Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Here we go again, ladies. How to look cute while working out at the gym.

(Or, a little break from the cultural food world...)
Here I was thinking that one of my first ever blog posts about wearing the right kind of make-up to look cute while you're out at the gym was ridiculous...Today's Style has topped it.  They aired a segment for finding the right kind of gym clothing that flatters your body while you're working out at the gym so you look cute.  I'll say it again: working out at the gym means you're going to be sweating, slightly out of breath, with a red face.  Let's face it, if you're seriously working out to lose a few extra pound here and there and keep it off, you're buying clothing that isn't going to fit you in a few months time and will end up sitting at the back of your closet, because then you'll be spending more to buy the new wardrobe essentials for your everyday life that now fit you better.  More money wasted like buying rosy-tinted waterproof foundation to get that perky glow while you're actually red faced underneath and hopefully at least going to wash your face or shower after exercising to get all the sweat off.  Whatever happened to (actual) track pants/sweatpants and tees?  (More reason why I don't spend more on most articles of clothing than I do...someday it's just not going to fit me anymore and I'd like to be able to toss it without agonizing over it.)  
The first girl in the video lost over 100 pounds in the last year wearing what she normally wore...Doesn't seem like being "cute" was an issue for her.  And the third girl went from baggy closed to skin-tight leggings that to me, just enhanced her very ample booty while the stylist was trying to show off her petite top body.  Way to go, Today Style.  I'll give you the "smack forehead" award for the day.  Ladies, I hope you're proud of your bodies whatever body type you are, and if you are in fact working out to lose weight or tone up some muscle, more power to you!  I just think you don't need someone telling you how to dress in order to work up a sweat.
Watch for yourself, if you dare.  It's kinda ridiculous.  


Happy Health!

Allie H.

Monday, February 20, 2012

More Cuisine tidbits-Swiss Fast Food

I'd mentioned in a earlier post the prevalence of pizza places, kebab shops, and of course the wildly popular adopted McDonald's and Burger King chains that are widespread across Europe, so much so to be found in and around even major train stations such as Zurich, Milan, Lyon and Rome.  (Why the heart of Italian cooking would allow such an atrocity to take place, I don't know, but it happens.)  In France, while we were enjoying the first evening of the Fete d'Lumiere, we ran across a shop called "Pasta in a Box" and it was quite literally your choice of assorted pasta and sauce served up regular or large in a rounded cardboard to-go container.  You could sit there and enjoy or, of course, take it to go! The regular was $5, the large $7 or $8.  The pasta was cooked to perfect al-dente status and the sauces were remarkably flavorful.  Far preferable to a Happy Meal!
French fast food aside, we'll get back to my main point.  You can stop at any pizza shop in town and order either one or two slices (one slice being twice the size of a Round Table piece) or you can buy a whole pie, a calzone and a commercially made tiramisu from the ice-cream bin by the register.  But if you want to try something completely worldly cultural, consider a kebab.  Kris can hardly pass one up, I find them useful for filling up when I haven't yet had breakfast and can't bring myself to cook anything and there are no leftovers in the fridge. Even a small kebab, depending on the style, is sufficient.
Origins: While almost every country in the world (thus my assertion that they're worldly cultural) has adopted their own style of kebab, the earliest similar version was the Greek style gryo (named such for the meat being cooked on a rotisserie which was later flipped from horizontal to vertical.  Rumors offer that the kebab was originally from Eastern Turkey or Istanbul, shawarma in the heart of the Middle East (popular today in Taiwan), and every country from Finland to Mexico has their own version of meat style and toppings.  
In Lugano, you can find a shop on every city block that serves the cooked, shaved or sliced meat, most typically with lettuce and tomatoes, onion if you like a little heat, in a variety of ways: wrapped in a durham (like a tortilla), between two slices of toasted foccacia, stuffed into a pita, served atop a bed of rice, even baked into a calzone or used as a pizza topping.  The more authentic shops eve serve just a pile of meat on top of a serving of french fries, topped with either mint/dill sauce or spicy red chili sauce, depending on your taste.  We've been here long enough to have tried most of the places that the locals recommend.  You can either enter an established shop, a street vendor, and they're usually offered at most bars where other styles of sandwich are served for lunch and evening meal options.  We've even tried to make our own style with our leftover Easter leg of lamb, lettuce, sauteed onions and bell peppers, and a layer of shredded mozzarella, sprinkled with hot sauce.  I think we may have to do lamb again this year so we can have more!  Commercially done, there are varieties of extra fillings aside from onions.  Some countries add pickles, pickled veggies, or corn which we've had here, added and then the whole thing pressed with a sandwich press and while I didn't so much prefer the corn, I loved the added grilling! It makes me want a sandwich press in addition to our raclette grill (I may have to explain raclette in another post!)  Gyros are served with tzatziki sauce or plain yogurt, kebabs in the UK are served with house sauce or garlic mayo, here and all along the middle east they come with either mint sauce or chili sauce.
You can get this wonderful snack/entree virtually anywhere in the world, in any large city and if you haven't had them before, or if you're traveling through other countries and haven't yet stopped for a bite to eat when you wander by a shop, I highly recommend that you try one.  They're far less costly than a sit-down meal at a restaurant (the shop right near our place is 10 francs for a regular sized kebab and a soda, 8 francs for a small one, most shops here being comparable.)  You might very well find yourselves addicted to them like we have : )

