Full Time Foodie

I'f I'm not eating food. I'm thinking about it. All. The. Time.

Allondrelle la Malmaison (population: more cows than people)

I thought I’d share some of the photos I took of this tiny little french village in the northern countryside.  We were a five minute walk from Belgium and a half hour drive to Luxembourg.  Surprisingly central for what upon first glance seems to be the middle of nowhere.

We took a leisurely walk through the village one of the days and it took approximately 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other.  It was fantastically charming, as one usually expects the french countryside to be.  It’s as unsuburban as you can get.  Each house shares at least one side with another.  And each house is distinguished from the other by a different color, door, window, or shutter.  It’s marvelously diverse and quite an aesthetically pleasing place to live.  I feel fantastically lucky to have had the opportunity to stay here for a couple of weeks with the family of my mom’s old university friend.

And of course people here have chickens casually living in their yards.

Theo the cat would like to know what he can do for you.

And now this, this is beauty.

It’s like I have a blog or something…

Holy cannoli it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  It seems I wasn’t able to find time between all the eating, drinking, and exploring of the nearby countries of Luxembourg and Belgium while we were staying with some family friends in Northern France.  And time to write was ever more scarce during the insufficient five nights we spent in London.  There were quite simply too many sights to see, too many museums to visit, too much money to spend, too much tea to drink, and too many things to buy in Camden Town.  And only now, after spending two weeks on a farm in Culcheth, an hour or so away from Manchester, it has occurred to me that it would probably be a good idea to actually pretend that I have a blog.

Good work, Katya, good work.  That sort of dedication is going to get you really far.

Enough self-criticism.  There are more important things to discuss.  Such as my experience in and impressions of the french countryside.  Let me sum it up as briefly as I can.  The french countryside is stunning; I have never felt so profoundly about a landscape. I have also never felt so well nourished.  I forgot what hunger was during the 11 days we stayed with my mom’s old university friend from Russia. Our day would begin with a leisurely breakfast that would begin with fresh coffee brewed italian style and freshly squeezed orange juice, which would then be followed by a selection of pastries, leftover desserts from the day before, a selection of charcuterie, and chocolates.  This was followed by lunch just mere hours later, at just about the same time I had half digested my breakfast.  This is when it got typically french.  Our gracious hosts would insist we have wine upon sitting down for lunch.  Often this escalated to a couple of glasses of wine.  And maybe a beer.  Well ya know… when in France…

Our afternoon would then consist of some sort of car driving, sight seeing, museum attending, and rain.  It seemed that we had unluckily arrived at the rainiest period of the year – there was always rain.  There was also always wine.  At one point, I recall there being three bottles of red wine open at one time.  It was repeatedly suggested that we help consume them to the best of our abilities.  We tried our best to do so.  Despite the copious amounts of wine (and also belgian beer) we drank, we ate even more.  Amongst the many delicious things we ate for dinner, I most vividly recall frog legs, snails, quiche lorraine, pot au feu, salad nicoise, coucous with a fantastic selection of roasted meats, beef bourguignon, and rabbit.  And dinner was always followed by a marvelous selection of cheese.  Cheese, marvelous cheese.  How I love you so.

And each day featured a different dessert.  Naturally.

Before those 11 days in France, I don’t think I had ever enjoyed such a large concentration of extravagant eating and drinking in such a short period of time.  And I didn’t even gain that much weight, my jeans just got smaller.

With suitcases full of slightly tighter fitting clothing, we departed for London.  After five nights, I was left with the impression that if we were to have stayed any longer I would have had to sell myself into prostitution to afford it.  In justification of the obscene amounts of money that were spent, I feel it is fair to say we had a smashing time in London (despite the persistence of the rain).  Also, our attempts to eat/drink all things typically British included steak and ale pie, beef suet pie, fish and chips, scones, a traditional English breakfast, and beer.  And just when I thought I had spent all the money I could possibly spend, we went to Camden Town on our last full day in London which luckily turned out to be sunny and warm.  And it’s possible I spent more in the market in Camden than I had in the past four days.  I have no shame.  I also have no money.

