I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

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All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

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It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

All I want for Christmas is…

If you didn’t read that headline in a sing-songy Mariah Carey voice, you did it wrong. Go back and try it again.  

All of my favorite blogs and magazines have been posting holiday gift guides and I can’t get enough of them. I read ’em all, even the ones that don’t apply to me: gifts over $250, gifts for your unruly toddler, gifts for your totally sane parents. I love going through them and seeing all the cool stuff that’s out there, and I’ve even snagged a couple of ideas for presents I’d like to buy for a few people on my list. 

With that in mind, I put together a little holiday gift guide of my own. Now, this isn’t necessarily MY specific wish list, more just like a few fun, food-related presents (that I also would totally not be mad at finding underneath my Christmas tree). Cough cough. 

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Please, Santa?

*Cheese of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese: I’ve seen this one on a few lists and well, it’s because it’s amazing. Murray’s (i.e. my happy place) sends you three different cheeses to have at home, and it can be a one-time thing or a subscription to last however many months you want. 

*Whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano: Ok, now hear me out. I know this one’s a big-ticket item but seriously, this is the stuff dreams are made of. 

*Christmas doughnuts from Doughnut Plant: You’d have to either be a diabetic or just the Grinch himself to not love one of these adorable, festive doughnuts. Choose from the coconut snowman, the mint chocolate Christmas tree, or the gingerdough man. Or better yet, get all of them. Oh and throw in a creme brulee doughnut too, cause those are the best. 

*Marseille Amaro from Forthave Spirits: Not only is this distilled in Brooklyn, which gives it extra cool points, but amari are everywhere these days and a great addition to any bar. I’m putting this one on my to-buy-for-myself list. 

*The Best American Food Writing 2018: It’s not all about what you can consume with your mouth, you know? Sometimes you gotta feed your brain too, and find a little inspiration from really great food writing. 

*Fig and chocolate panettone: regular ol’ panettone is already one of the best parts of the holiday season, in my humble opinion, but one made with figs and chocolate? C’mon! Think of the french toast you could make with that! And you don’t even have to wrap it since panettone already comes in its own showy wrapping.

*Good olive oil in a cool tin container: After watching the first episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix recently, I was reminded of the awesome olive oil they have in Italy and how I want to be the kind of person who only keeps the good kind around, the really bright green, peppery, fresh stuff that you’d keep in a cool, rustic-chic tin container like this one. 

*Food of the Italian South, by Katie Parla: Part cookbook, part coffee table book, part travel inspiration, this book isn’t actually available until March but you can pre-order it now. When better to get a present than when you’re least expecting it, like no-holidays March?

Reads and eats… cause it beats the news

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Drink up and cheer up.

know I’m not alone in feeling this way but man, is everything absolutely the worst these days or what? We have an idiot madman running our country straight into the ground, the news seems like one giant loop of death and disaster, and on a personal note, I’m starting my hunt for a new apartment which is an absolutely depressing process. I’ve broken down in tears at some point during each and every apartment search in the past, and it’s doubtful this time around will be much different.

Sooo…. instead of adding fuel to the dumpster fire, I thought I would resurrect something I used to do here on the blog a few years ago and share some fun food related links in an effort to distract, entertain and maybe lighten the mood.

 

Sounds tasty no? Here’s some of what’s caught my eye lately… and maybe made my stomach growl.

  • United seems hellbent on winning the title of worst airline, what with all the bad media they’ve gotten recently and all (hello, dead pup in the overhead?) so it made me laugh when I read they were getting rid of Stroopwaffles. These are some of my favorite snacks so silly move, United.
  • Sometimes I miss the weirdest things about Italy, and even though I can definitely make this here at home, I miss eating beans like these, prepared like this from Emiko Davies’ lovely blog.
  • I was interested when I read in NY Magazine about this cool sushi spot that opened in Brooklyn called Okozushi, but when I found out it was the tiny and adorable restaurant just a couple of blocks away from my apartment that I saw during a recent walk, I was straight up giddy.
  • Thinking about a new apartment also has me thinking about updating some of my art and decor. How cute is this Aperol spritz print?
  • I’ve been daydreaming about moving to New Orleans for the better part of the last six months, pretty much since my last trip there during the holidays, and I would be lying if part of the reason wasn’t so I could somehow befriend Joy from Joy the Baker, one of my longtime favorite blogs. I imagine we would be best of friends and sit around eating delicious things like this bomb looking cheeseburger fried rice. I mean, come ON.

