A Few of My Favorite Things II

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. I think that above quote sums up most of it quite nicely. There has been a lot of questioning, and a fair amount of crying.

When these moods happen upon me, which they do more often than I’d like, I tend to turn my focus to the things that make me happiest. Things like…

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Ice cream cones.

There’s just something about the cone experience, I tell ya – cups just don’t do the trick.

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Summer in a glass.

I bought a mini blender for 15 bucks and use it almost every day. This creation was particularly excellent.

Blend: one small fresh nectarine, about half a frozen banana (~60 g), a handful of chopped frozen mango (70g), and 5 oz unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Sip in the sun with a magazine.

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Highly entertaining Stop signs.

delicious dinners

Really delicious, seasonal-vegetable-focused dinners.

Apparently my cooking skills improve ten-fold when I’m having a tougher go of it. My dinners this week were BOMB.

Recipes for dishes from left to right:

1. Sautee 1/4-1/2 chopped onion in oil. Add in greens (I used kale + spinach) and a teaspoon of tamari. Top with half of a mashed avocado and protein of your choice. Eat with chopsticks!

2. Brown some garlic in a small amount of cooking oil in a pan. Add in sliced summer squash and fresh tomato and stir fry until the squash is slightly translucent. Add baby shrimp and some chopped fresh basil; stir til heated through. Serve with more fresh basil, mashed avocado, and a healthy squeeze of lemon. A fresh baguette with good olive oil is highly encouraged.

3. Heat garlic and cooking oil in a pan; add veggies and some black beans and cook til the beans soften and make the mix a little creamy. Add a dash of soy sauce and a little lemon juice. Top with fresh herbs (basil!) and parmesan cheese, and drizzle with some good olive oil. This one was my favorite, I think!

And…

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The creation of a new recipe, all (well, mostly) by myself. Stay tuned for this one – it’s definitely cookbook-worthy!

What things get you through a bad day?

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A Beautiful Blur

Have I mentioned that I was going on a trip to California?

Maybe once. Or twice.

Well, I did! From Thursday to Sunday, my roommate and I ran around northern California for real life/outside-the-college-bubble stuff and little bit of fun. Oh, and food. Always, always food.

15 minutes after our morning classes were out, we were on the road to the Charlotte airport. California adventure? Bring it on.

We stayed with my uncle and his family in the San Rafael area (thanks, family!!), and rented a car to get us around. After the 45 minutes from the airport to their house in which I bit my lips repeatedly, gripped the steering wheel like my life depended on it, and emitted the occasional profanity when someone 2 lanes over sped by at 90 mph, I got quite used to it.

PS, South Carolina drives way too slow.

Day 1: Getting down to business

My roommate is a music therapy major, and as part of her degree she has to do an internship after graduation. Her top choice was (yes, was) in Sacramento and when she started planning the trip so she could audition for them live, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the CIA Greystone campus. Plus – adventure tiiiime! [When you call a trip to the grocery store an adventure, a good reason to go to California in January looks like an epic journey. You understand.]

We dutifully bounded out of bed at 6 in the morning on Friday (is that sarcasm I hear?) to beat rush hour traffic into Sacramento. At least we got to see a pretty sunrise!

A big thank you to my navigator, who sleepily obliged my request to take these pictures 😉

After dropping her off, I zoomed to Napa Valley! The CIA is located in St. Helena, just down the road from Napa and across the street from a vineyard.

 

Culinary school….or castle??

mmmm, grapes 🙂

Turquoise lamp posts! If you are unfamiliar with my turquoise obsession…consider yourself warned.

The herb garden!

I have to admit, part of the pull of this school is its location. Not just wine country – M.F.K. Fisher lived in St. Helena with her 2 daughters at one point in her life. I’ve walked the same ground as M.F.K. Fisher. Whoa.

The town of St. Helena is as cute as it can be! Love at first drive-though.

 

Love the grapes on the street signs!

Note the G on the clock!! Omen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I waited for my 3 o’clock appointment with admissions, I spent the afternoon in – where else? – a bakery. A really cute, local organic bakery with incredible coffee.

I haven’t had coffee that wonderfully strong in a while!

I had to stay for lunch, of course. It’s just polite.

Well, that, and I found this sandwich of hummus, goat cheese, lots of veggies and balsamic on focaccia – all my favorite things on bread? Yes please.

After the tour of campus, during which I asked tons of questions and all my mother’s hopes of my liking the New York campus better flew out the proverbial window, I headed back to Sacramento to pick up my kid roommate. Not without about an hour and a half of rush hour traffic. But I did manage to get something out of it…

Tuscany? Is that you??

