Monday, August 17, 2015

A Series of Firsts in Cervinia

When I ask my Italian students their weekend plans during the winter, their enthusiastic answers are often, “Going to the mountains!” The mountains in northern Italy and Switzerland are stunning, and close enough that many have weekend chalets or are part of racing teams. Even our February break is called, “White Week,” because everyone uses it for skiing!

Three friends and I booked a weekend in the snowy mountain town of Cervinia, 

Started out with such a positive attitude...
So cold :(
Bus stop selfies

and left after work on a Friday afternoon in January (I know it took me forever to post... don't judge me!). Everything went smoothly at first- we took a taxi to the bus station with (for me) newly-bought snow pants and jackets stuffed into overflowing bags, and were on our way. 

Our bus ride had two stops, so we got off at what we thought was the correct first stop only to sit at the bus stop for an hour. It was FREEZING! And late. And a little creepy. We called one of the girl’s boyfriends, he found us a taxi (he called a cab for us from all the way back in Milan… whatta guy), and we spent the last hour in a cushy cab. As it turns out, we got off a stop too early and missed our bus L But, it ended up being lucky we had because the snow was falling heavily, the roads slick with ice, and it was late and dark at that point. Our driver told us that even if we had gotten the bus, he wasn’t sure it would have taken the winding mountain road in this weather and we may have been stuck!

By the time we arrived it was late, and we were exhausted. 

Stepping out into the town was like stepping out into a winter wonderland. It was unreal how precious it was. The main street was completely covered in snow, and the windows full of twinkling little lights. Everything was rustic with evergreen accents and festive decorations. I loved it! We checked in at our hotel, had some pizza, and then had a debate with ourselves- do we take advantage of one of our two nights in town, or give into our exhaustion and go to sleep We ended up going dancing, cracking ourselves up at how weird it felt dancing in snow boots. Though we stayed out late, one or more of us were typically sitting off to the side, nodding off, and would perk back up only when someone else came over to take a break! 



The next day was perfect. 

Though we were freezing throughout the entire trip, the sun was shining and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Only one among us was a skier, so we went with her to rent skis, then took the lift up the mountain for lunch. I can’t even begin to explain the magnificence of the view. No matter which way you looked, there were mountains. Look one way, perfect view of the Matterhorn. Look the other and we were looking over the Alps, jutting up in every direction for miles. The soup and mulled wine warmed kept us warm, though the sheer joy of being in such an incredible place could have kept me outside all day! This was my first ‘first’ of the weekend: being in the Alps for the first time!


While Laura skied, the rest of us went back into town for an afternoon at the spa. 

It was a quaint, lodge-like hotel with cozy, wintery details (beautiful quilts, tapestried furniture, etc.), while the poolroom had mountainous stone accents and a huge skylight on the roof, letting in the glorious mountain sunshine. This led to my second ‘first:’ A massage. Ugghhhhh I hated it! It was the worst! First of all, I can be a little shy (shocker, I know), and the idea of a stranger touching me made me nervous. We booked these, “invigorating, toxin removing” massages that sounded wonderful and very beneficial, but they were lymph draining massages, and apparently your lymph nodes are mostly on the front of you. So it was mostly a front massage, largely focused on the stomach. Problems with this stomach massage: a) That isn’t a part of my body I really want anyone focusing on, b) I’m ridiculously ticklish so it was pretty much torture, and c) I’m so awkward and didn’t even know what to do with myself. I was trying so hard not to laugh, but I couldn’t even hide my face! Ughhhhh I was so happy when it was over!!! Now, if you ever are in Cervinia and looking for a fabulous spa, I wouldn’t even hesitate telling you to go to the one we went to (Albergo Bucaneve) because it was mostly wonderful. However, if you are super ticklish, haven’t ever had a massage, or think having a weirdo stomach massage would bring your awkwardness to new heights, maybe get a deep tissue massage or something instead!

‘First’ number three was much more wonderful. 

The next day we rented skis and took lessons! I went skiing for the first time!! It was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. As most who know me can attest to, I am not even a little bit athletic. When I did Ski Club in high school, I mostly just fell down the mountain with a snowboard attached to my feet for an hour or so, and then hung out in the lodge the rest of the time. Who even knew that being sporty could be so much fun! I had no idea it would bring me so much joy or feel so exhilarating! Not going to lie, I was pretty bad at it. At the beginning, I couldn’t get the hang of stopping and kept leaning forward too far, then leaning back thinking that would slow me down (it doesn’t, I guess). But our instructor, an Italian man with deeply tanned skin, other than bright white mask where his goggles went, was wonderful, and each time we went down the hill gave us a little more to practice. While I wasn't a natural or anything, we all left feeling confident and eager for a second lesson. In the end, I never fell once while moving! I did fall while standing completely still at the top, and then fell about six more times while trying to recover from that, but I don’t think that says anything bad about my skiing abilities, just my general lack of grace and coordination.  Anyways, I completely loved skiing and can’t wait to try again next winter! In April we made a second trip back, though didn't ski-- mostly just high-altitude eating and drinking :) (Pictures are a mix from both trips).

The Matterhorn!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Switching from Mozzarella to Feta

For Spring Break this year, my friends and I spent the week in Oia, Santorini. This is going to be a mostly food based post, so I'm going to get these other highlights out at the beginning:

Staying on Amoudi Bay

April was still pretty chilly in Santorini, but staying on the bay was lovely. The sunny days lured us out to a boat cruise from the dock right in front of our apartment, and watching the storm on the water from our apartment window was beyond cozy. I loved this little blue fishing boat- it made me feel like Lena in from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants! 