 

The things I miss

Sometimes (though I should point out definitely not always) I really miss Florence. I miss lots of things about it, but it should go without saying that hands down, I miss the food the most. But I live in New York, after all, where there are precisely 30 million italian restaurants, markets, wine bars and gourmet shops, so most things, whether it be bomboloni, pici al limone or a good piece of  schiacciata aren’t all that hard to find.

HOWEVER, and this is about to be a big however (hence the all caps), I have yet to find crostoni that come close to the perfection of those at  Fuori Porta, just outside the old city walls, and that gives me the worst pangs of longing for Florence. They’re just that good.

During my recent visit to Italy, I put lunch at Fuori Porta on my list of things that had to get done while I was there. The beau and I went one afternoon, and just like I had remembered, the crostoni were amazing. So good I could cry… if I wasn’t busy stuffing my face.

Walnut, honey and brie crostone, I missed you SO much!

Crostoni are basically just large slices of bread, topped with cheese (which at Fuori Porta, can be either mozzarella, Brie, pecorino, or gorgonzola) and other topping combinations including meats, veggies, or nuts. They’re popped in the oven so that the cheese melts and everything gets warm, and you as the eater, basically have your mind blown. My favorite combo, and the one I got most recently when I was there, was Brie with walnuts and honey.  Each bite is simultaenously gooey and cheesey, crunchy, sweet and savory. I think I could eat one every day for the rest of my life and never not love it.

Prosciutto and mushrooms under a blanket of melted pecorino. SO. FREAKIN.’ GOOD.

Flaneur on the other hand went with a more savory combination of pecorino, prosciutto cotto  and mushrooms. While I preferred mine, his was pretty damn good too. Really, most things covered in thick, melted cheese are bound to be good, but this crostone, with its earthy, sweet mushrooms and salty-sweet prosciutto (the sweeter cooked kind, not the cured variety) was really phenomenal.

Yea I miss crossing the Ponte Vecchio at night, the view of the Duomo from Piazzale Michelangiolo, and being able to visit The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, but let’s get real, I really, really miss those crostoni.

Gelato, that’s amore!

I just came back from Italy, where I spent a week in and around Florence with my boyfriend, visiting his family and friends, taking daytrips, carboloading and through it all… SWEATING, cause dear sweet Madonna and Child, it was HOT. Like, really hot. Like, totally socially acceptable to eat gelato every day, sometimes twice, kind of hot.

Below, the highlights reel of my love fest with gelato, which I thank for saving me from heat stroke:

Il Sorriso

Outside of Florence’s tourist-clogged center was Il Sorriso, where the BF and I stopped one day on our way to lunch at his sister’s house. Because we really were on our way to eat lunch, he suggested we split a cup instead of each getting our own. I relented, though I’m not usually into this kind of thing. We got stracciatella, probably the best I ever had, with thick, chunky pieces of chocolate throughout it,  and cremino alla Nutella, which was a creamy, chocolate, Nutella swirled bunch of awesomeness.

Badiani

On a different day we went to one of Flaneur’s old favorites, also outside of the center, called Badiani. Though it’s a gelateria/ pasticceria combo with some pretty amazing looking baked treats, their main draw is the gelato, especially the Buontalenti flavor which they hold a registered trademark for. On the left is my cup of Millefoglie gelato (named after the Italian pastries made with dozens of layers of delicate, crispy thin layers of dough and thick, custardy pastry cream) and more cremino (this time without Nutella, but still chocolatey and rich). On the right is the BF’s cup of pistachio (a nutty, creamy blend) and the house star, Buontalenti, a buttery, rich mixture of cream, custard, and all that is good in this world.

