Friday, July 13, 2012

Shot to Hell

Shot to hell! … my diet that is. I’m terrified to see what the scale says when I get back home. But I don’t regret one morsel of food, not one tidbit of tastiness that has been put into my mouth.

Andy and I travel well. Wherever we go we like to experience what the natives experience, especially when it comes to food. To us it explains a lot about their culture.  Now, the food on the ship is fine, but I’m tired of it. It’s American food; after all, it’s an American cruise line.

So when in Rome (here on out called Roma—I was corrected by our tour guide Mauro), or Barcelona, or Cannes, or Florence (Firenza), or Venice (Venezia), we like to eat their food rather than going back to the ship. Ship food is already paid for, but the McPhees want the real deal. And real deal it was!

Let’s go back to the beginning of the trip, where it all began, in Barcelona. My list of “must haves” included sangria, tapas, and paella. So when Aurelia (Jane’s friend who lives in Barcelona and who took us out to dinner) asked what kind of food we wanted, that’s what I told her. She took us to a fantastic little place that was a bit of a walk from the hotel. We sat in front of the windows so we could look out at the busy street to watch the sights, and she did the ordering of the tapas, which was our first course. After a couple of minutes, a fabulous white sangria arrived loaded with citrus fruit—delish! (I have to remember to email Aurelia, who is going to send me a sangria recipe made with gin!).

Then out came the plates with an enormous variety of foods on them. The first thing we tried was a chewy bread, like a 4-inch slice of a baguette that was split down the middle, and had been grilled, and then their custom is to take a juicy, super-ripe tomato and rub it all over the top of it. I think there is garlic on it as well, and can I tell you how yummy it is? Something so simple, and yet hugely tasty.

Another tapas plate was their croquettes, of which we had two kinds: ham and cod. I was afraid to try the cod, but my motto for this trip is “say yes to everything.” So I did, and they were fantastico! They were two bites in length, and were either deep-fat fried or baked, but they were crunchy and yummy…and I hate to admit it, but I think the cod ones were better than the ham!

The salad was a completely different experience than what I am used to. Sure it had raw vegetables, but it was on one dinner plate (for all 8 of us), and there was a serving spoonful of lettuce, a serving spoonful of chopped tomatoes, a serving spoonful of eggplant. Imagine one of our baby carrots julienned—only one! And that too was on the plate. No dressing, because the chopped tomatoes had something on it to make it seem like it’s own dressing. We picked a few things here and there to try and that was it. Perfect!

There were a couple of other things, but I want to get to the paella. I had the mixed paella, meaning it had seafood and chicken in it. There were big chunks of chicken, whole shrimp—not those tiny ones either! And yes, calamari too. The rice was a beautiful saffron yellow and it had peas and a couple of tomatoes in it. I have never seen such wonderfully ripe, RED tomatoes as I have seen in Spain and Italy. At this point I never want to eat a store-bought tomato again!

Moving on to dessert -- and this is only day 1 (Oh my gawd!) -- it was translated as crème brulee -- a personal favorite! But when it came out I had to do a double-take because it looked like a fried egg. Upon closer inspection, it was a dollop of custard that looked like an egg white and the crunchy melted sugar was smack dab in the middle, looking like the yolk. It came with a biscotti that had another dollop of custard on top of it. I think I may have licked the plate clean, it was so good!

In Cannes our one and only meal was at an outdoor café very close to where they have the Cannes Film Festival. The special that day was steak tartar with salad and real French french fries and a glass of white wine. The tartar looked like a raw hamburger patty mixed with herbs and seasonings, about a half pound I’d say, and utterly delicious. Their fries were a different shape than ours; they looked more like canoes with a hollowed out top. Fantastique!

Next stop Florence. Our driver in Florence was Vinnie and he said we needed to eat the lasagna at the restaurant he dropped us off at, so we did! It looked just like what we have, but the noodles melted in your mouth and the meat sauce was extraordinary. I couldn’t finish my plate. I wanted to, but just couldn’t.

I asked our driver in Roma what his favorite dish was and he quickly replied the rigatoni amidriciano. I decided that’s what I would have as well. He did not steer me wrong (pun intended), it was amazing! The pasta was chewier than how I make mine. Perhaps I’ve been overcooking it? The sauce was made of tomatoes and chunks of bacon—not a carbonera sauce, because there was no cream. Mauro said it was his favorite dish and I understand completely. I believe I almost finished that plate!

Probably my absolute most favorite meal on the entire trip occurred at the base of Mount Vesuvius at a vineyard. This time our driver was Giovanni, and he acted as translator as the winemaker took us for a walk into his vineyard and explained the grapes, the soil (volcanic ash), how they make it, etc. It’s a family-owned operation, he taking over after his father retired.

Put yourself in my place; on a stone deck underneath the lacey shade of an olive tree. Our table is made of a slab of lava rock, decorated with beautiful ceramic designs. The sun is hot, but with the gentle breeze, it’s perfection. The winemaker is telling us about the various wines as we taste them. He isn’t pushy or making us feel compelled to buy anything. He’s just describing and explaining, (and I was understanding quite a bit of what he was saying in Italian!) and then he went to another side of the deck and left us alone to eat his wife’s cooking.

We start off with our appetizer, which for me was so delicious that it alone could have been my lunch. It was a plate of cheese (“What kind of cheese is this? It’s spectacular!” “Provalone.”), and tomato bruschetta that you put on top of freshly baked bread. And wine. Ahhh…

That would’ve been perfection, but no, there’s more. Then she (his wife) brings out the pasta pommadoro. Just plain pasta with tomato sauce, and it is the greatest stuff I’ve ever eaten. The sauce was made with chunks of fresh tomatoes glistening in a thin bright sauce. The pasta, we noticed, was much thicker than what we get at home, so I asked what kind it was, and remarked how good it tasted. Again, I now know what “al dente” truly means! Not how it’s cooked in America!

