road trip: europe – prague

before i get into each day and city of our trip, i’d like to present road trip: europe – the movie. pieced together from video clips and photos from our journey, this quick film also includes little maps that help make our trip a bit clearer. i have much more experience with photography than shooting video, but i hope you enjoy this glimpse into our adventures, and i welcome your feedback – i recommend viewing in full screen mode.

(also available on youtube.)

our eight-day, eight-country european extravaganza began around 6pm on friday night, after packing up our rental car, grabbing bottled water and snacks, and driving out of budapest. while it was exciting to wake up in prague the next morning with a few hours to explore, it was a little bit disappointing to drive through slovakia in the dark, with no time to stop. i’m still counting it as one of our eight countries, but it’s the one we saw the least of – the highway was crowded with hundreds of massive 18-wheelers, making the beginning of our journey pretty confusing. we still don’t know why so many trucks were parked along the shoulder of the freeway, and it made for a few stressful driving situations.

however! we arrived safely in our hotel in prague, tired but excited about our coming adventures. none of the colorful buildings are terribly high, but our hotel room was on the top floor and the roof allowed access for beautiful views and some quick photographs. in spite of the rainy weather, we got a few hours of sleep, then wandered out through the streets to find breakfast and briefly enjoy the city.

prague is beautiful. it of course has a similar eastern european ambiance as budapest or vienna, yet still feels like a completely unique place. every few blocks we seemed to stumble into another city square, filled with market stalls and fresh produce, souvenirs and artists. huge churches and sculptures tower over the smaller buildings surrounding them, and the cobblestone streets and musicians make for a quaint, delightful experience.

with only a few hours to enjoy a beautiful breakfast and get a fleeting impression of the city, we tried to stop in as many small shops and markets as possible. i love chatting with local artists and food producers, hearing their stories and admiring their work. we saw some beautiful pieces and even got to try our beloved cinnamon bread, a treat that can also be found in budapest markets.

we were able to load up the car just before the rain started, and fought with our gps for a few minutes before driving back through the city and across germany, driving almost 10 hours and seeing some of the beautiful french countryside before arriving at our hotel outside of paris

…which will have to get its own entry. suffice to say that the paris airport is huge and terrifying to american drivers who don’t speak french. and the sheraton is very difficult to get to, but lovely once you’re finally (finally!) inside…

road trip: europe

a road trip around europe is nothing to sniff at. and somehow, it’s incredibly difficult to write about, which is why i’ve been putting this post off a bit. there’s a lot to say.

and where to even start? when steve and i were first considering how to best spend our last week in budapest, we spent a long time researching before finally deciding to just pack two small bags and a bicycle and drive around europe. after all, we’re americans – we love our road trips. but i hadn’t really thought about just how much ground we would cover, and the amazing number of beautiful places we would see. and i really hadn’t thought that i would be struggling with words to describe our journey.

covering this trip will take some time, so expect several posts in the coming weeks with thoughts and photos from each city, as well as an (amateur!) video with clips from the road. my husband and i had the experience of a lifetime, and i want to document this thing properly. after all, when am i ever going to cover 8 countries in 8 days again? (and if you consider that the day after we got back, we flew through heathrow to boston, you could really say we did 10 countries in 9 days. no wonder i’m tired.)

day one? prague. full post, coming soon – but until then…

the last week

our european adventure is almost over.

i have a lot of mixed feelings about leaving. on the one hand, this was the experience of a lifetime. what american-born foodie doesn’t dream of living in europe and traveling as much as (financially) possible? i’ve had so many incredible opportunities, made some awesome new friends, seen beautiful cities, and eaten delicious new cuisines. my world has expanded.

but it’s not an easy thing to leave all your friends and family behind for a few months. i’m not very good at keeping in touch with people, and i miss my friendships. i miss my dog like crazy. i miss being able to ask for things in english and not struggling to understand simple words and phrases. i miss my big, beautiful kitchen. i miss knowing where to shop when i need a new pair of flats or fresh herbs. and i miss having a purpose. being unemployed is fun for a little bit, since i’m here for my husband and there’s no guilt associated with it (yet!) – but things are coming to an end, and job searching is stressful and disheartening. i want to find something that sparks my creativity, that lets me feel useful and appreciated, and that involves food, travel, photography, and writing. surely my dream job is out there, waiting for me.