Exploring Oia's village undisturbed

Because we went so early in the year, the tourist season really hadn't begun yet and Oia was nearly empty. Even the shopkeepers and restaurant owners were just beginning to arrive and open up their places for the season. It was nice to have the streets nearly to ourselves- we could stop for pictures without anyone in our way, and artisans were so excited to share what they'd been making all winter with their first costumers! 


**While it was wonderful to be there in such a quiet time, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. We had a number of freezing, rainy days and were not prepared with what we'd packed. Many building (including are apartment) didn't have heat. However, if you don't mind rain, it was still a wonderful week!

Food (Including a fabulous cooking class)

Snoot guide
As a future Domestic Goddess, one of the most memorable experiences was taking the 6-hour Wine and Food Lovers tour with Santorini Wine Adventures, and I would 100% recommend the tour to anyone interested in either of those things (wine and food-- who isn't?).  Let me begin by saying I probably gained 10lbs on this trip. Meditteranean/Greek food is by far my favorite type of food, and I couldn't get enough of the feta, eggplant, olive oil, and wine. The stuffed eggplant I had on the first night there was probably the best thing I've ever eaten. 

We started off by touring two different wineries and trying all of Santorini's local wines. While I love wine, I know basically nothing about varieties or even what I like (I mean, I know in theory... but I can't try one and know what it is, or even detect 'notes!'). I do, however, know now that in Santorini, grape vines grow in a nest shape, which keeps the grapes safe from the wind and sun. I also know that if I'm feeling snooty and would like to be a little pretentious, I should look at my wine for a while and smell it before drinking it. 

New friends

The cooking class wasn't quite as hands-on as I expected. 

The chef who taught us did the majority of the work, though we did help out with chopping and mixing the tomato fritter dough. Since I'm home, I decided to try out the recipes for myself and made them for my family (I did make the fritters for myself also a few months ago). Along the way, I had to Google things like, "What is a skillet," which will show you just about where I am on my journey to Domestic Goddess-hood. Our menu consisted of Greek Salad, Tomato Fritters (Domatokeftedes), Tzatziki with bread, and Greek Turkey Burgers with Feta (from Wegmans). Originally, the meat was meant to be Pork Medallions in Vin Santo Sauce with a side of Fava, but I couldn't find Vin Santo. I did still try to make the fava spread though- it was a disaster. It just stayed a bunch of wet hard little beans in a pan no matter what I did. The rest turned out well though! (I just finished dinner-- I didn't take any pictures of the process or the final table setting! Where's my head!?). Anyway, if you're interested in a few recipes, and a few more cooking class photos, you'll find them at the bottom!

Boat Tour

We picked the PERFECT, gloriously sunny day for a boat tour! Seriously, there wasn't a single other day that would have been as nice! When I remember what tour I took, I'll add that in! The tour took us around a few lovely islands, sailed along the coast, up to hot springs, and past a volcano. I didn't realize at the time, but the meal they served was exceptionally good. I mean, I knew at the time that it was delicious, but I didn't realize how good it was for a boat meal :) The tour was the epitome of relaxing luxury. After lunch, we even fell asleep stretched out on the dock. Soooooo wonderfully luxurious!


Breathtaking views

Just unbelievable. Every turn led to the most gorgeous views, and the hikes it took to reach some of them were well worth it. Prepare for many pictures (something new from me...).

Yes, they're similar, but I couldn't choose! And yes, I may have overused some Insta-filters on this one... so sue me ;)


I suppose this could have fit under "Breathtaking Views," but I felt like it deserved a category of it's own!

Recipe time!

Greek Salad (serves 4)


  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and cut in rounds
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • Capers
  • Caper leaves
  • Kalamata olives
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt, pepper, and oregano to taste
Mix all ingredients together except the cheese. I was not able to find caper leaves, but if you can, they're delicious and should be added! Let sit for about an hour. Right before serving, add the cheese! This is great on its own, or with a little lemon or tzatziki!

Tzatziki (makes about 2.5 cups)

  • 1 tbs. fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cups olive oil
  • 1 tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced (depending on how strong you want the garlic flavor!)
  1. The first step is getting your cucumber ready. After peeling the cucumber, I used a cheese grater (careful of your fingers!) to grate the cucumber. It was very strange. It will end up very watery and needs to be strained. 
  2. Mix all ingredients together. Go slowly with the garlic. I would suggest adding one clove the first time you try it, because after the tzatziki sits, the flavors deepen! 
  3. Let sit for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator before serving! Enjoy with vegetables, as a salad dressing, with tomato fritters or fried veggies, to dip bread in, use as a sandwich spread... really anything that could use a little Greek deliciousness!

I used a little less oil and they were still pretty tasty!

Tomato Fritters (Domatokeftedes)

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Olive oil (add a splash as you're adding flour, but not too much!)
  • Low-flavor oil for frying (enough to shallowly fill pan)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine the tomatoes, onion, herbs, and olive oil in a large bowl. Slowly add the flour as you stir the mixture. Kneed with your hands (it'll be messy!) until the mixture is the consistency of thick pancake batter. Set aside for at least 30 minutes (though leaving it overnight will allow the flavors to come out even more!). 
  2. Heat up enough oil in a frying pan to shallow fry the fritters. 
  3. Scoop up spoonfuls of the tomato mixture using an ice-cream scoop or spoon and drop them into the oil, no more than three at a time. Fry each side for about 2-3 minutes. Don't be tempted to poke at them too soon, as they'll fall apart!
  4. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel before serving.
These are also delicious with tzatziki! Just a note from my first experience making them on my own: if the batter is falling apart when they're frying, add a little more flour to your mixture.