 

 

 

If anyone asks, I most certainly did not take these while driving/sitting in traffic. That would be dangerous.

Out of hunger and desperation, we chose a brewery on the same street as the internship location for dinner. It actually turned out to be a pretty good choice!

Spinach salad with feta, artichokes, crispy onions and little baby bay shrimp that I subbed for chicken. I’m on the west coast, people – seafood all the way! It was in a really delicious garlic-basil dressing that I am going to try to recreate – both flavors balanced so nicely! Paired with a glass of wine, I was a very happy – and exhausted – girl.

We slept in a bit til about 9 and I made us breakfast – oatmeal, of course!

2/3 c oats, 1 c. of water and 1/3 c. of low fat milk. Topped with a barely ripe banana (when they are not quite ripe, they are better on top – if you mix them in the pot, they are just to starchy and lose all the sweet flavor), peanut butter, and whipped cream. Because it was there. I recommend it heartily 🙂

We decided to have a low-key day because, well, we are pretty low-key people. We headed to Sausalito, a really cute little town (that was apparently the theme of the weekend!) on the other side of the bridge from San Francisco. We wandered, drank more amazing coffee while sitting on a bench and gazing at the water, and of course, we ate.

 

It was a blissful 60 degrees. I’m ready to go back now, please.

[twss?]

Loved the funky hydrant!

sooooo good.

 

 

 

Cheers!

We didn’t plan that…we swear.

 

The bus stop. Obviously.

We made a friend.

For lunch, we decided on the bakery where we found the wonderful coffee. I’ve decided that local bakeries are generally the best choice for dining when traveling. How can you go wrong with bread?

 

Cibo = ‘food’ in Italian. Good sign!

We ordered 2 panini for lunch and split them.

This was the veggie filled with beets, chard, pepper, other veggies and either mozzarella or fontina cheese – the bread was great and the veggies had a lovely sweet flavor that went well with the melty cheese.

We also ordered the prosciutto panini, which had spring greens, peppers and fontina – it was like a crispy, crunchy rainbow! It reminded me how much I love prosciutto. It just has such a wonderful smokey flavor, but it’s so thin. That’s saying a lot coming from an almost-vegetarian!

Dessert is, of course, a necessary thing.

Kona Coffee Fudge yogurt from the apparently famous Lappert’s. Such a good flavor combo!

We spent the late afternoon crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve been to San Fran a couple times, but I was way too young to remember if I’d even done this before, and this time I had a camera!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night night, sun!

It took 16 hours, 2 cars, 3 planes, 4 states and time zones, and a grande sub-par latte from Starbucks  to get us home. But it was worth it.

Well worth it.

All the Rage

Oh, bloggies, do I have some things to share. It is high time I introduce the latest obsessions of the Gillianasana kitchen. Hold on to your food processors, people!
1. Xantham Gum
I finally bit the grit after seeing countless images of protein ice cream and banana soft serve and ponied up the 13 buckaroons for this little bag of magic. Considering I use 1/4 tsp. at most at a time, it was a very worthy investment. Worthy and delicious. Not only can I create fruitylicious ice cream with a light-as-air texture on a whim, in any shade of the rainbow…


Oh yes. Green Monster ice cream. Don’t be jealous – go make your own!

…but I have also created what may be one of my favorite oaty creations ever. Which leads me to obsession #2: Ice cream for breakfast, anyone?

Whip up your fave hot cereal & top with a fresh batch of ice cream. It will change your breakfast-lovin life. Seriously. It has that fun hot-cold thing going on, and it’s sooo much better than just throwing fruit in the bowl (which, don’t get me wrong, has it’s place – on a pedestal lower than this.) Carby, creamy, fruity, fluffy…this has it all. Next stop: as a pancake topper. Stay tuned.