Thankfully, just before my remaining savings dipped into the negatives, it was our time to depart from London and to head up north near Manchester to start our farm experience through an organization called WWOOF (world wide opportunities on organic farms).  The way it works is you contact farms you would like to volunteer on, they respond with a yes or no, you arrive at the farm, you’re given a place to live and food to eat and in exchange you work an average 6 hours each day and you get two days off every week.  We are currently residing in a comfy two bedroom caravan in a field enclosed by an electric fence and with a lovely view of the pigs.  The toilet in the caravan is good for one thing, so the other thing requires ducking underneath the electric fence and running to the toilet in the house.  I don’t think further elaboration is required.  Conveniently, the shower in the caravan doesn’t work either, so showers must be carefully timed and taken also at the house.  And the stove is out of gas.  And the main heater doesn’t work, but we still have heat in the form of two space heaters.  All minor inconveniences really.  In fact, I think it gives the place a bit of character.

A typical day begins at 9:30.  We feed the pigs.  Water the plants in the polytunnel.  Make sure the cows have enough water to drink.  Let the chickens out of their coop.  Let the goose out of his coop.  Clean out the poopy straw from both coops and replace them with new straw.  Gather any eggs the chickens may have laid.  Run around with the lambs just for fun.  Mill pig food.  Accompany any hay or straw deliveries.  Cook lunch.  Eat lunch (super important).  Do other farm related things.  Feed the pigs again.  Water the plants in the polytunnel again.  Check on the cow’s water again. Maybe take a shower.  Cook dinner.  Eat dinner (extra super important).  And then we have the evening to ourselves.

Life is simple.  I take every opportunity I can to get dirty.  I’ve had chicken poop splatter in my eye.  I have dirt under my fingernails and I don’t care.  There seems to be an unspoken agreement to not give a damn about appearances and I am relishing not wearing makeup.  I intentionally walk through deep muddy puddles.  I would chill with the pigs for hours if I didn’t have other things to do.  I wish I could pet the chickens.  I also wish the sheep and lambs would accept me as their own.  I’ve been nibbled on by horses, dogs, the goose, pigs, and sheep.   I’ve been threatened and hissed at by the goose on multiple occasions.  I’m incredibly pleased to have the opportunity to cook legitimate meals twice a day for everybody.  And I’ve eaten the most delicious meat of my life here, from the pigs and cows raised on this farm.  Notably, the pork sausages have forced me to reassess what a sausage should taste like.

There’s loads more I could ramble on about, like a certain double decker bus and its owner who reside here on this farm.  Or about a certain baby lamb.  Or about how I feel fully equipped to travel back in time to become a 1960s housewife.  However I will leave this precious writing material for a later time.  Like for when I haven’t already written eight paragraphs and included an overwhelming amount of pictures summarizing the past month of my life. Till next time!

Cheers, friends.

Glutton Behavior (Germany)

I am both proud and ever so slightly appalled at myself.  In a span of four hours I ate breakfast at a relative’s house, went on a pastry crawl, drank a life-changing hot chocolate, and ate an entire ice scream sundae (almost).

I have no shame.

When faced with the departure from a country, I become overwhelmed with all the foods I absolutely must eat but have not eaten yet.  Take this instance for example.  With a mere 24 hours left in Germany, I simply refused to leave without eating kuchen, eis (ice cream), and generally stuffing myself with everything that looks delicious.  Hence, I grew an extra two stomachs.

It went something like this.  We awoke to a late breakfast of assorted breads, cheeses, cold cuts, and coffee.  After a round of goodbyes, we left my relative’s house and made our way to the city center to test the limits of our stomachs.

I began what I like to call a pastry crawl with a berry and custard filled, streusel topped roll.  It continued with a couple of bites of berliner bretzle (sweet pastry dough pretzel) filled with vanilla pudding.  Next was a slice of zuckerkuchen – basically sweet bread baked like a cake and topped with sugar and toasted almonds. And finally, half a nut filled, sugar glazed, chocolate dipped puff pastry roll.  I felt like the guy who has tons of money and just throws it all in the air and makes it rain.  Except I imagined myself doing so with german pastries.  Needless to say, I was incredibly content.  And astoundingly, I was prepared to eat more.

Ha, who am I kidding.  I wasn’t even astounded.  This was normal glutton behavior.

