese and the unmissable zucchini blossom pizzas.  The flavor on the later is so simple, yet so thick and unctuous, that it pairs perfectly with the thin, fire-baked crust.


In keeping suit with our picnic theme, which is both enjoyable and inexpensive, we put together a lovely lunch and sat in the enormous. Villa Borghese park. We purchased breads at Forno Campo dei  Fiori bakery and produce in the Campo dei Fiori market.


We enjoyed a flat bread (pizza rustica) which was seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper.  It wasn't too oily and had a good, simple, straight forward flavor and a perfect chewiness.  We stuffed panini, which I learned are crusty rolls that you can pull the top button off of and you find a hollow bowl of bread that is perfect for stuffing with meats, cheeses, and vegetables. 


The olive bread had lots of green olives, a crisp crust, and a dense white interior.  Though the crust was a bit too dry.  It was a decent bread, certainly far more palatable than our olive bread experience in Venice.

We ate extremely well in Rome.  The gelato and pizza are the best I have had (unless you are talking about Chicago style pizza of course) and I eagerly anticipate returning to Rome one day to enjoy them again.  We had a great time seeing the sights and, of all things, our hostel was evicted on our second night in town.  We had a humorous and memorable (though of course only in hindsight) experience when we returned from the Trevi Fountain late one night to find the contents of our hostel spread out on the street with tired and worn looking travelers and employees curled up beside our belongings.  After several hours of being thoroughly confused, we were finally taken to another hostel around 4am, handed a beer by the lovely staff, and showed to our rooms.  I bet that hasn't happened to many people.


Lastly, I would like to leave my readers with these fantastic photos of a street-food-joint near the St. Sebastian Catacombs.


Does that make you hungry?

Next up, Zagreb, Croatia.

Venice, Italy

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 25th- 27th, 2005


After leaving the chestnut farm in France John and I spent a few days in Venice with my uncles from Chicago who were also visiting at that time.  All over Venice are businesses where for a few euro you can fill up empty bottles with very decent wines right from the barrels.  This inexpensive option combined with lovely weather made for some excellent picnics.


We enjoyed prosciutto and various delicious cheeses.  A few months ago Alberto from Il Forno mentioned a cheese, Caciocavalli, in a top ten list of Italian foods to try.  With such a recommendation I could hardly pass up the opportunity to try some. 

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This cheese (on the right) had a more subtle flavor than I was expecting, though it was bold and delicious hidden just beneath a truly buttery texture.  This was a great cheese and I would love to try more varieties of it in the future. 


With so much cheese we naturally sought out breads as well.  The best bakery we found in Venice was Mauro El Forner de Canton, where for under four euro we purchased 2 Grissini Naturalli, 1 Ciabette, and 1 Pane con olive.

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Everything was excellent.  Unfortunately we also tried another bakery nearby, Panificio F. Paronuzzi  where we bought Strudel con Olive e Formaggio.  We were lured in by what seemed to be appealing breads, but were rock hard, dry, crumbly, and made with limp and lifeless olives.   But it looked so beautiful!


We stayed in Marghera, just outside the city, in cheaper lodgings than we could find in the center.  While it was sort of a pain to take the bus in each day, we did have the opportunity to enjoy the Piccolo Lounge Cafe.  One of the best things we ate here were little morning donuts made of lightly sweetened bread and filled with a fine and smooth, sugary-sweet apple filling.  Delicious.


One other fun find was this salt bearing my first name.  I have never met another Gemma in the states, so it is always fun to see my name in print.


Next stop, Rome.

Ardèche, France

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 18th- 24th, 2005


We are enjoying our last week in Kraków, Poland.  Our time has gone fast here.  It is sad to be leaving and I am amazed how little I have worked on my grand plans to fully update this webpage.  In an effort to still complete a bit more, I am going to cheat and cross-post John's account from our travel webpage and add a few of my own comments.  We worked on a Chestnut farm in the Rhône Alpes of Ardèche, France after spending a few days in Garmisch, Germany.  We are members of the International WWOOF (world-wide opportunities on organic farms) Association and were able to work on a chestnut farm through these contacts.