but until i return to america and pick up a six-pack of guinness (which i can’t find in budapest) and whip up some fish tacos (i miss mexican food like crazy), i’m determined to enjoy my last two weeks in europe. week one is in budapest, and week two will be spent road tripping to france with my husband. unless we get hopelessly lost, expect to see photos (and perhaps some video) from prague, paris, lyon, nice, and venice.

i can’t think of a better send-off…except perhaps for this yummy hungarian
potato stew called paprikás krumpli. i wanted to feature a vegetarian version of one of the most famous and ubiquitous hungarian dishes, goulash, but this dish features meat so prominently in both texture and flavor that replacing it seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. perhaps when i’m back in the states and can more easily read labels for things like spices, i’ll attempt to make my own version, but until then – enjoy this hearty, filling, and inexpensive dish, filled with classic hungarian flavors.

hungarian paprika potato stew (paprikás krumpli)

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large white onion, diced

5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 paprikas or bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
4 cups stock, vegetable or chicken
2 tsp hot paprika
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cream 

in a large stockpot, heat olive oil and saute onion for about 5 minutes. add diced potatoes, pepper, tomatoes, stock, paprikas, celery seed, and parsley. add salt and pepper to taste. cover and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring as little as possible so that potatoes don’t break up. stir in cream and allow to simmer for another 10-15 minutes. serve with warm bread.

thoughts on meat-eating

before i get into this post, i want to say a huge thank you to all of my new readers! i’m honored that my recent post on copenhagen and sweden was selected for wordpress’ freshly pressed page, and it’s been so wonderful to get new perspectives and kind words from photographers, travelers, and foodies alike. (and if you don’t know what i’m talking about, check out this hilarious blog post for more insight.)

the past few weeks have been absolutely beautiful here in budapest, and as steve and i have traveled through sweden, copenhagen, and dublin, i’ve continued to wrestle with the plant-based diet and its ramifications for my daily life. since my puppy is living with my parents in the states and my current projects have wrapped up, i have a lot of free time to wander the city, snap photos with my camera, and think about food.

it’s so fascinating to me that as americans, we are absolutely obsessed with our looks and weight, yet our food and lifestyle choices rarely reflect that – fast food chains and doughnut shops on every corner, grocery stores filled with instant foods and preservative-filled snacks, and public transportation that stops every 100 yards so that no one has to walk more than a few steps to get where they’re going. but the foodies in america and around the world are getting louder, whether they’re champions of vegetarian and vegan diets or are instead pushing the paleo/caveman diet, and they’re all saying the same thing: we need to pay more attention to what we’re putting into our bodies.

having just completed a masters of liberal arts in gastronomy, i can honestly say that i’ve spent some serious time thinking about what i eat, where it comes from, and how my eating patterns affect the planet. i even took an entire course devoted to meat with the wonderful warren belasco, and obsessed over the ethics of eating meat for an entire semester.

the arguments for and against meat-eating are complex and involved, and there are enough well-written and exhaustively researched works out there that i won’t bother recreating them here. i’m not going to try to explain how i feel about every issue – i find the subject incredibly draining, particularly after so many conversations in class about the issues. it’s a topic that everyone has an opinion about, and is one that brings out strong emotions in just about everybody. after all, everyone eats, and everyone likes to talk about food. it isn’t just the nerdy foodies or the gastronomy professors or the celebrity chefs or the smarmy nutritionists – we all love food, and we all want to believe that the way we’ve chosen to eat is the best.

well, i’ll admit it here and now: the way i eat is probably not the best, in spite of my expensive gastronomic education. i love to eat, and cook, and bake, and talk about food. i love to write about food, and i love to photograph food. i love to know where my food comes from, whether it’s a raw vegetable or a pre-assembled cookie dough. but i’m not rich, and i don’t always have unlimited time to prepare my food. i can’t always afford to buy all of my produce from the farmer’s market, especially when it’s only once a week – sometimes i’m cooking and realize i’m out of garlic, and i cheat and just run to the stop & shop because it’s half a mile from my house. and not every restaurant that i eat at serves exclusively local meats…but sometimes i still order the steak, because i’m in the mood for it.

does this make me a bad person? maybe not, but i’m not proud of it. i want to be more responsible in my eating. i want to support local farmers as much as i can afford to. and i desperately want to eat in a way that’s healthy, but still gives me all the foodie satisfaction of a delicious meal, prepared beautifully from fresh, amazing ingredients. this is not a change that i’m pretending will happen overnight – i’d rather take my time and find solutions that i can stick with.

my first goal? stop eating so much meat, especially at home. and keep an eye on how much dairy i’m really consuming.

