Thursday, June 30, 2011

Inspired by Rome: Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Good morning!

Today I'm going to share a recipe inspired by my time in Rome (as I shared yesterday) - specifically, a specialty of the Jewish Ghetto region, stuffed squash blossoms.

Now, the ones I tried in Rome were delicious, but they were packed with mozzarella and (of all things) sardines, then battered and deep-fried.  These days I mostly avoid things that can be described as "battered and deep-fried."  But I had an idea for lightening up the recipe, so I tried it.  It was great!

Just four ingredients!  Not counting a spritz of cooking oil.

And one other supply - wooden toothpicks, which I soak in water for a few minutes.

First, grate 1 tb of lemon peel, and chop up 2 tb of basil.

Combine with 2 ounces of goat cheese - stir until it's creamy.  Transfer the mixture into
a plastic zipper bag, and snip off one of the corners to create a makeshift pastry bag.

Prep all of the flowers, discarding the stem from the outside, and the stamen from the inside.
The flowers can be delicate, so do this as carefully as you can.

Spread flower petals delicately, until you can see all the way into the bulb.
No, that's not a euphemism for anything.  Minds out of the gutter!

Fill the bulb with the mixture - but stop before it reaches the petals.

Fold the petals over (left to middle, right to middle) and pierce it with a toothpick.

Place a frying pan over medium heat, and spray a spritz of cooking spray (like Pam.)
Lay down the flower bulbs - but don't crowd the pan - and spritz the tops with Pam.
After about 2 minutes, flip each flower to cook the other side.

It'll hardly be long before the flowers are soft and the cheese is oozy.
Sprinkle with a touch of sea salt, and enjoy!

For as decadent as this treat seems, it's actually not too caloric - and WAY less than the version I tried in Rome.

Squash blossoms are available at a lot of farmer's markets at this time of year, and possibly at specialty markets, too - I got mine at Super King.  (Or in the garden, if you're lucky enough to have one!)   If you haven't tried them before, I highly recommend giving them a shot.  I know, I know - it's unusual to eat flowers, but when stuffed and cooked, I think you'll find them to be scrumptious!

Have a beautiful day... maybe this is your last day before the holiday?  Yesterday was our friend Rena's, and we are awaiting her arrival on our doorstep this morning, as she'll be visiting for the holiday.  Lots of adventures to come!  I'll be back tomorrow with some fashion news, and until then, take care of you!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Adventure Wednesday in Florence and Rome!

It's the last Adventure Wednesday I'll be recapping our honeymoon (in honor of our fourth anniversary) - and today it's two, two, two cities in one!  Our time in Rome was shorter and less well-used (more on that below) so I decided to throw these two into one extra-long entry.

Last time, we had just finished our time in Venice, and this time we open in the train station there, on our way to Florence.

I think this photo kind of says it all.

Florence was home to our cheapest digs - we stayed in a hostel, with private sleeping accommodations but a shared bathroom. And no air conditioning in the middle of a heat wave, whew!

Here I am, outside of our hostel. You can see the woodworking clock shop next door.
Practically Geppetto-like!

Once we checked in, we spent the rest of the day wandering around and getting a feel for the city.
We walked around the outside of the Duomo. It's very hard to show the perspective - it's enormous.

There are SO many artists in Venice. Some of them work in chalk - like this gifted lady.

Hard to believe something this lovely will be washed away with the next rain.

We walked past all kinds of amazing stores.

Candy shops...

Fancy lingerie shops. Isn't it amazing?

The... Disney Store?

We were amused by the little details in the store. Still very Italian.


From there, we wandered into the Piazza della Signoria, an open square in front of the largest palace in Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio.  And it was... strangely magical for us.  We had spent so much of our time in the previous cities trying to see as much as possible, but here we found ourselves roaming around the Palazzo's sculptures, spending time taking a slew of artistic photos of them.  In all our vacationing, we had sort of forgotten to do what we do best together - taking time for creativity!

Vecchio lion already has courage.

He has such haunting eyes.

Hand and sky.

Shadow of a David. The one in the piazza is a copy
by Michelangelo himself - but nowhere near as good.

We spent a long time marveling at the Fountain of Neptune, which we found
to be the ugliest, least-natural statue we'd ever seen. From the sharp angle
of his head, to the weird flexing of his hand, it was just sad in comparison
with the rest of the statues in the area.

From there we headed to the Uffizi, where we were mesmerized by the famous Florentines along the building.




