The Maine Thing

Um, yeah, remember a few weekends ago when I went to Maine? Well, remember how I promised to return with pictures? Yeah, blogger fail. Better late then never, though!

Family friends/former neighbors of ours bought a little cottage just a couple hours out of Mass. around Ogunquitt, Maine. The cottage was super cute – small, but cozy rather than claustrophia-inducing, with lots of light and they’ve decorated beautifully. Look how cute!
Our hostess called this her “Martha Stewart moment.” Love it.
We arrived just in time for lunch – and a lovely lunch it was!

Pasta salad, FULL of veggies. This was absolutely delicious! It is originally from the Silver Palate cookbook; I am planning on making it again (and again, and again….) and probably tweaking it here and there. I do love me a good pasta salad.
And fruit! 

Including these gorgeous local raspberries:
Even better than they look.
Now, why on earth would anyone go to Maine in July? 
The BEACH, of course!
It was a perfect beach day. Just look at this sky:
To get to the beach, you have to walk over some beautiful marshland. It made LuLu very happy – she is a much more cooperative camera when there is beauty to be documented!
Chillin 🙂
See the sailboat?
This struck me as very….biblical. The light, the tree…I don’t know. 
After lazing in the sun, we took a quick drive to Perkin’s Cove, a.k.a, the tourist haven. But it sure is perty!
I could not get over the restaurants there. I wanted to go to so many! We passed a French bistro located inside an adorable little cottage that could have easily been a B&B…or Snow White’s house. Forget eating there, can I work there????
We went to a really wonderful place for breakfast, Roost Cafe.
In an old barn, they created a quirky, fun ambience!
They even bake their own bread & pastries! I must have seen this bread basket get changed 3 times or so as we ate. And if I wasn’t in love already…
Check the menu.
Honey lavender granola????

And then, I saw the pancakes…
It was over. One order of the blue corn pancakes with Maine blueberry compote, comin up!
They were SO tasty and unique. Delicately crispy, and the corn meal gave it a great mouth feel and rich flavor. Actually, the chef came out and asked me how they were – the high humidity was apparently really messing with the pancakes’ rising. It took all of my composure to not follow him back into the kitchen and learn more. I was fascinated. I wanted to ask for a job. They have a great location, it’s a super fun space, they make their own bread and have amazing pancakes. After I graduate from culinary school, can I call you? 
Should you ever find yourself in the York area on US Route 1, you MUST stop. It was a great dining experience.
Brunch (it was around noon when we left) was followed by some serious antique shopping. In 90 degree weather. With humidity. But there was some cute stuff!

Our visit ended in the best way possible.
Peppermint soft-serve ice cream – with the necessary chocolate jimmies.

And I didn’t even mention the lobster we had for dinner….oh yes. We lived well in Maine.