Happy Tasting!

Allie H.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Italian Cuisine No. 2-Italian Culture

Ah, the lovely idea of a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning.  While we usually have no pressing matters to get to most weekend mornings, unless we're traveling somewhere, we have our own idea of soaking up the extra weekend moments.  Sometimes we sleep in, sometimes we wake up reasonably early and cook up a traditional breakfast, eggs and rosti (the "here" version of hash browns but so much more delicious), coffee or tea.  We read or TV show marathon, catch up on emails.  If we go out and about around 10 or so though, there is a bit of life around town, even on Sundays.  Here, if you're not a church-going person or if you've gone early, chances are, you wind up at one of the randomly early open cafes or even gas stations, one particular chain brand of whom has the regular snack aisle of foods and a coffee/wine bar.  You wind up there for a bit of breakfast, which is wildly different from an American or even an English breakfast.  Sure, the grocery stores sell a variable selection of breakfast cereals, but the most that people usually eat on a weekday is a cappuccino or an espresso and a cornetto (like a croissant) or two with butter or jam, maybe a yogurt.  

On the weekends it's the same thing, with a twist.  When you wind up at a cafe,  time all but comes to a stop.  Whatever pressing errand you have for the day usually end up waiting for a while.  You meet up with a friend or two, or have a conversation with the other regulars, the employees, and you just sit back and relax.  Cafes have whatever Italian selection of coffee you desire, sometimes even "American" style drip, which only means it packs the same punch in a larger serving, assorted fruit juices, but the Italian style on the weekends is to have your coffee and bread, and then it's on to popping bottles.  The morning choice is Prosecco or Charme (white or rose sparkling wine,) or glass of flavored liquor with a cube or two of ice, like Bailey's.  Mid morning the snacks come out, on the house, cheese and meat plates, little finger-sandwiches, bowls of flavored peanuts or assorted potato chips.  Aside from that you can order something, a toast (ham and cheese melted and toasted in between two slices of bread), or another style of sandwich, but whatever it is, its usually not huge.  Huge meals on the weekends are usually reserved for midday, late lunch after church, pasta and salad and the like, and dinner is usually small, maybe the afore-mentioned toast, salami and cheese platter, bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in, nothing significant, just like breakfast.  Having guests over means something more celebratory, like fondue, but mostly, if you're eating at home and it's a quiet night, you're more eating a snack than an actual meal, to tide you over til the morning.  Most bars and restaurants have menus that support either choice in meal, big or small.  And then there's the kebab stands, the pizza places that deliver, and yes, even Burger King and McDonalds, which the locals, born and raised, seem  to have an unnatural attraction to.  Since it's huge in the states, they seem to understand that it's good, and that it's worth paying for.  Paying a lot for.  Due to the exchange rate, paying for a Happy Meal here means laying down almost $15-20 per person, even super-sized, where back home it's $10 tops.  It's incredible!  It's not that it tastes better.  It tastes pretty much about the same.  And they charge through the nose for it.  We've had it once or twice, we get fries on occasion but a whole meal here, after having lived with the simplicity of Italian breakfasts and meals, even three months after being on a new continent, just kind of made us feel sick to our stomachs.  The locals treat it like a delicacy, the Asian tourists flock to it, the American tourists don't quite understand how much they're paying for it until after they've paid.  It's a bit ridiculous.  Makes the Italian culture of weekend food and breakfast bites seem so much more inviting and welcome, don't you think?

Happy Weekend Laze!

Allie H.    