avoiding meat and dairy in eastern europe is no easy feat. since i’m just starting my journey and am more concerned about my meat intake than my dairy intake (mostly because my “dairy intake” is really just a lifelong love affair with cheese), it’s been fun to find satisfying substitutes for the chicken and duck that are present at most hungarian meals. there certainly aren’t as many grocery shopping options here as i’ll have when i’m back in the states (boy, do i miss whole foods…), but i’ve been doing pretty well so far. and i don’t miss meat quite as much as i thought i would, which is a wonderful thing.

feeling inspired? try this refreshing, satisfying, power-food-packed lentil salad for an easy meat-free option that doesn’t feel like you’re giving anything up. lentils are fantastic for you, and this recipe (a variation on alice waters’ delicious original) showcases them beautifully. if you’re avoiding dairy, just leave out the cheese – and if you fall more on the caveman diet side of things, cold shredded chicken would be a delicious addition.

lentil salad

1 cup french green lentils (i had to use brown lentils, which are still very healthy but don’t hold their shape as well after cooking)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or red or white wine vinegar, if you prefer)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 medium cucumber, diced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
4 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp lemon juice

sort and rinse lentils. place in a large saucepan and cover with water about 3 inches, then bring to a boil. lower heat until simmering and cook until tender, 25-30 minutes. drain, then transfer to a bowl and add vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. allow to sit for at least 5 minutes, tasting to adjust seasonings.

add tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, feta cheese, bell pepper, parsley, and lemon juice. if lentils are dry, add a bit more olive oil or a tablespoon of warm water. 

“gluttonous thursday”

other countries may celebrate fat tuesday before lent, but in hungary, things are done a little differently. today is torkos csütörtös, otherwise known as “fat” or “gluttonous thursday.”

and how does one honor this most joyous of holidays?

by cramming as many restaurant reservations into one day as possible, obviously. and then, if you’re me, by walking around budapest for hours, taking random pictures and praying that all the walking will counteract two ridiculously cheap restaurant meals.

enjoy some extra city photos, and happy fat thursday!

 

 

stuffed paprikas

hungarian cuisine is starting to take over our lives.

we’ve now visited several different old-style hungarian restaurants, as well as some more modern ones. i’ve had chicken paprikas (naturally, i had to try one that wasn’t my own!), goulash (recipe coming soon), venison, veal, and a lot of duck. i just love eating duck. plus, i even made my chicken paprikas for some of my husband’s coworkers, and they seemed to enjoy it along with the fresh spaetzle, in spite of the fact that i trashed a friend’s kitchen in the process. spaetzle is delicious, but not the neatest, most elegant thing to make when you have people watching you.

but one of my favorite recipes to date, the one my husband can’t ever stop talking about, is a delicious, not-too-complicated, soul-soothing dish: stuffed paprikas.

in case you’re not aware – i’m not afraid to admit that i wasn’t until i got here – the word paprika is used in english to refer to the bright red spice, created by grinding dried peppers. but in many european languages, including hungarian, paprika refers to a fresh pepper. muddling the waters further, the dish called stuffed paprikas refers to a stuffed bell pepper (or paprikas pepper, as they’re labeled in the markets) that contains paprika (the spice) in the stuffing mixture. confusing, if you’re an ignorant american like myself, but you figure it out pretty quickly when a native hungarian tells you that you absolutely must make stuffed paprikas and you try to figure out how you could possibly stuff something into a ground spice.

insomnia is rough. it makes me easily confused.

anyway, the following recipe is from a native hungarian, who kindly emailed me instructions after taking me to the biggest market in the city to help me shop for ingredients. köszönöm, jutka!

hungarian stuffed paprikas

1 lb ground pork
1/2 cup rice, partially cooked
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp hungarian paprika, either sweet or hot
4-6 bell peppers, with tops and cores removed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
15 ounces tomato sauce or puree
1 cup boiling water (optional)
2 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste 

in a large mixing bowl, combine ground pork, rice, egg, and paprika, adding a bit of salt and pepper. using your fingers, gently stuff the cored peppers with the meat mixture. if you have any remaining, add a bit of flour and create meatballs. place peppers and meatballs side by side in a large saucepan or stock pot.

in a saucepan, saute chopped onion in olive oil until lightly browned. add tomato sauce and, if it’s very thick, boiling water, and allow to come to a simmer. carefully pour tomato mixture over peppers and meatballs, then put over medium heat. top with chopped parsley, salt, and pepper, and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until peppers are just soft.