From there we headed to our dinner reservation, at Acqua Al Due, which, surprisingly, has a second location in San Diego! We haven't been yet.  AA2 has a "tasting menu" specialty, where you get a series of small plates of pastas, to share between two people.  Alas, most of them had meat and Tom can't eat meat, so we got our own entrees. We did get to try the dessert tasting menu, though!

Love the placemat art!

The next morning, we left early to explore the inside of the Uffizi (where we couldn't take photos) and the inside of the Palazzo Vecchio (where we could.)

An explanation of the goofiness you're about to see.  A year earlier, we had created a video tribute to my parents, who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.  And we were so deeply amused by their matching outfits.

Mom and Dad, in all their striped glory.

As a wink and a nod to them, we found our own variation of their honeymoon outfit, and wore it around in Florence.

Here we are, in all our striped glory.

 A ceiling in the palazzo.  I'd love some fabric like this!

Tom in front of an excellent marble doorway.

Death mask of Machiavelli.  Did his ends justify the means?

Everything so ornate!

And in the main hall, the strangest statue we've ever seen.
Mythical figures fighting... through penile yanking. I wouldn't think
"fighting," but the audio program said so, and they look so unhappy.

It was dark in there.  Out of the kindness of my heart, I took about 30
attempts to get this clear picture for you. That's the just kind of girl I am.

View into the map room.

View of the city from the Palazzo.

From there, we headed to lunch.

A rare food photo!  Tom had bruschetta.

I had a simple eggplant salad.

A word about the food in Florence.  It was our favorite by FAR.  There is something amazing that they do with a tiny array of perfect ingredients.  My favorite food of the whole trip was simply white beans with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Tom's favorite was pasta with olive oil, garlic and pepper.  That's all you need for perfect flavor, when the ingredients are just right.

We headed to the Basilica of Santa Croce after lunch, where most of those famous Florentines from the Uffizi were buried.

Outside the Basilica.

Stained glass windows - always a weakness of mine.

Michelangelo's tomb. Those are some seriously bummed out angels.

From there, we went wandering through the city, without a specific plan.  Once again, we found ourselves delighting in the unexpected.  We didn't bring the camera, we just enjoyed the experience of the city, and realized that although it isn't brimming with scenery like Capri, or as singular in design as Venice, the people and the "feel" of the city made it our favorite.

We were up early the next morning to wait in line at the Accademia Gallery, to see the real David.

We were warned not to, but we went anyway. Graffiti on a wall near the end of the line.

 And boy is that statue amazing. I didn't get it until I saw it - the real one, in Accademia, in person.  I could have stared for hours. I also loved Michelangelo's works-in-progress, which gave me a much better idea as to how the process of marble sculpture works.  Just incredible to think that these life-like people come from hunks of stone.

We headed to the Duomo, for an inside view.

It's so enormous, but so hard to capture on camera!

The inside of the dome.   I'm maybe half as tall as that little window at the bottom.

More detail of the outside.

Stonework up-close.

The doors on the tower across from the Duomo are incredible. This is just a fragment of it.

Stern warnings outside. We imagine that they say:

It's also important to know that you should not behave in an indecent way.

Before making our way to dinner, we stopped for a quick restroom use at a nearby McDonald's.  (No, we didn't eat there.)  But we were deeply amused by one of their offerings.

A chicken sandwich so good as to be mythical!
I'd like mine with a side of pegasus, please.

 Our last evening in Florence was another relaxing one, spent dining, enjoying gelato, strolling, and watching the street buskers we'd first seen the previous evening.

A view of the main bridge in Florence.

Tourists and students sitting on the bridge.

Pouty-faced fountain, and pouty-faced newlywed.
Does he or does he not look like Tiger from An American Tail?

The Vampires! Bass, hammer dulcimer, and accordion.

The musicians were terrific!  They varied between Italian folk songs and classics, with some other music (especially movie music) thrown in for fun.  They do an impressive Mission: Impossible.

A random group of skaters dance along to the music.

And that was Florence.  We rose early the next morning to make our train back to Rome.  I was coming down with a killer cold, so we took the entire day to relax in our comfy room outside of the city.  The next day, we headed to the other Marriott in town, where we'd stay for our last two nights.  We spent that day doing Tom's favorite kind of siteseeing - you guessed it - visiting ruins!

We started on the edge of the Jewish Ghetto, with an amazing lunch that introduced me to the wonders of stuffed squash blossoms.  Then we headed to the Forum and Colosseum.