#3: PB & Co.’s White Chocolate Wonderful

Oh. My. God. I don’t even like white chocolate. But apparently when combined with peanut butter, it’s a horse of a different color. A really, really, amazingly yummy & addictive horse.
[P.S. – I can’t speak for the company, but I’m pretty sure no horses were/are harmed during the production process.]
Seriously, I cannot decide if I like this better than Dark Chocolate Dreams, and I’m a dark choc fiend. It’s sweet, it’s salty, and it’s good on anything – but my personal preference is a spoon. I have no words left. 
#4: Avocado

More specifically, Gena from Choosing Raw‘s Dilly Carrot Avocado Spread. I made this to bring up with us to Maine (I promise that post is coming!) and it was a HUGE hit. I have a history of not being much of a fan of this particular brand of produce – and it still bothers me in salads when it gets a slimy and odd (same issue with bananas…well, not so much in salads….you know what I mean) – but I have recently discovered a new love for this green goodness when smashed into other things. Sounds violent, tastes delicious. I have many future plans involving this little guy!
#6: Eat a cupcake – Save the world.
Ok, maybe the world won’t be saved. But there is something so comforting, so restorative, so blissful about stopping into a local bakery and treating yourself to a little buttercream bliss . And really, if you think about it, wouldn’t the world be a happier place if all the haters just stopped for a cupcake break every now and then? I think yes.
(I haven’t been eating a cupcake on a daily basis – that would take away its specialness – so this is less of an obsession, more of a discovery. Potay-to, potah-to.)
#7: M. F. K. Fisher

Dear Mrs. Fisher,
Can I please be you when I grow up? And also, could we do gastronomical tour of France together? Call me. Hope all is well in the afterlife. Thanks,
Gillian.

I’m making friends with this book, a collection of her best work, as I chose her as the topic of my senior thesis (of course). The way she writes and weaves food into her stories, it’s so…delicious to read.
“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?…The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.”

P.S. – expect the quotes to keep coming. I have to write a small book about this woman and her writing…I’m gonna have some stuff committed to memory, methinks.

And finally, no list would be complete with chocolate.
#8: Stonyfield’s Organic Minty Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt

I knew this would more than likely be good. But it is SO much more. It just epitomizes that perfect combo of mint + dark chocolate. I’m amazed and impressed with my own restraint that three days after bringing this pint home, it still resides in the freezer not completely empty. YUM with a capital Y.
Tomorrow brings a new Over-the-Humpday Challenge…bring it on!
~Namaste~

