Category Archives: Travel

Saving Dinner

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Saving Dinner

Last night I had a dream. Not in the Martin Luther King, Jr. way, but in a cooking dinner way. Yes, I dream of cooking dinner. In that dream, I made a delicious, perfectly golden brown, intact tortilla española. This was a dream because I have never yet been able to make this dish. Why do I keep trying? I’ll tell you.

About nine years ago, my cousins and I went to Spain just for a fun backpacking trip. On the way from Zaragoza to Madrid, our bus stopped at a random rest area and we got “tortilla”. I had never been to Spain and had no idea what to expect. What I got was a delicious egg and potato frittata-type thing. From then on, whenever we got tapas (which was pretty much every meal because we were poor and you get tapas with beer at restaurants), we got the tortilla.

When I got back to the States, I tried to make the tortilla and failed miserably. It looked like a sad breakfast scramble. Later attempts have improved. I have not tried to make a tortilla in a couple of years. Since then, I have talked with several friends who studied in Spain and thought that I had the tips down. “Thought” is the key word. This evening, based upon my dream, I tried again to make a tortilla. It was a failure, but I saved dinner! And I’ll tell you how.

Both of these recipes are from my La cuisine Méditerranéenne that I got while I studied abroad. The Eggplant “Caviar” is like a baba ghanoush-bruschetta hybrid. I added a few things to the tortilla, which may or may not have been my downfall.

Tortilla Española Bake

4 servings

Tortilla

5 medium-ish waxy potatoes (I used Yukon gold)

5 eggs

1 medium yellow onion

More olive oil than you ever dreamed of using

Salt

Pepper

1 cup Manchego cheese

Sauce

2 Tb olive oil

1 Tb flour

2 cloves of garlic

½ tsp paprika

¼ tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

1 Tb parsley, finely chopped

1 cup of water

  • Chop the potatoes into roughly half-inch cubes and chop the onions into a medium dice. Meanwhile, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
Lots of potatoes and onions

Lots of potatoes and onions

  • Once the olive oil is heated, toss in about a third of the potatoes, and stir to coat them with the olive oil. Add in a third of the onions, then some salt, then some more olive oil and stir. Repeat the process of potatoes, onions, salt, olive oil until all of the veggies are in the pan. Cook the potatoes until they are tender, but not brown.
More olive oil than you think you'll ever need. Well, not this much.

More olive oil than you think you’ll ever need. Well, not this much.

  • As the potatoes and onions are cooking, in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs with a little milk, salt and pepper. Let them hang out while the potatoes are cooking.
  • When the potatoes are finished, let them cool for about 10 minutes. When they are cool, remove them with a slotted spoon and combine with the eggs. The slotted spoon will allow the olive oil to drain off. Once the potatoes and onions are mixed with the eggs, let them sit for about 10 minutes. A tip I learned from my friend who lived in Spain is to keep the oil for future tortillas. This sucker uses up so much oil that reusing it is key. After you have drained the oil, clean the pan and put it back on the heat.
  • Turn the burner up to a relatively high heat and pour in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Immediately pour in the eggs and potatoes and spread around the pan.
  • When everything is in the pan, turn the heat to medium. Use a thin spatula to loosen the mixture from the sides and bottom of the pan. Loosening the eggs and potatoes from the bottom is clutch for the next step.
  • After about 6-8 minutes and the eggs are beginning to look like they’re setting, take a plate that is larger than your pan. This is the part where I screwed up. Put the plate on top of the pan, then flip the tortilla onto the plate. If you’re like me and screw up this part, no worries! A screw-up can be defined as the tortilla sticking to the pan or falling apart upon the flip. Carry on to the next step. If you didn’t screw up (take some time to gloat), add more olive oil to the pan and slide the tortilla back into the pan so that the bottom is now the top. Cook for about 2-3 more minutes. You’ll have a delicious tortilla. Then, move on to the second to last step.
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Pour your sad mess of eggs, potatoes, and onions into a glass baking dish.
  • Grate about a ½-1 cup of Manchego cheese and throw it on top. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.
He looks like he is some sort of indentured servant, but I assure you, he was super excited about grating cheese. He was just against getting his picture taken.