With that, I will allow John to speak for us, who is endlessly more witty that I.

The world produces 470,000 tons of chestnuts every year. This year Gemma and I have personally sought out, retrieved, sorted, and carried, at least half of those. For those of you unfamiliar with chestnuts, they’re nasty little fuckers. They bite and scratch and hide under leaves. They grow on steep earthy slopes and they fall when it’s cold and wet. Ugly little worms crawl around in most of them. They are most easily retrieved in very heavy, wet nets, that are prone to catch on any of the numerous sticks, rocks, and sharp plants that grow in the forest.

It isn’t that we aren’t enjoying ourselves in Ardeche. It’s hard to complain about working in the forest for 8 hours and then retiring to your free private suite that rents for many many euros in the tourist season, to build a fire, read, wonder whether a sauna would make our skin too dry, and how to get to Venice.

We’ve worked three days now, and tomorrow is Sunday so we get the day off. It will be nice to explore a little-- so far we’ve started working at sunrise and finished dinner after sunset. Tomorrow we’re going to hitchhike into town to meet the guy who was working with us today. He is staying by himself with the brother of the man we’re working for. He seems to do lots of seasonal work. He says that for grape picking you get 50 euros a day, plus room and board and all the wine you want. He also says it’s very hard work and that you start at 5:30 am. I don’t remember his name. He didn’t remember the dog’s name. I always remember the names of dogs and I never remember the names of people.

Continuing this post after a couple weeks...

The guy’s name was Marco. He’s from Calais, and I hope if he’s reading this that he isn’t offended that I said Calais smelled like bleached fish. We didn’t manage to get a ride into town, only for about 2 km, and so we walked the other 10 km. We had already gone for a two hour walk that morning. We had a beer and a pastis and a pizza, and hitchhiked back. Both men that picked us up on the way back knew Anika and Ludwig by first name, even though we were many miles from their farm. Apparently, they met in a cult of some sort and were married by the cult leader. Anika also told us that she walked once from France to Italy, all the way south and then north again in Italy, through Austria and Germany and Poland, up to Sweden, and then back to France.


There are donkeys here, and they think you have chestnuts, and so they come over to you and try to stick their noses in whatever your’re carrying.

The chestnuts are sorted in a big tub of water. Bad chestnuts float, good chestnuts sink. The good chestnuts are then sorted by hand, and ones that show signs of worms are fed to the donkeys. Good chestnuts are dried in a house called the clede, with a screen floor and a huge wood burning stove beneath it. This year, some of the slightly bad ones will be dried too, since the worms crawl out, fall through the floor, and burn up. The slightly bad ones can be used for flour. They make chestnut flour, chestnut butter, chestnut cakes and cookies, and various chestnut spreads.


Chestnuts are gathered by hand by seasonal workers, in this case a young French couple and a middle aged French woman, for 60 euro cents a kilo. The season was extremely bad this year, and I think that these people probably gathered about 40 kilos a day. That’s 8 hours of bending over and sorting through spiky shells, breaking them open, tossing out bad chestnuts (maybe 75% of the ones I picked up), and putting the good ones in baskets. The trees are on steep hills, and everything was wet.


Chestnuts are also gathered in huge nets that spread out across large portions of the forest, which has been cleared of all other trees and bushes. The nets cover wood piles and descend to the edge of precarious declines into ravines. We helped haul in about 50 nets, ranging from about 25 square meters to about 250 square meters. You shake everything into the center of the nets, wrestle the net onto a sled and drag in to a machine that sorts the nuts from the shells, leaves and twigs. The outer shells of the chestnuts have dozens of needle like spines, that poke through the nets, through clothes, and through gloves. The rain had soaked the leaves, and we were saturated after moving one or two nets. The storm had knocked many leaves from the trees, and those gummed up the machine. Gemma and I swept big armfuls of chestnuts and leaves into the shute leading to the machine, and Ludwig fed it into the hole, where everything was shaken around, the chestnuts fell into a crate by the side, and leaves and shells were blown out the other end. At every step, we pulled sodden clumps of leaves out and threw them aside.

