Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Focaccia Trials


Remember a while back when I said I wanted to take advantage of living in Italy by learning as much as I could while here? (Exact words were "Be a better Italian"). Well, one of the ways I'm striving to be a better donna italiana is to learn to cook some of my favorite dishes! I've been working on perfecting my focaccia recipe, and trying to do so without gaining 40 lbs of bread-weight in the process.


Focaccia is perfection. It is a Ligurian specialty, and is said to be similar to pizza dough. Personally, I find them very different. Focaccia is soft and squishy in the middle, crispy and golden on the outside, and full of the most wonderful olive oil flavor. 



This has been my first attempt at making any sort of bread, as well as with using yeast! Trying to decipher what's what in Italian has made it extra difficult, but is also adding to the fun. In my first attempt, I used Lievito Istantaneo for Pizzaiolo, Torte Salate, e Piadine. My thought is that it was dry, instant yeast. However, my first batch didn't rise, and I wonder now if yeast meant for pizza and sandwiches might have been made for... flatter breads? I don't know. For my second batch I used Lievito Fresco, or fresh yeast. This one came in a cube and I had to cut it down to size. It went much, much better!


Ingredients


  • 5 cups flour (in Italy, I'm using "0"), plus more for kneading
  • 2 cups water 
  • 2 teaspoons yeast (active seemed to work better)
  • 2 teaspoons + 1 salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • Lots and lots of olive oil
 
  

Instructions

  1. Combine the yeast and water, and let sit for about 10 minutes.
  2. While the yeast prepares, whisk together flour and 2 tbsp salt. Create a small well in the center, and pour in the yeast mixture. Add in about 2 TBS of olive oil. Combine with a wooden spoon until it forms a well-mixed ball of dough.
  3. Flour your surface and hands well. Begin kneading the dough, adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from getting too sticky. Knead for about 8-10 minutes, pulling the dough back and pushing it forward on itself until it forms a soft, smooth, squishy ball. 
  4. Create a dimple in the middle of the ball and pour in a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Knead into the dough. Repeat once or twice more until the dough is completely coated.
  5. Cover the dough ball either with an upside down bowl, or return to the bowl and cover in a warm place. Allow it to double in size (this can take 40 min - 2 hours. My second try took about 1 hour). 
  6. Once the dough has risen, knead for another few minutes before pressing it down with your fingers into a baking sheet coated in olive oil. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and leave the dough to rise, covered in plastic wrap, for another 15 minutes. 
  7. After 15 minutes, press your fingers into the dough to create dimples all over the surface. These will be wells for olive oil to pool, flavoring the bread, as well as create a surface that bakes evenly. If the dough is sticky and you're finding it difficult to poke, alternate pressing the dough with coating your fingertips in flour- it helps a lot! Drizzle the surface with olive oil again, allowing it to settle into the dimples, and sprinkle with rosemary and salt. Add any additional toppings now as well, such as tomatoes or olives. 
  8. Place baking sheet in the oven, immediately lowering the temperature to 350 degrees. Allow to bake for 20-25 minutes, checking after 15. When golden brown, remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes on a cooling rack.
  9. Focaccia is best enjoyed warm with a glass of procecco. Buon appetite! 


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Stavanger and Jorpeland


I loved Norway in a way I never expected to. The rolling hills, deep fjords, and ever-changing skies have been impossible to forget. Of course, hiking Preikestolen was the most momentous part of my trip, but exploring Jorpeland and Stavanger were quietly perfect as well. You may want to leave this to load for a few minutes, because it's about to be a VERY picture heavy post!

Growing up with Lake Wallkill, Cayuga, and Keuka have given me such a love for being on the water. I love the way the air smells near lakes, and the contrast of the water and sky, whether it's a bright and sunny day or dark and stormy. In Norway, we were never far from some beautiful body of water or another, beginning with our journey from Stavanger to Jorpeland. Though we were blown around like crazy, we spent as much of the journey outside as we could. One of my favorite views in the world was so prevalent during that ride, and would be for the rest of the trip as well. I am a little obsessed with how hills look as they overlap in the distance. To me, the way that the colors mesh together and fade away is incredible!

Jorpeland was cute but teeny. 