this dish is traditionally served over potatoes, either roasted with oil and seasonings or mashed. for a healthier alternative, try with sauteed winter greens or brown rice. for a hungarian touch, top the whole thing with (you guessed it!) sour cream.

and for all of you who keep complaining about the lack of dorky vacation-type photos, here’s a quick shot of us on our way out the door for our valentine’s day dinner:

i promise to put some shots of us up in my next post, once we get back from our next weekend trip – to rome!

minestrone & the alps

even on a cloudy day, there’s nothing quite like the alps.

i spent this past weekend following my husband and his coworkers around for a corporate training in a little village in germany, and then we all headed to another little village in austria to do some skiing. while waiting for the consultants to finish their training wasn’t particularly exciting, the little ski lodge nestled in the beautiful mountains more than made up for it.

i don’t ski. however, it’s impossible to resist riding up the lifts, simply to see the views that many of these people seem to take for granted – and, of course, to join the freezing skiers for the après-ski on the mountain after they finished the day. especially after being in new england for so many years, i wanted to spend as much time as possible near the mountains, in spite of how cold it was.

it got pretty cloudy by the time my fingers thawed enough to get my camera out, but i’m grateful that i got at least a few photos to remember the alps by.

also? four days eating nothing but deep fried meat, french fries, chicken cordon bleu, and beer really makes you grateful for winter vegetables. i plan on eating nothing but soup for the next week, and this is a delicious place to start.

my minestrone is thick and hearty, rich, and very filling. topping it with crunchy croutons and serving with crusty bread only makes it better. as always, feel free to play around with ingredients and amounts to get the proportions and flavors you like (for example, this really should have celery, but i’m at the mercy of the little market near our flat). and you may have noticed that basically every soup recipe i post contains bacon – i shouldn’t need to justify this, but i feel that any soup or stew benefits from this salty, fatty, delicious treat. don’t pretend you don’t agree.

winter minestrone

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3-4 slices bacon, chopped, or 100g unsmoked lardons
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large potato, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 5 oz can tomato paste
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
1 cup chopped kale, spinach, or your favorite winter green
1 15 oz can cannelloni or kidney beans, drained
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
1 cup shell or pipe rigate pasta, cooked
salt and pepper to taste 

in a large, heavy stockpot, warm olive oil over medium heat and add onions and bacon, cooking for about 5 minutes until onions are starting to brown. add carrots, potato, zucchini, and garlic, and allow to cook for 2-3 more minutes.

add chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock, and wine. if vegetables are not covered, add water. allow to come to a boil, increasing heat if necessary. reduce heat, partly cover with a lid, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. add kale, drained beans, oregano, basil, salt and pepper, and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes.

when ready to serve, spoon several tablespoons of pasta into bowls and add soup. top with grated cheese and, if you like, crusty croutons – rip or cut several slices of bread into small chunks, and place in a bowl with salt, pepper, and several tablespoons of olive oil. use your hands to coat bread, then spread onto a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

for best results, make this a day or two in advance. if you don’t have enough time to do this (or are like me and don’t plan meals out very far ahead), at least try to make this in the morning so that it can hang out all day. the longer it sits, the better it will taste – trust me.


paprikas & spaetzle

we’ve been living in budapest for a month (!!!), and while i’ve eaten out quite a bit, i haven’t had the opportunity to eat nearly enough hungarian food. this cuisine is delicious and flavorful, but has a tendency to be a bit heavy. in winter this is great, since this food is warm and incredibly comforting, but there’s only so much sour cream i can consume in a day before i feel a bit sick.

however.

chicken paprikas, served with fresh homemade spaetzle, is something i could probably eat daily and not get tired of. if you’ve never had this dish, stop what you’re doing, go to the store for the ingredients, and start cooking the recipe below. i can wait. go ahead.

see what i mean?

spicy, crunchy, creamy, soothing, addictive, delicious. this is what hungarian cuisine is all about. i’m not going to lie, it’s not the most attractive dish i’ve ever made, and i kept remaking it and postponing publishing in the hopes that it would look prettier for these photos – but don’t worry about it. just grab a beer and a fork and dig in.

there are a number of recipes out there for chicken paprikas, and i’ve already made at least 3 of them. for the money, i like sheryl julian’s recipe from several years ago the best – while some complain about the use of tomatoes, i find it gives the sauce more depth and a better consistency. play around with ingredients and let me know what you like – i love adding a finely chopped paprikas pepper to this, since they’re so easy to find here.