To Miss…and Not to Miss

I love watching the sky go from this…
to this.
I also love having a camera that can capture it. *insert heavenly choir here*
You know, I’m going to seriously miss Florence. The Duomo, Sergio’s, Mercato Centrale. The internet here, on the other hand…not so much. I promise regular updates will happen as soon as I have internet that stays connected for longer than 20 seconds. [And oh, how I wish that were an exaggeration.]
Not too much has been going on since Wednesday. That evening was the Farewell Dinner from our school, Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici. Now, I’ll be honest, where food is concerned the words “free” and “high quality” do not often go hand in hand. But I thought, “hey, I’m in Italy, how bad can it be?” Whoops. Silly Gilly.
It didn’t help that we got stuck at the forgotten table. I had to get up and ask our advisor to remind them to bring us bread. (C’mon, it’s me – I was getting my bread.) They did, but it made me question what country I was in – what is usually a beautiful basket of soft, crusty Tuscan bread came as a couple of semi-stale pieces of unpleasantly chewy sourdough and some completely stale breadsticks. At this point, a waiter came over and poured us all very large glasses of wine, for which we were all incredibly grateful. Perhaps the culinary highlight of the evening.
The first course arrived and I was skeptical, but still hopeful – wine will do that.
Penne in tomato sauce and a square of veggie lasagna.
Hmm, where to begin. The penne was…perfectly edible. It was just in basic tomato sauce with a pathetic-looking piece of basil thrown in there and sprinkled with some subpar parmesan. I like simple, and this was certainly no culinary challenge, but I enjoyed it mostly. The lasagna, however, I’m quite sure could have been served in any school cafeteria or hospital tray without a second thought. First of all, there were peas. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before or not, but I hate peas. No, that is not too strong a word. They mushy and unattractive and I truly cannot stand their “flavor” (if you can even call it that). I know many people are of the opposite opinion, and that’s perfectly fine. All the less for me to eat. ANYway, this was not a welcome addition to this limp, lukewarm square of overcooked noodles and cheap cheese. I will say that it had a kidney-like bean in it and I liked that, but the two beans my portion had did not make up for the overwhelming mediocrity of the dish. NEXT.
Chicken with tomato sauce, potatoes, and…peas.
I won’t comment further on the peas; suffice it to say, this course was already taken down a notch by their presence on my plate.
Ok, once again – what country am I in again? Whoever decided that throwing the extra tomato sauce from the penne on top of the chicken and calling it “Italian” has no business in the kitchen. It was, again, edible – the chicken was only mildly rubbery and the completely underseasoned tomatoes at least gave it an ounce of flavor. The potatoes were…well, potatoes. If they had screwed up pan-fried potatoes, I might have just left; but these were fine. I like potatoes. That’s what these were, and no more.
So at this point, I was holding on by a thread and praying for a big, decadent dessert. And then reality was served. In a paper cup.
Do you remember Hoodsies, those little ice cream cups made by Hood that you ate with a wooden stick and were served at basically every school event ever? Well, apparently they’re an international phenomenon.
Actually, this wasn’t bad. The chocolate was nice and cocoa-y and the vanilla was suuuper creamy. A little artificial tasting, but really pretty good.
Ok, I bashed this dinner pretty harshly. It is important to consider that they were cooking for a LOT of kids that had completely taken over their restaurant and all wanted their food “NOW.” So to an extent, mediocrity in a meal is to be expected. But even this was low. I mean, we’re in Italy – even a big ball of fresh mozzarella with some tomato would have been fine. This meal was not Italian. In fact, it reminds me of eating at school…perhaps it was meant to make us nostalgic and prepare us to go home? Yes. We’ll go with that.
Thursday and Friday were more or less uneventful. Took the written portion of my cooking final, and while every last bit of knowledge my brain could hold about antioxidants, homocysteine, and bread-making spilled out off my pen as fast as it could go, our teacher made us post-test snacks. We’re not talking milk and cookies, people. Toast with goat cheese and fresh pear drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with nutmeg, followed by the most amazing shortbread cookies I have ever tasted with a chocolate sauce and a strawberry sauce for dipping. Have I mentioned I love this class? A million times? Make it a million and one. I love this class!!! [Sorry, no pictures – it was an eat-and-keep-writing situation!]
To keep things interesting, we decided to go to Fiesole for dinner. Fiesole is a hill town above Florence that was a big deal in the Etruscan age – they were actually more powerful than Florence. It’s a charming little town with incredible views. We have been, but none of us had eaten there—and you haven’t really been somewhere if you haven’t dined there, no?
We went to Ristorante Perseus, right in the central piazza. If the garlic cloves adorning every doorway didn’t make me love it, the plates did the trick:
I love restaurants with funky dishes. It’s just more fun to eat off fun plates! Oh, and check out the size of this pepper mill:
Holy whoa, this baby was longer than my arm! More fun décor J
Aside from the inevitable bread basket, they also brought a plate of flat bread-cracker-looking things:
Basically very flat focaccia, sprinkled with oregano and salt on top. YUM! They made for handy spoons for my meal:
Zuppa di gran farro – Spelt Soup!
I have had this a couple times before and have really liked it – this was no exception! A lovely drizzle of good olive oil with bread for soaking made this an absolutely delicious dish. Very soul-satisfying J And perfect for this ugly, damp, cold, un-May weather we’ve been suffering. Florence, we have one week left – get it together.
Friday we had planned to go to the beach in Cinque Terre, but the combination of dangerous-looking overcast skies and a very late night made those plans float away. No matter, we’re in Florence – there is always something to do! We took advantage of a free day to do some serious shopping. I got assorted presents, some jewelry, souvenir stuff that’s been on my list for ages, a watercolor print that I adore from a street artist, and a Moka coffee-maker. Mokas are an Italian household staple – it’s quite similar to a French press. You put water in the bottom part, then put ground coffee (we’ve been using espresso and I love it!) in a filter over the bottom part, and then screw on the top and put it over the stove to boil the water. It makes an amazing cup of coffee, and they are really affordable. I got one with polka dots 😉 I can’t wait to use it at home!
I put my chef hat on and made the roomies homemade bean burgers for dinner! The basic recipe is from Kath Eats Real Food, my favorite food blogger and an all-around cool chica;) Click here for her recipe page. Basically, you take beans (like kidney or cannellini – higher liquid content is better) with some whole wheat flour, mash them together and add whatever seasonings you want. For mine, I added chopped tomatoes, fresh garlic, sage, oregano, S + P, and a little olive oil. Form a patty with your hands (take your rings off!) and throw it on a pan. Leave it for a couple minutes—resist the urge to poke & prod!—and flip it when you shake the pan and the burger moves. They usually end up a little mushy but I adore them. I think they liked it 😉 I was supposed to make “fries” with the burgers with roasted potatoes, but I of course forgot to buy potatoes at the store. That made it considerably more difficult to make them. Oh well, the burgers were yummy! I was not in presence of mind and LuLu did not make an appearance.
Yup, the new camera has been christened – and it’s a girl! LuLu did accompany me on my Saturday adventure – San Gimignano, take 2! World Champion Gelato? Where do I sign?!!!
~Namaste~