Gelateria dei Neri

While strolling around downtown in Florence’s historic center one day (and by strolling you should know that I mean wondering at what point the skin on my body was going to start bubbling and blistering from the unbearable heat) we stopped at Gelateria dei Neri (no website, because that kind of technological nonsense just hasn’t fully caught on yet in Italy).  They had a big selection, with lots of really refreshing looking fruit choices, but I’m always a cream/chocolate girl, so I went with cassata siciliana (a traditional Sicilian dessert cake made with candied fruits and nuts, and a mix of sweet ricotta and the heaven they stuff cannoli with) and a ricotta and figs blend, which was velvety and sweet, with jammy chunks of figs swirled in. The beau got an always delicious combination of rich, bittersweet dark chocolate  and bright, creamy coconut.

I could almost not hate the suffocating heat of summer if I had all this gelato to keep me going. Say what you will about Italians, but man, do they know what they’re doing with this stuff.

Hey there, sweet stuff

Say what you will about Valentine’s Day, but I for one, am a fan. I mean, how could I not be when there are so many sweet things to be had? Yes, kisses, cuddles and hanky panky are fun but I’m talking the real sweet stuff: SUGAR.

Valentine's Day can't be anything BUT happy when it involves this.

Last year, my darling boyfriend got me doughnuts (from my favorite place to get them in the whole wide universe, Doughnut Plant) so this year I decided to take his idea and put an Italian spin on it. I schlepped it uptown to Bomboloni, an Upper West Side bakery specializing in— you guessed it— bomboloni, which for those of you who might not know, are the Italian cousin of the traditional filled doughnut, and came home with a box of six. Bomboloni are more round than American doughnuts, almost perfectly spherical, and back on the Boot, they’re covered in a sparkly dusting of sugar, with usually either cream or chocolate filling.

At Bombolini in the UWS (there’s also one in Rome), the bombolini come in a whole assortment of flavors and only one, which was actually called a bomba and was much bigger than the rest, had the traditional sugar coating. The others varied between caramelized sugar, chocolate glaze, confectioners sugar, crushed nuts and other toppings. In the picture above, the middle one is crème brulee, then starting with the red one and going clockwise: raspberry, banana, chocolate cherry, vanilla cream, and toasted marshmallow cream. We both agreed that our favorite bombolone, with its  bright, thick jammy filling, was the raspberry (even though in Italy I’m a cream girl through and through).

My Italian beau likes to complain that while he can get almost any food in the world here in New York, the Italian pastries, like bomboloni, are not as easy to come by. My box from Bomboloni was a nice way to prove him wrong and get a sugary treat all in one present. Made Valentine’s Day all the sweeter.

Granita for one, please

Gelato's great but I'll have a granita di mandorle, thanks

I’m now approaching week 2 of having an ocean between my boyfriend and I, and let me tell you, it sucks. No way around it. Beyond all the obvious reasons, I hate that he’s gone because of all the awesome food I know he’s eating in Italy without me.

I was in a particular funk the other day on my way home from work when I decided to make a pit stop to cheer myself up. When I lived in Florence, one of my favorite places for an afternoon snack was Grom, a gelato shop I didn’t realize was international until I moved to New York and saw it in Greenwich village. I was originally really excited about until I saw their outrageous prices, but on this particular day, I said to hell with it.

Now yes, their gelato is pretty damn good, but my favorite thing to get (the only one I ever get, really) is something else: the granita siciliana, a creamy, frosty treat (originally from Sicily, hence the name) similar to a slushy but infinitely better. It has a thicker, more coarse texture, and none of the wateriness. You get a spoon, not a straw, and with it, nothing but sweet, refreshing deliciousness.

It’s available in different flavors, but I’m not even sure what they are because I always get the same one: mandorle, or almonds. It’s sweet in a milky, nutty way that feels natural and not sugary. And because it’s subtly grainy but still icy cool, it’s really one of the best things to cool down with.

The beau might have Florence, but I at least still have my granita di mandorle. And that’ll just have to be enough to hold me over.