you don’t have to serve the chicken with spaetzle…but it’s so easy and absolutely delicious that you’re really missing out. it can be a bit messy to make, which is why i love smitten kitchen’s recipe (and photos!) – she also explores the many ways to create these twisty noodle-shaped dumplings, meaning that even if you haven’t tried it before, you’ll get a delicious end product.

i may be training for a marathon in barcelona in march, but if i keep eating this daily like i threaten to, i may come back roughly the size of a house.

wochenende in wien

nothing like a weekend in vienna to give you a new perspective on budapest.

two nights anywhere is hardly enough to say you’ve seen a city – it feels like we were barely even in austria. lots of walking/being lost, schnitzels, beers, and confusing subway rides – though we felt like pros by the end of it and even helped fellow tourists navigate the streets. hurried looks at gorgeous buildings, running by the opera house, a 30-second glimpse of st. stephen’s cathedral, and wandering through palaces. we even rode a gigantic ferris wheel and saw the whole city lit up at night, but i barely got any pictures and it all seems like a whirlwind.

vienna is gorgeous. it somehow feels cleaner and more modern, yet older and more established, than budapest. and you’d think that being surrounded by people speaking german would feel pretty much the same as being surrounded by people who speaking hungarian, given that i speak neither, but it feels surprisingly different. my few hungarian words and phrases get me pretty far in budapest, but the same knowledge of german got me almost nowhere. as much as i apologize in budapest for my ignorance, i said “i’m sorry” twice as many times in vienna.

my favorite part of the trip? definitely the huge market, filled with breads, spices, meats and fish, cheeses, oils, vinegars, mulled wine and cider, fruits, vegetables, antiques, fabrics…i even got a cute little hat. cafes and restaurants lined the center, and we had a delightful lunch of rolled crepes with prosecco and coffee. i could’ve sat there all day, watching people go by.

and while returning to budapest on sunday night wasn’t quite like coming home, it definitely felt nice to be in the shadow of the parliament building again. these little weekends away make me appreciate the beauty and history of budapest even more.

i may have been stuck in bed with a cold since we got back from vienna, but i still feel pretty blessed.

daily adventures

besides the fact that i’m in this incredible city, the best part about my time in budapest is that i have nothing to do but wander around with my camera, watch people, and cook.

the city is so alive, and has such a different feeling than boston, new york, los angeles, san diego. these people fascinate me – they’re kind but not friendly, which means i can walk the city for hours and not make eye contact with a single person, but can get help as soon as i need it from a warm cafe server. this delights me for reasons i can’t explain. i love the feeling of strength and independence these people exude, but i’m relieved to know that if i ask, i can always get helpful directions or advice from a native. i’m not sure i’ve felt this way anywhere else before.

i’m fascinated by the blending of old and new, both in architecture and in business. brand new, modernly designed hotels sit amongst old, broken down buildings, and brightly colored american fast food chains compete with local restaurants.

steve and i have been trying to explore local restaurants, both hungarian and otherwise, which meant that we went out all weekend, and that yesterday i met him for lunch at his office and we tried out this absolutely delicious burger bar. my bleu-cheese filled, pepper crusted burger on ciabatta bread was delightful, but after we were finished eating and i asked steve what he might like for dinner, he simply said “vegetables.”

i can work with that.

the following recipe is so loose, it hardly counts as a recipe. use whatever vegetables you like and can find – this soup should be rich, flavorful, and full of comfort. i wanted to use celery and turnips but the lady at the market wouldn’t sell them to me for reasons she thoroughly explained…in hungarian. i imagine most of my readers won’t have this problem.

warming winter soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
4 scallions, finely sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
1 medium can cannelloni beans
1-2 cups water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
2 strips bacon, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

in a large stock pot over medium heat, warm the oil and saute the onions for several minutes. when they start to develop color, add the garlic and cook for another minute. add butter and flour and mix well until mixture thickens, then add white wine, tomatoes, carrots, parsnip, and scallions. allow to come to a simmer.

in a separate pot, boil potatoes in water for several minutes until tender, then add potatoes to stock pot with cannelloni beans. add enough water or stock to completely cover vegetables, then add bacon, oregano, basil, bay leaf, and a bit of salt and pepper. allow mixture to come to a boil, stirring regularly, than turn heat down to low and cover, cooking for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. you’ll probably need to add more seasonings but i like to start low and add as i go, so taste regularly to adjust. serve with crusty bread, a glass of wine, and (ideally) a crackling fire.

next up: chicken paprikas.