He looks like he is some sort of indentured servant, but I assure you, he was super excited about grating cheese. He was just against getting his picture taken.

  • While the “tortilla” is cooking (or if you succeeded in making your tortilla, gloat), you can deglaze the pan and make a sauce/gravy in the process by adding (you guessed it!) more olive oil to the pan. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds then add the garlic and the herbs. Pour in the water while whisking the sauce. Allow it to reduce for about 5 minutes over medium heat.
  • When the tortilla is finished, spoon some sauce over top and enjoy!

Eggplant “Caviar”

4-6 servings

1 medium-large eggplant

1 Tb sesame seeds

juice from one lemon

2 Tb olive oil

1 clove of garlic

6-8 slices of rustic bread, grilled or toasted

1 Tb of parsley

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplant in half length-wise and place on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the flesh begins to char.
  2. As the eggplant is cooking, toast the sesame seeds for about 3 minutes in a non-stick pan.
  3. After the eggplant has begun to char, remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Once it is cool, remove the flesh and squeeze out the juice.
  4. Place the eggplant in a food processor with the olive oil, sesame seeds, lemon, and garlic. Pulse until it is still slightly chunky.
  5. Put the “caviar” in a bowl, and stir in the parsley.
  6. Serve on the bread.
Tortilla espanola bake and eggplant caviar

Tortilla espanola bake and eggplant caviar

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Italy 2: Adventures in Running

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Before I left Maryland, I had every intention to keep to my marathon training. I was going to run all the miles! Yeah. That didn’t happen. The best laid plans…As a “blah blah blah” excuse, I started having heel issues after I ran a 13 miler and decided to do some resting. However, as lovers of endorphins, Husband and I made a pact to run at least once in every city. We succeeded in that regard.

Running 1: Sorrento

Sorrento is absolutely beautiful. It is right on the Bay of Naples and built into a cliff. Gorgeous, but not very runner-friendly. When we told the hotel employees that we were looking for a good place to run, he looked at us like we were crazy, but pulled out a map and showed us a route. Basically, he was like, “Ok, here’s what you could do.” Side note, when we were outside getting read to run, an American man confused me for a small Italian child and asked me if some random cat were my cat. I got that a lot. Not the owning a cat part, but the thinking I was a young Italian girl. There are worse things.

At this point, you might be expecting me to say how awesome our run in Sorrento was. That it was filled with gorgeous sights and awesomeness. Nope. It was terrible. My legs felt awful and I was pretty much ready to retire from running. We ran a little over 2.5 miles due to the running course (not ideal) and my legs. Generally, I think that running anything less than 3 miles is a waste of my time, so this was a huge defeat for me. It was actually an auspicious decision, because when we got to Rome, Husband and I walked all the way from the train station to the Vatican and back. That was about a 6-7 mile walk. We ended up getting our work-out in!

This is a view of the city walls in Sorrento. Not taken on our run, but on an epic walk to our restaurant on the marina.

This is a view of the city walls in Sorrento. Not taken on our run, but on an epic walk to our restaurant on the marina.

Running 2: Rome

Hands-down, this was one of the coolest runs that I have ever done. Husband and I got up early to go for our run. Many in Maryland talked about how hot it was in the DMV while we were gone. It was pretty darn hot in Rome as well. On our run, we ran around the Forum, on the Circus Maximus, and past the Colosseum. So. Awesome. This run finally felt good and I was able to power up one of Rome’s famous hills. These hills. They are not joke. It was a 4 mile jaunt and Husband I walked another 6 miles later in the day. We were walking machines.

Yep. This was part of our run. We took this later in the previous day, but how awesome is running past the old stuff?

Yep. This was part of our run. We took this later in the previous day, but how awesome is running past the old stuff?