~Namaste~

Barcelona or Bust


Bienvenido a…

Barcelona!
Be prepared for an epic photo post. I came. I saw. I clicked.
After my very first flight on RyanAir [which, by the way, Alaina hot on the nose when she called it the “Ikea of all airlines”], we arrived at our hostel around midnight and promptly passed out after some very unpleasant cold showers. We arose for a depressingly mediocre hostel breakfast, but it didn’t matter because we were in freaking SPAIN!
We met my roommate Monica, who is studying there this semester, at Plaza Catalunya. We may or may not have looked like crazy, confused tourists while trying to figure out the Metro on the way, but by the end of the trip we had that baby down!
Monica played tour guide and steered us all over the city and back! It was great because she could tell us what attractions weren’t worth spending the entrance fee to go in. It’s always fun to visit a city from a local’s point of view – I wish someone had visited me so I could show them my Florence! But aaaanyway…
We ventured down Las Ramblas, one loooooong strip that leads to the water.
Lots of people and green!
Monica knows me well and led us right to, what else, a market! Mercato St. Josep. It was SO colorful!
They had a whole bunch of fruit stands selling every different kind of juice combination you could imagine, and this I had to try. I went with Papaya-Mango:
We went back later and I got strawberry-pineapple. Both were SO good. I wish Florence would pick up on this juice trend! But, overall, my dear Mercato Centrale in Firenze wins. It feels more personal there, I think. Oh, how I will miss market-shopping!
Our tour continued and we eventually found ourselves in front of Gaudi’s Sagarada Familia, a church whose construction was started something like 140 years ago and they’re still working on it! None of us had much desire to go in – the looooong lines and one too many Italian churches did us in – but it’s a beautiful sight. I went in when I was here 8 years ago. I wish I could remember better how it looked then to see how much progress they’ve made!
Those crazy twisty tree branches in the front reminded me of Sleeping Beauty when Maleficent made all those thorn bushes grow in front of the castle to stop Prince Philip. Yes, I’m a Disney nerd. Don’t hate.
You can kind of see how the front looks a little like melted candle wax. It’s really such a cool structure!
Next stop: Parc Guell
Another Gaudi work! This I remembered well – it was my favorite part of Barcelona. I think it still is! It’s so colorful and funky. If I had a patio, I’d want Gaudi to decorate it.
One of the best views of the city.
See how crazy-cool the architecture is?!
Mosaic work everywhere!
LOVE.
You’re probably wondering by now – where’s the food?? I was a tad disappointed by the food this trip – Italy has it aaaaalll over Spain in that area. But we still ate pretty well!
We stopped for lunch at a little outdoor place across from the sea:
That would be a sculpture of a lobster. Hard to tell from this angle, but either way – wicked cool!
We started with some mandatory Sangria. I was a little concerned, my past experiences with it have NOT been pleasant – but it turns out I liked it a lot! Probably because I’ve learned to like wine so much here. Yum!
One of the prettiest sangrias we had this trip.
For lunch I was SO tempted to try their hummus & pita, but in the end I decided that I’m just going to wait until I go home to get my hummus fix – it will make it taste even better! I went with a hot sandwich with serrano ham & manchego cheese. Gotta eat local!
My family discovered Manchego cheese several years and got hooked! It’s mild but still has a real kick to it. I love how every culture seems to have their own version of ham and cheese. I’m still a prosciutto-pecorino girl, but this was very tasty in its own right 🙂
After lunch we decided to head back to the hostel for a siesta and to get ready for the night’s festivities. We made a quick stop back at Mercato San Josep for some snacks and I got some mango (yes, I’m obsessed. for good reason, mind you – it’s SO good!):
One euro of tropical juicy goodness. Mmmm.
We were amazed at how easily we slipped into the Spanish way of eating dinner so late – We didn’t finish until  after 11 PM! A far cry from the 5 PM dinner I eat at school. 
We had one mission tonight: paella. The national dish, I ate this a little too often on my first trip to Spain and got tired of it, but I was very eager to try it again. Say the word seafood and I’m there!
Monica took us to a place near the beach recommended by her program, La Fintora. It was a good sign when we were brought a glass of complementary champagne!
And bread. Not in a basket, but on individual plates – we were definitely not in Italy anymore!
And olives that were SO. GOOD. A bit different from Italian olives – a little spicier, I think. 
We ordered Cava sangria, which is made with sparkling white wine instead of the regular red wine. I like it, but I think I preferred the classic sangria.
Pretty color, though!
And then it arrived in a pan almost the size of the table. Oh yes, we were excited.
I only wished there had been more mussels! It was reaaaallly good though – in fact, I think paella is the sole rice-based dish that I truly enjoy. A little sweet from the seafood and spiced with the saffron. I ate a little too much, but honestly, how often do you eat paella by the sea in Spain for heaven’s sake!!
Before heading to the club to get our dance on, Monica took us to this really unique, cool bar, La Ovella Negra. It was like a huge open warehouse with wooden cafeteria-style tables and sangria on tap. It was really cool, very different. We went to Razzmatazz, the biggest club in Barcelona – and big it was! 4 floors of crazy booming music. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say – we had a really good time. 😉