The most interesting thing about the city, for me, was the juxtaposition of the very old and very new.
For instance, these ancient arches, and this stoplight.

View of the Roman Forum from above.

From the other direction.

And from yet another direction.

This tremendous arch is incredibly huge - and centuries old.
I boggle at how they even created it.

Tom and columns - a winning combination, a very happy fella.

But... a funny thing happened on the way to the forum.  I started to get sicker.  It broke my heart - but I wasn't up to climbing the stairs at the Collosseum.  One of my goals as I get stronger is to take Tom back to Rome, so we can enjoy more of it.  Although I was sick - and more than a little worn down by so many days of activity - we took solace in the realization that Rome was like New York City - you simply won't be able to get even a taste of the full city, unless you go several times.

I'm going to go back there someday!

Under the weather.  And a very ancient wall.

Crash-and-burned, we headed back for more rest at the hotel.  Tom was an excellently patient new husband.  (He's an excellently patient seasoned husband, too.)

In the morning, we hailed a taxi an hour before the Vatican museum opened, hoping to beat the crowds.  Yeah, no. 

The line was at least as long around the corner, and eventually twice as long behind us.

I have this to say about the Vatican museum.  It's huge.  It's packed.  And you can't just make your way to the Sistine Chapel.  After three hours of standing in line in the sun, you have to loop around the nearly three miles of linear galleries (with no short cuts) until you get to see it.  And those nearly three miles of galleries are chock full, from floor to ceiling and everything in between.  Rooms so full of statues that you don't know where to look first.  By the time you arrive at the Sistine, you're in sensory overload.  And it's like... "oh.  It's the Sistene Chapel.  I have a headache."  Or maybe it was the horrible flubug - though Tom didn't have it and he felt the same way.

So. Much. Art.

The way that they chisel stone so it looks like fabric... I'll never understand how it's possible.

The ask that shoulders be covered at all times in Vatican City! The lady on the left apparently didn't listen.

Tom and Sphinxy

I was surprised at how much mythological or non-Catholic-type art is part of the Vatican collection.

Half-man half-beasties!

For Mr. Faun, it's always Tickle Tuesday.

Actually, I think my favorite gallery was the modern one.

Simple but elegant.

This almost made me think of Burton or Gorey.

Finally, after we spent a little time in the Chapel, we made our way back into the (blazing) sunshine of Saint Peter's Basilica.

It is bigger than I imagined.

And very... gilded.

We were fascinated by the pickled popes on display, but out of respect, we did not take any pictures.

Michelangelo's Pieta was lovely. That man was so gifted.

I don't know who designed the stained glass, but it was impressive.

And of COURSE we had to go to through the gift shop after the ride. Heh.
Tom calls this one "Pope and Mini-Pope."

After that much sweat and exertion (we were well into the deadly heat wave by this point) we headed back to the hotel to shower and rest.  My cold was really getting me down - but fortunately, after fluid and air conditioning, I felt ready to go out on our final honeymoon date night, on the town in Rome.  We had pasta for dinner, done up in the local style.  (Carbonara is INCREDIBLE, and no one in the states seems to realize that it is NOT spaghetti alfredo with bacon and peas.  So I'll have to learn to make it myself.)

We followed that up with another of Sandra Gustafson's recommendations, Il Gelato di San Crispino, near the Trevi fountain.  HOLY CRAP.  We ate gelato all over Italy, possibly once a day.  And we apparently saved the best for last.  Their cinnamon and their honey flavors were... heaven in a tiny dish.    It's funny... the book Eat, Pray, Love came out a year before, but we didn't read it until last year.  In the "Eat" passages, she describes some gelato near the Trevi.  I had to go back to Gustafson's book to check, but it was indeed the same place we'd fallen in love with.  I guess that proves it:  when in Rome... eat this gelato.

Our last stop on our honeymoon was that very famous fountain... 

The Trevi, at sunset.

I threw a coin over my shoulder, as is the custom - it is meant to ensure my return to Rome.

But wherever I am, it always feels like an adventure when I'm with Tom.

And that brings my Italian honeymoon recap to a close!  Thanks to all of you who followed along, and to Tom for his help recollecting (and also for making it such a great trip.)  I highly recommend the country for your future travels - we were delighted at every turn.

I'll be back with you tomorrow, with another recipe inspired by my time in Italy.  Until then, my fellow travelers, take care of you!