Running 3: Florence

This was the best run of the three. We were feeling good and Florence is surprisingly runner and cyclist-friendly. Unlike Rome, where you are pretty certain you are going to die at any moment on the road, Florence has designated runner/cyclist lanes and many streets that are too narrow except for scooters to cruise down. This jaunt took us over the Arno, through the streets, past the Palazzo Vecchio, back over the bridge, past the Pitti Palace, then along the Arno and back to our hotel. It was an amazing run that really made me feel fantastic…and the hotel had delectable pains au chocolat to “refuel.’ Overall, an incredible day. 🙂

Running in Florence. This was taken after my run and I'm repping the high school XC team. Hooray, Florence! Hooray, Ponte Vecchio!

Running in Florence. This was taken after my run and I’m repping the high school XC team. Hooray, Florence! Hooray, Ponte Vecchio!

While I didn’t keep to my training schedule, I enjoyed my trip and most of the runs that we did. Sometimes you need to break from training and really enjoy your surroundings.

Italy 1: Italy, You’re Doing It Right

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Recently, Husband and I were lucky enough to take a trip to Italy. Fortunately, Grandma agreed to take stellar care of Ben so that we could have a nice trip in honor of our anniversary and birthdays. I have been to Italy a couple of times before (yes, I do find myself lucky!), but it was Husband’s first trip and there are few things I love to do more than travel. As a grown-up,  I noticed that Italy does certain things better than other places. Even though the economy is in the pooper, here are some things that Italy is doing right:

  1. Food. Italian food is always and will forever be amazing. They do things with the humble zucchini that I can’t imagine. Tomatoes? Amazing. Don’t get me started on gelato. Holy cow.
  2. Really old stuff. Husband and I invent imaginary pass-times for the various cities that we visit based upon what we see. Paris’s motto is, “Hey, I’m bored. Wanna go build a cathedral?” D.C.’s is, “Hey, I’m bored. Wanna go build a monument?” All of Italy’s solution to boredom is, “Wanna go find some really old stuff?” I love walking down the street in Rome, turning my head and, “Oh hey! This is the spot where Caesar was killed.” You can’t see that on the streets of D.C.
  3. Water fountains. When I went to London and Paris with school over spring break, I was perpetually dehydrated. There were no water fountains anywhere. However, Italy had an abundance of water fountains everywhere. At first, Husband and I were a little nervous getting water from the fountains in Pompei. They did say that the fountains used to be supplied by lead pipes. We didn’t quite relish the idea of getting lead poisoning, but we chanced it and filled up our water bottles everywhere. Fantastico! We didn’t have to buy bottled water for one bazillion Euro.
  4. Parenting. I love the French, but French children are practically feral. French parents are cool and let their kids “explore” and learn for themselves. This leads to children that remind me of mildly tame squirrels. Italians, however, are very hands-on, which I totally appreciated. Even the dads are all about their kids. One Sunday morning, Husband and I sat on a park bench in Trastevere in Rome and we watched kids and their dads play in the park. The moms must have all been home making Sunday lunch, but it was adorable to see the dads swinging their kids up into the air and giving them big kisses. Very endearing. Italy, you’re dong it right.
  5. Weather. While it was hot and humid, I prefer heat and humidity to cold and darkness. ‘Nough said.

Italy does other great things, but these are some instances that stick out. Later, I will report on the running in Sorrento, Rome, and Florence and present some tips to future Italian adventurers. Hooray for la dolce vita!

Back in the Saddle

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Back in the Saddle

For the past week I have been gallivanting across Europe. Before you get too jealous, I was one of four chaperones to 29 high school students. Sounds daunting, but it was still awesome. After taking a couple of days of recovery, I’m back in the cooking saddle. Because I studied abroad in the South of France, whenever I think about French cuisine, I think of North African/Middle Eastern dishes. Thus, for dinner tonight, we dined al fresco on chicken kebab pitas, grilled beets, fresh (tahini free!) hummus, couscous, and Nutella and banana crêpes for dessert. Amazing.

Chicken Pitas

Marinade

Juice of 2 lemons

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt to taste

Kebabs

1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into bite-sized cubes

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1/2 of a red onion, sliced

  1. Combine all of the ingredients of the marinade into a plastic bag, add the chicken, and allow it to sit for at least an hour.
  2. While the chicken is marinating, soak about 10 skewers in water so that they don’t burn when placed on the grill for an hour.
  3. After the chicken has marinated to your liking, alternate pieces of chicken with the tomatoes and red onion on the skewers.
  4. Grill it, baby!