It was a very residential neighborhood, and the first Airbnb I'd ever stayed at where the family was literally right upstairs the whole time. We spent that first day in the car, driving through the hills. Every 15 minutes or so someone would say something along the lines of, "Oh my gosh, look at that!" and we'd stop, unload ourselves from the car, and take in whatever beauty we had found. We took it all in with such giddy excitement, whether it was a little lake nestled into a valley or a family of precious little sheep. 









In part because the scenery was just so breathtaking, the sunsets were mind-blowing. One night in particular, we were exhausted yet exhilarated from a hard day of hiking. We set out for a picnic with the strangest assortment of Nordic snacks,  including curry-flavored tuna and pear cider. Along the way we stopped at least 6 or 7 times because the sunset was just too incredible from whatever new angle we were at, and we couldn't let it pass us by. 





Jorpeland is close enough to Stavanger, but it is about an half-hour ferry ride away. 


We had rented a car, arrived in Stavanger late at night and were leaving early in the morning, so it made sense for us to spend our first and last nights at the Stavanger airport hotel. It worked out perfectly and gave us enough time to see the city! Stavanger was so different from Italy. The port city is full of white, 18th century homes and shops, offset with colorful flowers and bright street art. We stopped for the best seafood meal I could possibly imagine. I ordered a shrimp sandwich, which honestly sounds pretty gross. It was citrusy perfection, and couldn't have been tastier. I would love to figure out how to recreate it! In high contrast with the bright city was the rock festival that was taking place during our stay. As a result, we explored the city with a soundtrack of intense guitar-solos and scream-o vocals, which somehow didn't detract from the experience. 













From Stavanger we found a boat cruise through the fjords. 


At this point, you should probably know that I will forever be a seven-year-old at heart with my love for Disney, which makes the fact that we sailed by King Olav's council island (Tingholmen) extra exciting (Olaf... Norway... I'm basically Princess Anna from Frozen). We cruised down the Høgsfjord and Lysefjord, the latter of which was home to our lovely Preikestolen. It was crazy to see it from below; what had looked so massive from above was such a minuscule piece of the fjord from below. 

Small geology lesson: Fjords are deep strips of water surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, and are open to the sea on the fourth. Like the Finger Lakes in NY, they were carved away by glaciers 10,000 years ago. These glaciers were often as giant as 2,000 meters of pure ice! There is a 'sea threshold' at the mouthes of the fjords, which is much shallower than the rest of the water. This helps to maintain calmer waters than out in the actual sea. 

Lysefjord and Høgsfjord were such impressive examples of nature's power. We passed rocky islands covered in pine trees, which were once home to King Harald, Norway's first real king from 872. Cliffs rose above us up to 1,000 meters high. Trees grew from every surface they could cling to, spilling out from ravines and down the waterfront. You'd never think that plants could grow in such a rocky landscape, but, to quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, "Life will find a way." 


One of our stops on the cruise was at the Vagabonds' Cave, where a group of (what else) vagabonds once hid out while being chased by the local police. As the boat circled through the seemingly too-small cave, "In the Hall of the Mountain King" began to play loudly over the speakers. It was super corny, but I absolutely loved it because of some  childhood memories with my sisters. We had a game where we'd play the song (through Encarta '95, not to date myself) and each of us would be a different sneaky character, and we'd chase each other through the living room. Silly, I know, but it completely fit with the whole idea of Norwegian trolls and vagabond hideaways! Shortly afterwards, three little goats (Three billygoats? Were they gruff ones?) came down to the waterfront (well-trained to expect good things when they saw our ship each day) which only added to the fairytale vibe. 





Leaving was hard, but Norway gave us one last gift in the views from the plane. I've never had a more interesting view from above! Narrow rivers snaking through rolling hills to thousands of oddly shaped lakes- long and skinny, big, small, filled with islands, random patches of snow- Norway's topography is a geologist's dream!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Quick Picture Post: Back to Cervinia

I can't believe it took two years to head back to the ski town I adored so much! Odaliz, Laura and I found an apartment for rent this weekend and jumped at the chance to head back to Cervinia. Fondue, stunning views, mountain air, and another ski lesson (where I only fell like... 5 times...) made it the perfect weekend getaway!