We continued to galavant about the city, seeking nourishment to satisfy the black hole that had appeared inside my stomach.  That black hole was quickly quenched with a large mug of hot chocolate.

this is what a life-changing cup of hot chocolate looks like

Now, listen up kids.  I’ve had a lot of hot chocolate throughout my 18 years of life.  Based on my extensive experience with hot chocolate, I like to thoroughly judge each hot chocolate I drink.  For example, swiss miss is dirty water.  The marshmallow variety seems to include some sort of white styrofoam pieces that were somehow mistakenly called marshmallows (if it wasn’t evident, I have a bit of a grudge against powders that are mistakenly marketed as “hot chocolate”).  Anyhow, this german hot chocolate – I’ll call it german for a lack of any other way to differentiate it from the other hot chocolate’s I’ve had – it was unlike any hot chocolate I’ve had before.  When I drink hot chocolate, I like to asses the drinkability.  For example, italian style hot chocolate has the drinkability of pudding.  Thus it’s easier to “drink” it with a spoon.  French hot chocolate is somewhere in the middle on the thickness scale.  It’s thick enough that a small sip will suffice, but not so thick that you begin to doubt your ability to finish off an entire cup.  Now, this german hot chocolate was on the opposite end of the scale, closer to the drinkability of chocolate milk.  And yet… it had this deceptive richness that I’d compare to that of french hot chocolate.  It’s as if there were tiny particles of chocolate suspended in what seemed to be regular hot chocolate made with steamed milk that melted on the tongue and created the allusion of extreme chocolaty-ness.  This was a very satisfactory cup of hot chocolate.  I could even call it life changing.

At that point I was slightly surprised that the immense amount of sugar I had eaten hadn’t knocked me out.  However, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was still conscious and we continued our afternoon of gluttony with some ice cream.

Firstly I would like to make the general statement that all dairy products in Europe, and particularly Germany, taste better than those of their counterparts in America.  I have no desire to divulge in this topic but suffice it to say that some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had was in Germany.  I ordered some sort of sundae type object with vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, yogurt and a medley of fresh fruits in an attempt to bring some sort of balance to my diet (HA).  It came with some sort of magical berry coulis that gave me the impression that I was frolicking through a beautiful meadow perfumed with the sweet scent of happiness.  But the ice cream itself, the vanilla, was something entirely different.  It was some sort vanilla bean speckled, lovely lemony and ever so slightly fruity concoction that I would have very much liked to bathe in if it were possible.


And so, with an obscene amount of sugar coursing through my veins I was content to leave Germany having eaten nearly everything I had been set on consuming (except for that elusive/non-existent speatzle, which we wandered about for a good two hours looking for).  Thanks Germany, it was delicious.  Until next time.

Ciao!

Guten tag!

After a debilitating two days of gastronomical distress I am more than ecstatic to announce that I am back to my normal, gluttonous self.  Woo!  Two days of fearfully munching on bland crackers and obtaining a meager caloric intake from the honey I added to my many cups of chamomile tea, really put my life in perspective.  I became a listless, defeated shadow of myself.  I was saddened and nauseated by the thought of food.  I became borderline depressed, thinking about all the beer I should have been drinking and all the spätzle I should have been eating.  It was one of the darkest times of my life, being in a foreign country (Germany) and not being able to eat anything.

Gladly, those times have passed and I’ve more than made up for it by consuming everything in my field of vision for the past two days.  This has included a day of amusement park food at Europa Park, a fantastic amount of bretzles, a shnitzleburger, loads of candy, chocolate, homemade meals, and delicious german yogurt and juice.  Yes, Germany has really delicious juice.  I declare it my favorite.  However, my consumption of beer has been less than satisfactory and I have yet to try a multitude of baked goods.  Luckily, we have yet another week in Dusseldorf (for which we are departing tomorrow from Pfungstadt – where we are staying now with my family) to fatten ourselves on German cuisine.

Other than that, I haven’t much to share except the customary photographs and a few pieces of factual information.

The area in and around Pfungstadt features many asparagus farms.  Asparagus is a very temperamental spring vegetable and can only grow in certain circumstances.  It seems to be that these circumstances occur here.

Pfungstadt makes its own beer: Pfungstadter.  It is delicious and is only made in Pfungstadt.

Every house is unique.

There is lots of flat, green land.  Which is periodically interrupted by not so flat green land.

Their “system” works better than our system.  At least it seems so to me considering no one goes hungry or homeless unless they choose to.