Grilled Beets

3 beets sliced to about 1/4″ thickness

2 Tb olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Simply toss the beet slices with the olive oil, salt, and pepper and grill for about 3 minutes on each side. Yum!

Tahini-free Hummus

Tahini can be annoying to find if you don’t have a Middle Eastern grocer near you. This recipe eliminates the need for the fatty sesame paste and reduces the calories/fat content.

1 15-oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

juice from 1 lemon

1 tsp olive oil

3/4 cup of fat-free Greek yogurt

3 cloves garlic

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Blend the chickpeas, yogurt, lemon juice and olive oil in a food processor until it is smooth, but slightly chunky. Then add the garlic and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

Put all of this deliciousness on a pita and add some feta. Enjoy!

Running Nostalgia–How Getting Locked-out Changed My Life

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Running Nostalgia–How Getting Locked-out Changed My Life

Last night after a nice run with my colleagues, I had some nostalgia of when I used to run in France. My sophomore year of college I studied abroad in Montpellier, France. It was by far the best experience of my life to that point. When I studied abroad, I lived with a family in the little suburb known as Castelnau-le-Lez. At this time, jogging and running for recreation weren’t really that popular in France. You could always tell the Americans a) by their builds and b) by their white socks. As I was traipsing through the woods on an only partially planned “adventure” I thought about two experiences that I had while running in France.

 

The first adventure I thought about was the running park in Castelnau. When I got home after the run last night, I did a little Google Maps journey of the area. From my street, I took Chemin du Mas du Diable (the hill on this road definitely made it feel like it was from the Devil ), to Chemin de Substantion, to Chemin des Aires, to Chemin des Aires Prolongé, to Chemin des Buissonnets (I’m pretty proud that I remembered some of that without having to look at Google Maps). After all that, about a mile and a half from my host family’s house, there was a system of dirt trails and “stations” where athletes could practice their push-ups, pull-ups, etc. Fun fact, MapMyRun has maps of France, which allowed me to get a better gauge on the distance. But, I digress. Back to the story, every so often I would run up to the park with my Discman in-hand (hey, pre-iPod era), jamming to some Flogging Molly, and run while enjoying the scenery. I was so spoiled when I studied abroad. My runs used to involve vineyards, rivers, and mountains. So.Lucky. Toward the end of my stay in France, I decided to go on a “long run”. My study abroad era was PSR (pre-serious running). At this point in my life, I ran to look hot at the beach, so I didn’t know a ton about the ins and outs of preparation for these “long runs”. On this 45-minute jaunt (my longest to that date), I didn’t hydrate before I went. It was May. In the south of France. It was hot. By the time I got home, I was so dehydrated that I could not get off of my bed. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was dehydration and thought that I just wasn’t in shape. Looking back, my muscles had approximately 0 moisture in them and they forbid me from moving. Well played, muscles. Well played.

Painting by Frédéric Bazzile of Castelnau circa 1868. Not much has really changed.

Painting by Frédéric Bazzile of Castelnau circa 1868. Not much has really changed.

The second memory I had of running was the time I got locked out of my host family’s house. One day, I had a later class and my host mom went out to her gym. I didn’t know that she was going to be going to the gym, so I didn’t bring my key. This was bad. As a result, when I got back from my run, I had no way of getting into my house. Thankfully, winters/springs are very mild in the south of France, but I still had to get to class at some point and wanted to shower and grab my things before I did so. Not knowing what to do, I went over to the neighbor’s house to see if she would call my host mom. What transpired over the next 30 minutes is kind of hazy because a) it’s been nearly 10 years and b) the event has a naturally dream-like quality because it was all in French and my French was only so good at that point. In that time waiting for my host mom to return from the gym, I sat with my neighbor lady, whose name I seem to have forgotten, and discussed her life. I wasn’t a great conversationalist, but I could understand a lot of what she was saying. Mme. Claude (I’ll call her that for the sake of argument) was a pied-noir, a European born in North Africa. She had grown up in Algeria before independence and was actually Italian by origin. As she spun her tales of growing up in Algeria and then escaping during the war for independence, I was fascinated. Parts of it were gruesome, but I began to see a path for my future. Again, it sounds strange, but that random conversation with Mme. Claude led me to my current life. Had I not become fascinated with terrorism (I’m morbid like that), I never would have applied to the University of Maryland, and thus never would have come to the East Coast and I would not have the life I had today.  It’s a true (to me) example of the butterfly effect. To this day, I am in awe of the fact that the simple act of leaving my key at home changed the whole course of my life. At the time, I was very annoyed that I was locked out. However, I am so glad that I was because I am beyond thankful for the life I lead today.