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Italian Cuisine

I realized that doing a blog on Italian Cuisine and Food culture is long overdue as we’ve been living here for over a year and a half and I haven’t said too much about it.  Italian food is necessary to the life force of the entire  world, I’m absolutely certain.  Without a doubt!  I should mention that as I’m typing this, hubby is in the kitchen cooking pasta with butter and garlic, our favorite “what to eat when we can’t think of anything else to eat” and it’s starting to smell fabulous.  
Italians, in my book put the world to shame with how they can take something so simple as pasta and make it a masterpiece of a  dish.  (I do give a little credit to the Japanese and their sushi, which I dearly, sorely miss being located where we are and having moved away from a neighborhood where there were about 6 sushi places within twenty minutes of driving.)  Italian food, basically put, is so simple, and so perfect.  I asked my husband what his favorite thing about it was and he came back with “the purity of flavor the simplicity, the amazing taste,” and I couldn’t have come up with a better notion other than to say it’s heartwarming.  Italians who love to cook show it with their food.  Most restaurants around us have the same things, a few select pasta dishes, pizza with every topping combination you can think of, a dish or two with steak or chicken and the classic caprese or Caesar salads.  The five-star rated, if you go to a worthy one, has some of the most amazing dishes I’ve ever tasted.  
I had one of the best meals I’ve ever had at a little place in a few towns away from us where the chef is five-star and usually you have to make a reservation to get in, but during lunchtime, he employs an all local handi-capable staff to serve and wait tables and handle the bar and I don’t think we’ve seen much better service in all the time that we’ve been here.  We picked the menu of the day, the “piatto del giorno.”  It was my first fish entree in a long time and I’m going to have to take the risk and try it more often based on my experience there.  Not to mention, Italians work with foods that as a child I swore I’d never like as an adult, but that I know try and am amazed by.  Don’t tell my mother that I’ve willingly eaten eggplant.  Willingly!  I’ve had it several times and am soon going to attempt to cook it for myself.  And just a few weeks ago, I had a starter salad with beets that was sectioned off like all the other toppings, shredded carrots and such, but because of the simple, tangy vinaigrette, I ended up eating every last bite.  They make pasta sauces that you clean the last traces of off your plate with the table bread even though you swore you were so full you couldn’t handle dessert, a habit my hubby has long since been a fan of but that I’ve now adopted as well.  (I’m absolutely serious about not telling my mother.  She swears I’m somehow not her child because I refuse to eat coconut, anything with cranberries in it, sweet pickle relish, tuna from a can, or pumpkin pie.  I’m learning to appreciate pumpkin thanks to a recipe I found for a creamy soup involving chicken broth, evaporated milk and curry, but really, I implore you.  Don’t tell her.   She’ll be too proud and she’ll try to convince me to come other to the dark side and accept coconut into my heart and I just couldn’t handle that.)
A few of the comparisons?  Pasta sauce.  Bolognase, in particular.  In the states we know it as Ragu and it comes in a jar with a yellow lid and most of the ingredients are unidentifiable.  Here, it’s savory and aromatic, sometimes well blended, sometimes chunky but amazing.  Pizza?  Ahh, pizza is fantastic.  I don’t know what you people are eating back home if it’s not made by an old Italian family but it’s not pizza.  Here, we’ve had a variety of toppings and we have our favorites that the same combo in the states doesn’t even compare to!  We’ve even had the most simple, basic pizza made on a huge piece of flat-bread, pre-sectioned and then baked with caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese.  Seems ridiculously easy, right?  But it tastes so amazingly wonderful.  Ask my husband and he’ll tell you that I’ve done more happy-food dances in the last year and a half than I’ve done since he’s known me.  Yes, I said happy-food dances. I eat something so incredibly good and I literally dance in my chair and clap my hands like a 5 year old who just had a gigantic banana split set down in front of them and the reins to a Shetland pony handed to them.  I can’t help it.  Great food just makes me ecstatic from head to toe.  And the Italians know how to make good food.

Happy Eating (and Drooling!)

Allie H.

P.S. For all you fellow pumpkin nay-sayers out there, even if you're not a huge fan of curry (I wasn't before I tried this), you should definitely try this soup. You can find the recipe in the link below. There's a few variations out there but this is the closest to the one I've made a few times.

Weather...summer weather!

I am absolutely enthralled to be able to experience an actual summer!  Don't get me wrong, I loved Monterey summers, but to not have fog in the morning?  Will be nice!  To be able to wander outdoors after dark and not need a sweater?  Can't wait!  Having said that, I know it's going to be blasted hot and super sunny, so I'm preparing-I bought a pair of pants here that are black, double layer breezy fabric, that go all the way down to the floor (even on my ridiculous long legs) and have little ties to get them UP off the floor.  Have shorts from showing up here at the end of last summer, capris, and soon, thanks to Target, I'll have this beauty!