I kept remarking how much we loved the food, and asked the wife how she cooked various things. After a couple of minutes the winemaker came over and gave me a bag of the pasta to take home, because they don’t sell it in the United States. “Here, a gift.” I think he was pleased that I was trying to speak a little bit of Italian. I was trying not to sound like an ass, but you gotta try it, right? I think it paid off.

And then the dessert: Easter pie! A delicious torte crust filled with a rice and egg and cream filling, but it was solid like a cake. So good! And then all we wanted to do was take a nap. But instead we headed to Pompei—good thing; we needed to walk off that lunch!

I have only one more word to say about food: GELATI!
Oh. My. Gawd! In the four days that I have spent in Italy I have had and adored hazelnut, rice, pistachio, panna cotta, fig and walnut, and a chocolate something-or-other gelati. I hope Clare McCann is proud of me! She told me it was required eating—up to 5 per day. My favorite was what her friend suggested: risi (rice, think like the greatest rice pudding, but ice cream!) from Vivoli in Florence. The next favorite was the fig and walnut—I know, it sounds sorta gross but it was delicious! Andy stuck with stracciatella (chocolate chip), but he savored every bit!

And this is why I fear the scale. Shot to hell, but what a way to go!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ups and Downs

Day 1

It’s 10:40 PM, and we’ve been in the air for almost 4 hours. I was hoping to sleep—had a glass of wine, a lovely cup of tea, but sleep eludes me. Big surprise, that one! I guess because this has been the most exciting day.

Over the past couple of days we’ve had our ups and downs. God forbid everything go perfectly as planned. Let’s start with me waking up on Thursday knowing that something isn’t right with my tooth. Got a dentist appointment right away (that’s an up!), and after an x ray I found out I have an infection in an old crown (that’s a down). But I was immediately put on Amoxicillin 500 and had high hopes of the pain going away. I have an appointment at the endodontist’s office when we return.

That night by accident we gave Sadie one of my Amoxicillins instead of her allergy meds. Andy was heartsick and immediately got online to figure out what to do. Then began the process of making her puke—who knew hydrogen peroxide is the prescribed method? So there we were at midnight, Andy forcing the clear liquid down her throat, me flipping out thinking she’s going to die, and Sadie NOT throwing up! That was a down.

We made a call to the vet who said she wouldn’t be poisoned, would probably have diarrhea or vomit, and would be fine the next day. So we went to bed. Sadie is absolutely fine, never puked, didn’t have a lick of diarrhea, stubborn little doggie. That was an up! She looked like she was suffering with a hangover the next morning though.

Saturday morning I woke up with a swollen jaw, still in pain, apparently the antibiotic isn’t in full effect just yet. After a call to the doctor he told me to wait for a full 48 hours, and to give it a chance—I’m not one for patience. Down.

This morning—the day of the trip! I wake with a mini bouncy-ball size lump at my jawline. REALLY? I call the dentist, again, and he calls me back to say that I can have the tooth extracted (no time), go to the ER and have an IV antibiotic which will really kick it out (again, no time!), or he’ll give me a stronger antibiotic which may or may not make me have tummy problems, give me the runs, and perhaps even a yeast infection. DOWNER!

I go with the new medicine and am currently drinking cranberry juice and eating yogurt like you read about!

So we’re almost packed—I really need some strappy shoes to go with my formal dinner dresses, so at 1:00 I decide to run to the Bon Ton to see what they have. Yesterday I had gone to every other possible shoe store in the mall and DSW and there was nothing! Did I tell you we were leaving for the airport today at 2:30?

Guess who had super success at the Bon Ton? Me! Up!

So we get in the car and I looked at Andy and said, “Hey, how about we go to Spain today?” He replied, “OKAY!”

We arrived at the airport at 3:20. Nick and Juliana took us so we didn’t have to leave the car/pay for parking. Yay! Up! But the best part was when Andy told me to look at the departing sign. There it was: Barcelona- ON TIME!

Cirullis met us there at about 4:00. We got through the check-in pretty quickly, went through security—who knew we had to sign our new passports (J), and who knew that women with their hair up in buns and turbans had to undo them in order to pass through! At the gate we sat and chatted for a while, then decided to grab a quick bite. Chickie’s and Pete’s crab fries! Yummo! BIG UP!

Finally at about 5:50 they began to board the plane—we got on at about 6:15. It was so exciting! I was absolutely beaming (seriously, I was sitting there with the most ridiculous ear to ear grin) listening to the directions being given in English and then again in Spanish. The plane is a biggie- I believe they called it an airbus—so we had a pretty long runway ride to get off the ground. At least if felt longer. Up, up, and away!

After an hour we were served dinner. Choices were tortellini with a cream sauce or chicken and Spanish rice with veggies. Both came with salads and rolls and a brownie—I had half the rice, half the roll, and the whole damn brownie. So much for low carb! Tomorrow?? Hopefully the scale won’t go up!

I had two firsts: one was flying over the Atlantic, and the other was Andy and I toasting and drinking wine over the Atlantic. Lovely! I highly recommend it!

I read most of my People magazine, watched Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (awesome!) and now I can’t sleep. And I have 3 more hours to go. And my butt is killing me! Down. (I figure it’s because I’m 14 pounds lighter and there’s not as much padding!) UP!

So those are the ups and downs of the past couple of days. I’m up in the air flying to a fabulous destination. And when we come down to make our landing I know my feet won’t touch the ground. I’ll be flying high for the next 16 days.