We slept in and decided on a trip to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast! This city had SO many American chains, and when we stumbled upon Dunkies, it was immediately put on the list. If you’re from New England, Dunkies is where you go for iced coffee. Sam and I were feeling nostalgic and Alaina was sick of listening to us rave about it, so to Dunkies (called Dunkin Coffee here!) we went! Because it was so late, we went ahead and found a place for lunch after coffee. Dancing all night makes a girl hangry! We picked a random place on La Rambla and settled. Nothing fantastic, but everywhere here was touristy so it didn’t really matter. I actually was quite pleased with the salad I got:
Mushrooms, asparagus, and shards of parmeggiano reggiano. It was a really good combo!
[I have genuinely no idea why google refused to upload this right-side up. But you get the gist.]
We stumbled upon a gelato place that looked good, and felt that since we have become such gelato connoisseurs, it would be plain wrong to not sample it in another country. This place, Amorino, was actually pretty cool because when they put it on the cone they form it into a rose! You know me and pretty food. I swear it tastes better.
Mango + soy chocolate.
The soy chocolate was SO good and dark! The mango had a bit of an ‘off’ consistency and hard to eat, but my love for mango is enough to ignore such minute details.
Red shades, black dress, yellow gelato – I’m the Spanish flag!
That night we met Monica at Plaza Espanya for the “magic fountain”! There is a huge fountain in front of the national art museum and they play classical music while the fountain “dances” along. They actually played American 80s music for us…we found it incredibly entertaining. What fountain wouldn’t want to dance to Madonna?
We went out for tapas that night but sadly we had no idea that Saturday was Spain’s Labor Day and the best tapas bar was closed 😦 We settled for one nearby and it was pretty good but not a-ma-zing. No pictures, sorry! We were already dressed to go out and I didn’t want to bring my huge purse (and I was a little paranoid about stolen cameras…because mine is so new and pretty!). Just imagine some tomatoes and mozzarella in olive oil (they called it a greek salad…we were a bit skeptical but enjoyed it), an anchovy, a big slab of salted cod – which I liked at first but in the end it was too salty, and a “tortilla” which in Spain is basically a frittata. This one was stuffed with veggies and it was really pretty good. Not an incredible meal overall, but I love the tapas concept of getting a lot of little things and getting to taste a variety of foods. Always fun!
We went out to a different club, Apolo, after we went to an “Irish” pub and then this awesome shot bar! They had an entire wall of different shots and they were insane. The best was the boy scout – they pour alcohol on the bar after pouring the shots and give you a marshmallow to roast, then you dip it in the shot, eat it and then drink. It was really fun. They weren’t very alcoholic either, which I appreciated 🙂 It was a late night (perhaps I should say morning), but LOTS of fun. I actually felt like a normal 20 year old for once. 
Our last day was beach day. Hit up Starbucks for breakfast (the Dunkies didn’t have bagels and we were not feeling donuts for breakfast) and then were off to the beach. It was a little cool, but sunny for the most part. I didn’t bother with a suit, but got a little sun. I also got the roomies into collecting beach glass! On my search, a little boy saw me looking at the rocks and gave me this:
“La quieres?” Bah, of course I want it! So cute! Best souvenir ever.
Boats galore!
When I got bored, I started to play with my new camera…
SO FUN!
Finding a place for lunch turned out to be a rather difficult task – everywhere we wanted was packed to the gills. We eventually found somewhere – at that point our only requisite was that they served food. We got to sit outside, and got Sangria, so all was not lost. I ordered the pan con tomato, which is a Catalan specialty. It’s basically ciabatta-like bread with a tomato kind of rubbed/crushed on top. It was interesting…but made me long for bruschetta. It needed garlic and basil!
I also got a caesar salad which was…um, not caesar salad. The dressing was like some kind of ranch or something. It came with chicken though, which was unexpected but appreciated. 
I also stole several of Sam’s patas bravas, which is a typical tapas dish. Potatoes pan fried with spices and sprinkled with paprika and served with a tangy mayonnaisy sauce. I’m not much for the sauce but the potatoes are gooooood. Try them if you get the chance, I’ve seen them at random Mexican restaurants before.
It was a bit of a mad dash from hostel to metro to bus station – we were literally sprinting with all our bags out of the metro. But we made it. The train however that was supposed to take us to the Pisa train station from the Pisa airport never showed, and we ended up having to take a cab from Pisa back to Florence. That was a VERY unexpected and even more unpleasant little surprise – cabs are not cheap. But it was either that or sit in the incredibly sketchy Pisa train station until 4 AM, and that just wasn’t sitting right. Ah, traveling in Italy. Always a joy.
NOT.
The return trip put aside, it was a pretty fantastic weekend. Lots of fun, and I got to see MoMo, who I haven’t seen since we left school in December! Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip though was that I realized how perfect my choice to study in Florence was. I would have hated living in a huge overwhelming city like Barcelona. Not to mention the food – oh how Italy has spoiled me there! I had fun, but it was good to come home. Tiny shower, no dryer, and no peanut butter, but it works for me. American girl, Italian soul.
~Namaste~