The dreaded hill on "my" street in Castelnau-le-Lez

The dreaded hill on “my” street in Castelnau-le-Lez

 

French Toast Casserole with Peach Syrup

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One of my favorite things to do is to make a random meal out of ridiculous leftovers. While on vacation, we had a bunch of bread, some eggs, cream cheese, and some peaches that were about to turn bad. Thus, my French toast casserole was born. The sad part was that we had no butter…but I improvised. This recipe fed 7 adults and two toddlers with leftovers.

French Toast Casserole with Peach Compote
Time: 90 minutes
French Toast Casserole
10 pieces of whole grain bread torn into cubes
8 eggs
3 cups of milk
2 tsp vanilla
4 tsp cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup cream cheese
3 packets of Splenda

Peach Compote
6 VERY RIPE peaches, peeled and pitted
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
4 packets of Splenda

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. In a greased 9X13 pan, put in the chunks of bread.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, vanilla and two teaspoons of cinnamon. Pour over the bread and let stand for 10 minutes.
  3. While the mixture is resting, mix together the cream cheese, remaining cinnamon and Splenda. The cream cheese will get very…creamy. Use this mixture to dot on top of the casserole. Whatever you don’t use on top of the casserole, you can use as a topping with the casserole comes out.
  4. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown and the egg has set.
  5. While the casserole is cooking, in a medium bowl, mash the peaches so that they have chunks still in them.
  6. Pour peaches, water, sugar and 4 packets of Splenda into a small pot. Bring to a boil.
  7. Once the fruit has begun to boil, reduce the heat to simmer. Simmer until the fruit becomes syrupy. Use as a topping on the French toast. Delish!

Dreaming of Africa

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Dreaming of Africa

In my World History class, we’ve been talking about Africa the past few weeks. I promised my students that I would wear my “Africa outfit” at some point, so I busted it out of the closet today. The heat and humidity of early May combined with putting on the two-piece outfit that I had made for me while doing research in Côte d’Ivoire really made me miss all of the experiences that I had while traveling and researching. Add that to the fact that my friend Catherine is now being my hero by setting up business financial and technical infrastructure for small organizations in Kenya and it really makes me want to go back to Africa.

My terrace office. Ah….This was the life!

Before I started my current job, I had the good fortune to be a part of a wonderful research team that was charged with investigating the potential political conflict drivers and conflict mitigators within Côte d’Ivoire. This was awesome. If there weren’t so much danger/being away from my family for long stretches, I would love to do this job again. Granted, I REALLY love my job now. Yes, I have bad days, but for the most part I love what I do and who I work with. But, there is something about tropical breezes, ridiculously fresh fruit, meeting new and interesting people, having an office on a rooftop terrace, and having more immediate gratification that what I do matters that is really appealing. Throughout the course of our research, I got to meet some truly amazing (both good and pbad) people. From high power people within the ruling party (who have actually been arrested for war crimes after the political unrest last year) to the hotel wait staff, the cast of characters was incredible. My friend/former boss Amy and I had so many interesting experiences (not all of them good) while we were abroad that it’s hard to not miss it. If only I could somehow manage to have Husband and Ben with me during all of these adventures, everything would be perfect!

 

On a hot and humid day, there is nothing like a nice cold Flag. It’s like the Ivorian equivalent of Corona. Amy and I drank many of these on our rough research days.

 

Greatest research team ever!