On our speeding, pre-sunrise race to the bus, Anika told us that many kinds of crops have had bad years, not just this year, but for the last few years. She said that people have no respect for the environment. She told us, chillingly matter-of-factly “The world is dying, and we will have to find a new way of life.”

Next stop, Venice.

Garmisch, Germany

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 14th- 17th, 2005


A while back we visited my friend Thom in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany after spending a bit of time in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I met Thom, a fellow philosophy major, during my first and only year at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.  Thom is now an R&R instructor for the U.S. Department of Defense.  (So, he basically gets paid to do really difficult things like ski, hike, and rock-climb).


Our stay in Garmisch was visually stunning, gastronomically pleasing, and full of great company--exactly as one might imagine rural Bavaria.  We spent many evenings at a fantastic little bar called Zirbel where we played chess with the bartender and had trouble paying for drinks.  Thom took me to the second best local bakery in Garmisch (the name has escaped me, but perhaps Thom will be so good as to remind me).  Apparently the best bakery is owned by the second best baker’s father and it is never open.


I ordered a hearty spirulina roll with sesame, which was delicious and too lovely in it’s pale green color to pass up.  I also ordered a gorgeous breakfast confection called a schmalznudeln.  This deep-fried donut was sprinkled with sugar and very delicious.



We ate in some gorgeous outdoor restaurants where I enjoyed plenty of Käsespätzle with roasted onions.  Mmm.  Salad might be the last thing to come to mind when thinking of Bavaria, but I was continually impressed with the unbelievable salads that I ate--half a dozen types of greens, sprouts, and the freshest assortment of other vegetables. 


On our last evening, in search of apple strudel, the three of us ended up in the Joseph Naus Stub'n restaurant at Hotel Zugspitze. They were unfortunately out of apple strudel, but we enjoyed Weiss beer, tiramisu, and the most elegant and unique cheese plate I have ever had the pleasure to sample--all for a very modest price.  The staff was fantastic as well.


Garmisch was absolutely beautiful.  I really love Bavaria and I hope to spend more time in that area of the world in the future.  It was really fun to see Thom again after a few years and to catch up with him.  I hope we get the chance to do that again soon. 


(Believe it or not, we hadn't had anything to drink yet.)

Next stop, Ardèche, France.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I spent the last few months traveling from London to Beijing. Here is a taste of one place we spent time. Follow the links to read about others.

October 11th- 14th, 2005



A few days ago we arrived in Kraków, Poland where we will be settling in for a month and a half.  This a much welcome rest from our manic travel schedule.  We are teaching ourselves Polish and slowly exploring.  Sadly, the sweet little apartment we are renting has no oven.  I had been looking forward to baking bread again, though I will just have to wait a bit longer now.

In mid-October, after a brief stop in Marseille, France, John and I stayed a few nights in Copenhagen, Denmark with the esteemed and wonderfully hospitable Zarah from Food & Thoughts.


We visited a lovely nearby bakery named Emmerys where John and I picked out half a round of Emmerys bread, a tebirkes, a foccacia, and hummus.

The foccacia was super oily, but other than that it was quite good.  Flavored with sage, light and chewy, this was a tasty bread.  The tebirkes was a new experience for me.  A creamy, golden, flaky dough held sweet and mild flavors of honey, butter, and toffee.  The top was dusted with poppy seeds, cutting the sweet tastes with nutty notes.  Very delicious!

The Emmorys bread had a thin and chewy crust dusted with flour which was quite good, though something with a little more texture would have been even better.  The crumb was soft and moist with white and whole wheat flours, a fantastic taste, and a pleasant sour aroma.  A very nice bread. 

The hummus was quite good, but fairly expensive.  It had a smooth texture without being overly oily and a light citrus flavor.  Very good, but nothing that couldn't be created at home.


On our last night in Copenhagen I made a nice little dish by sauteing pumpkin seeds and chanterelles in butter and seasoning with salt and pepper.  A bit of arugula and toasted slices of Emmerys bread finished off a simple meal. 


Thanks Zarah!

Next stop, Garmisch, Germany.