Unreal

On Sunday, my weekend adventures took me to Cinque Terre, five little hill towns on the Mediterranean coast on the northwestern side of Italy that are connected by a loooong trail. We went with Florence For Fun, a local travel agency that arranges spring break, long-weekend, and day trips for students in Florence. It was a great deal, too! Cinque Terre (literally, ‘five lands’) is world-renowned for its incredible natural beauty–it’s on UNESCO’s World Heritage List–and it has a fantastic hiking trail with some drop-dead gorgeous sites. It really felt like we were walking around inside a postcard. It was almost too beautiful to be real.
We arose at the obscene hour of 6 AM; well, my travel companions did…I fell back asleep and they jostled me awake at quarter to 7. Whoops! I also awoke to find my puffy face had returned; a mosquito must have bitten me last night. Grrr! It wasn’t as bad as last time, and faded by the time we got off the train in the first town, Riomaggiore. It seems that it’s not just Florentine weather that likes to trick us more than treat us, but all of Italy – it was cloudy and freezing when we got there! (Don’t worry, we sang “Oh Mr. Sun” in Italian and he eventually came out to de-thaw us!)
The big deal history-wise with Cinque Terre is its muretti, “little walls.” Despite its terrain being incredibly steep, rocky, and generally difficult to farm, its people have thrived as farmers from the first centuries AD. They propped up their farms and vineyards by building little stone walls – a lot of them. 11,000 kilometers (6836 miles), in fact, which is similar in length to the Great Wall of China. I know, crazy, right?? The craziest part is they did it completely by manual labor. SAY WHAT???
This mural was painted in recognition of those who built the walls. They deserve this and more! 11,000 KM!!!!
We didn’t actually go in to Riomaggiore; we pretty much got off the train, went to the bathroom and started hiking! Didn’t stop me from snapping away, of course:
The bar where we used the bathroom listed the ingredients used in the breads/pastries they sold. TOO COOL!! Look at all that real food – no artificial unpronouncable chemical ingredients here! This made me happy. [coughfoodgeekcoughcough]
The first trail, from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is called Via dell’Amore – The Lovers’ Walk. It was actually named by a journalist who was writing a story was walking on the path and found a note left by two young lovers. Awwwwwww!!!
Doesn’t everyone proclaim their love on a cactus leaf? I would.
When couples come to Cinque Terre they bring a lock and put it on rails, plants, nets, anything, then lock it and throw the key into the ocean. So sweet!
Ok, get ready for some serious picture overload. I’ll try to let the pictures speak for themselves and narrate only where necessary 🙂
Town #2: Manarola