Went shopping downtown yesterday and tried on every floppy sun-hat I could find and after having seen this picture and thinking I could hold off on ordering it, nothing I could actually touch and try on seemed quite right, so yes, it's on it's way to my parent's house to pick up when we visit in a few weeks!  (Which is exciting enough in itself, but I'll be picking up this gem, and thanks to Writer's Digest, a few writing books to fuel the creative system, one on Travel writing, one with 101 Habits for successful writers, and one to schedule your current writing project.  Books to read on the plane back home!)  As it's going to be quite hot in two of the other states we'll be visiting as well, sure this will be able to come in handy even back in the states.  Can't wait!  As I'll be chopping off most of my hair (hopefully mere minutes after landing in Cali...and by minutes, of course, I mean, a day or two), it'll fit quite nicely, I think.  There was one here similar to this that was gorgeous, but $120.  I think I found the bargain for $13, don't you?  Called my mother to let her know a barrage of packages were coming her way-will just have to make sure there's an inch of room in my suitcase to bring it all back home!
Looking forward to wearing all my breezy skirts that have been shelved over the winter as tights don't even block the cold from the snow.  Maybe I need to ask the local girls where they shop for nylons-there were an incredible amount of gals running around in boots, tights, sweaters, and little skirts and they weren't shivering, so there must be some trick to the brand.  Hmm.  But that's months away!  Bring on the SUN!  Pictures will be coming of the summer fashions.  

In other news, we finally made our way via funiculare up to the top of San Salvatore-check out the views!  All the water is Lake Lugano.  Gorgeous!

Our friend Max hiked to the top, which we'll have to do someday soon, before it gets too hot, but still, a wonderful little half-day trip.  Enjoy!

Allie H.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Proper Grammar is Sexy!

See?  The sign says so.  It's true.

I have a bone to pick with the American public at large.  I know that with the young texting generation, conversations include, "LMAO," "BRB" and so on, mostly because teens these days can't be bothered to pick up a phone call and actually have a conversation with someone. But for every other conversation,  Facebook post, blog, even news articles, can we please follow the proper rules of spelling, grammar and syntax?  Please?  I'm begging you.  It's not so difficult.  I know there are people out there who are habitually bad spellers, but can everyone else attempt to proofread before they put something out into the world?  People are learning your mistakes and adopting it as being correct.  I'm sure that many people see an error in a newspaper article or online publication and assuming that it's correct, as news agencies are responsible for being factual.  And for everyone not holding down a reporter's desk?  You're doing it, too.  I saw this caption on Pinterest the other day in regards to a quick party food: "These would be so fun for party's!"  Apostrophes do not make a word plural!  I understand that many people simply copy a pin and copy the caption as many times they like the comment, or that the ingredients or the craft steps or what have you in relation to the pin are all written out in the caption area so you don't have to click on the link to find the webpage it's connected to, but it's really not going to hurt you to quickly scan it and make sure there are no glaringly obvious errors.  Don't pass them forward!  
I know I'm not the best with proper grammar but when someone' being paid to write and they'r making mistakes, it really ruffles my proverbial feathers.  I read news articles online and wonder if there are journalism students out there as offended as I am when I see an error, and I'm sure they're wondering why the're working so hard to study and get their degrees when a mistake can be made and simply retracted the next day with a corporate apology.  I seriously wonder.  And what of the editors that these online publications say they have?  Do they really proofread these days or do they merely check the word-count and give it a gold star?  Maybe they've been locked in the broom closet, stripped of their credentials and the key to the nuclear missile-style button encased in a shiny plexi-glass cover, painted an extraordinary shade of candy apple red with the word "PUBLISH" carefully etched in a white veneer across the slightly curved surface. In my head, it's one of those buttons that when you push it, there's no going back.  (James Bond, if you want a little extra cash in your off-time, you should be hanging around these buttons. You could save lives, I'm sure.)  Editors used to be in for the love of teaching their underlings to become wonderful reporters, no matter what the subject.  What's with the lack of excellence these days?  When I care to read online news and entertainment articles anymore, I spot at least three errors that could have easily been spotted before spread out into the world.  I think I'm going to take it upon myself to be the scourge of the internet comment fields, pointing out every spelling and grammar error I can find until the news agencies at large somehow find me and contact me, begging me to stop, at which point I'll offer to proofread every article and get paid $20 per article if I fix any errors.  Someone I think it would be better money spent than the salary their staff is getting to either ignore or not understand the mistakes that are being made.  I'm giving myself the title of Grammar Queen.  Someone needs to do it...might as well be me.  

Happy Grammar!

Allie H.