Despite it’s best efforts, Europa Park cannot compete with an American amusement park (such as Six Flags) in respect to roller coaster intensity.  Aesthetically wise, definitely.  Europe is just prettier.

Everything important in Pfungstadt is walking distance: school, restaurant, hair dresser, fire department, main street, etc.  This makes more sense to me than having to drive everywhere.  Ahem, suburban America, ahem.

There is graffiti everywhere.  It seems to be the chosen form of catharsis for angst afflicted teens.

If you are an employed woman, and become pregnant, you may take up to three years of paid maternity leave and be guaranteed your job when you come back.  Three years are added with each additional child.  Three kids, nine years of paid maternity leave.  Family is important in Germany.

Likewise, employees are guaranteed 6 weeks of paid leave (this is also true of France).

I never want to eat yogurt in America again.  I want all my yogurt to come from Europe.  Germany especially has some of the most delicious yogurt I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

let’s just blame capitalism for all our woes. such as yogurt lacking in deliciousness.

Now I rest easy knowing I’ve shared all this valuable information on the world wide web.  Until next time my friends!  (I’m hoping that next time will not be preceded by more gastronomical distress but rather with more eating and exploring).  Ciao!

African Fish

Of all the favorite foods I thought I’d be favoring in France, the food I least expected to leave the strongest impression was a fish. That was, until I ate this fish.

The impression it proceeded to leave upon me was unparalleled to that of any fish I have ever eaten before.  And this was not only because it was ridiculously delicious, but also because this special meal was served by an accommodating and friendly couple, shared in magnificent company, and we felt as if we were dining upon hidden treasure.

Based on the lack of customers on a Saturday night, I couldn’t help but be surprised this place was still in business.  But then again, based on the deliciousness of the food and the friendliness of the proprietors, I couldn’t help but be surprised that there wasn’t a line of people out the door.  So as a general consensus, I was surprised concerning all aspects of this business which epitomized the concept of a hidden gem.

As another general consensus, this was seriously one of the best meals of my life thus far.  And therefore, it deserves a thorough recounting.  An explanation of how we ended up at this inconspicuous african restaurant is in order.  Two weeks into our stay in Nice, we met a girl from sweden at school and she invited us to eat delicious fish.  Of course, we agreed to go.  She had been first introduced to the restaurant by an african guy who had attended the school earlier, and now the recommendation was being taken up by six new people (me and my travel companion, and four other students from the school).  That Friday night, now what seems so long ago, was a revolutionary fish and dining experience and I admonished myself for not bringing my camera.  I promised myself I would return and take an obscene amount of pictures.

This past Saturday, I did just that.  Weeks after that first dinner we returned as a slightly different group of six, composed of some of the funniest, friendliest, and kindest people who I’m so happy to call my friends.  The proprietress recognized us and greeted us with friendly acknowledgment.  Of course, we’d all be having the fish.  In addition we ordered a bottle of each red and white wine.  This was going to be a good dinner.

We were served a drink on the house, of which I can’t remember the name now, but that was like a sweet, pink, ginger juice.  In fact, it was sweet, pink, ginger juice.  And it was delicious.

What followed was an unnecessary amount of picture taking, laughter, knife fighting, fork intervention, more laughter, some more picture taking, peanut snacking, and before we knew it the time to eat fish had arrived.

We descended upon each of our fish, frantically picking apart the tender white flesh from bone, savoring each bite of crispy skin, devouring everything from head to tail.  Literally.  Turns out fish tails are like a crispy fish chip.  And fish eyes taste… well, fishy.  The mountain of salsa served atop the fish was fantastically fresh and ever so perfectly spiced.  And the three accompaniments (rice, some unidentified but delicious grain-like stuff, and plantains) formed a delicious sort of love square between themselves and the fish.  Oh and if you were wondering what kind of fish it was, all I can tell you is that it was fish of the delicious sort.  I was too busy enjoying it to bother to ask.

Likewise, I’ve been too busy enjoying the company of the friends we’ve made here to think about the fact that we depart Nice this Saturday.  I’m anticipating that we’ll be busy seeing the sights we haven’t yet seen, eating the things we haven’t yet eaten, destroying what’s left of our livers, and seeing the most of the people we’ve come to love in the next few days leading up to our fated day of departure.  So, I’d like to bid you a bittersweet farewell, Nice.  May we meet again one day (not too far in the future).  And thanks for the fish.

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