Follow the “Indiana Jones” bridge to…
Town #3: Corniglia

LUNCH BREAK!!!
After all that walking + 382 stairs to get to Corniglia, our collective blood sugar was very low. BUT we were determined not to let our stomachs take us to the first (or second or third) touristy restaurant we found and wandered to find the “right” place. Jackpot!!!! We found a wine bar with a restaurant upstairs. Quiet, music in the background…and some seriously incredible eats & drinks.
We started with a necessary bottle of wine:
Cute label, right?! 
They only produce white wine in Cinque Terre, and I am not complaining – this was delicious! A little fizzy, a little sweet & sour. Very tasty. (and for 16 euro, I should hope so!)
I also split an appetizer with Alaina:
Anchovies!!! They are the specialty fish here, and I see why – these were amazing. Soft, tender, almost silky in texture, and they were drizzled in a garlic-infused olive oil with I think a bit of pesto on top. I need to find anchovies at home.
For our main course, we all ordered the same thing and it was brought on one big platter:
Pasta in a tomato sauce & pesto
Cinque Terre is in Liguria, where basil is grown and hence is the region from whence comes the holy pesto sauce. And I must say, this pasta was a downright divine experience. The pesto was a beautiful, vibrant green color and the basil used was sooo fresh. Mixed with the slightly sweet tomato sauce, I was sad when my plate was empty and there was no more sauce to sop up with bread. We were happy little hikers!
After lunch, the trek continued to…
Town #4: Vernazza

^Corniglia from the trail^
Vernazza from the trail
This trail called for some serious hiking & rock-scrambling! It was a little rough at first, what with that big lunch sitting not fully digested in my tummy, but after a quick breather I was good to go, and by the time we got to Vernazza, it was definitely gelato time!
Frutti di bosco (mixed berry yogurt), mint chocolate chip, dark chocolate
It was amazing gelato, but the dark chocolate was quite good. We had more chill time in this town and we got to walk and shop a bit – I found one store with some faaaabulous turquoise jewelry and I wanted to wrap the whole shop up and put it in my pocket!
We also, as usual, made some furry friends:
The hike from the 4th town to the final 5th is the longest and most difficult, and because we were quickly running out of time before out train left in the last town at 6:30, we took the very fast 5 min. train ride to…
Town #5: Monterosso
Loved the turquoise/coral colors of this house!
What a charming little beach town! We have been planning to go to a beach in May before we leave, and we are thinking about coming here to explore it more and do the last hike we missed out on (it’s also supposed to be the prettiest).
Before leaving, I had to try the limoncino, which is Liguria’s take on the southern Italian limoncello (basically lemons, sugar, and alcohol – it’s a very typical after-dinner drink). The only difference between the two is the lemons; limoncino uses lemons from the north.
I could definitely taste a difference between the ‘cino and ‘cello – the lemons had a distinctly different flavor, more mellow and sweet maybe? I liked it well enough but just like limoncello, I can only handle a few sips and after that my tastebuds just get bored. Even though it’s poured in a small dessert-wine glass, it still seems like a little too much to enjoy. But I’m still happy to have satisfied my curiosity!
[More gelato may or may not have been consumed at this point. I am powerless to anything melon-flavored.]
We also bought some focaccia for dinner on the rather long train ride home. Focaccia is the bread specialty of Liguria, and my cooking teacher expressly specified that focaccia con formaggio (with cheese) must be tried in Cinque Terre. No arguments here! I got some with cheese, tomatoes, and more anchovies (so amazingly good here!), and swapped half for some of Alaina’s cheese and tomato piece. It was really good, especially with the anchovies. Very light, airy and buttery (well, olive oil-y, in a good way). Although I think I prefer the focaccia we made in class last week for being denser and doughier, both have their own place in my carb-loving heart.
A long, glorious day of walking, eating, oohing and aahing. Now it just seems like a dream! Every moment was like stepping inside a picture on a postcard. It was breath-taking, awe-inspiring, mouth-watering, exhausting, rewarding, and above all…
Unreal.
~Namaste~