a more exciting saturday

i admit to not always taking full advantage of my weekends. sometimes, i spend half the day lounging around reading or watching movies. sometimes, brady and i go for a long walk. sometimes, i just take a hot bath and drink wine. dog walking is a fun way to spend the day, but i’m rarely left with enough energy to do anything productive, which seems to overflow into the weekend. fortunately for me, my bosses are two fantastic women who happen to love food and beer just as much as i do. and the other weekend, a big group of us headed to barleycorn’s craft brew in natick to brew our very own beer. having never actually participated in beer brewing before, in spite of studying the process and having multiple friends that brew, i was beyond excited to get started. i know a lot of people are great at full-out home brewing, but for my first attempt i was really glad to have experienced brewers around to answer questions and keep us on the right track. the staff at barleycorn’s was patient and helpful, and we also had a few guys in our group that knew exactly what they were doing – very helpful with a bunch of newbies, especially since we were sipping beer and hard cider through most of the process.

rather than rewriting the beer-making process in my own (probably undereducated) words, i’d rather tell our little story through my photographs. if you want the nitty gritty details, i’ll refer you to this delightful and simple explanation, or this more thorough, scientific version.

you can always bring your own recipes to follow, but barleycorn’s provides a number of recipes to choose from. (thank goodness.)

milling the grains took some teamwork.

steeping the grains…

next, we measured out extracts to provide some extra flavor and speed up the brewing process…

…along with hops and sugar. since we made saison and schwarz beers, we also got to add bitter orange to the mix.

stirring involved giant paddles.

after measuring the estimated alcohol content of our beer, we cooled and strained the wort and then transferred it into fermentation tanks, where yeast was added.

after a few more beers, we left our beer behind to ferment and have been waiting with anticipation ever since. and this upcoming weekend, we’ll all head back to bottle our beers and take them home. i can’t wait to taste the final product – i have a handful of friends that all brew their own beer, and i have a feeling that after tasting beer i helped to make, i’ll want to try it again…and again.

thanks so much to barleycorn’s for letting me wander around with my camera!

road trip: europe – paris

what hasn’t already been said about paris? the food, the architecture, the sights, the crowds, the pastries, the snooty french citizens that seemed to hate us…paris is a lot to take in.

like probably every american girl in history, i’ve always wanted to go to paris. the city is huge, so alive, and always seems to be the ultimate romantic, beautiful, life-changing destination.

and don’t get me wrong – it is. paris is gorgeous. but it’s also… overwhelming. the city is absolutely huge, and as a two-night stop in an eight-day road trip, it’s hard to feel like we saw even a hint of what parisian life is like.

after a lovely morning in prague, we ducked into the car, struggled with our gps, and finally set off on our ten-hour drive through germany and the french countryside to arrive in paris. by the time we arrived at our hotel just outside the city, it was past midnight, and it was all i could do to crawl into bed and sip some wine from the minibar…

…but the next morning, we were finally, finally in paris. beautiful paris. crowded, bustling paris. cold, rainy, springtime paris.

i’m sure it didn’t help that we were there on easter sunday, and everywhere we went was absolutely crawling with tourists. with only one full day in the city before we had to head to our next destination, i resigned myself to joining them and went to see the notre dame cathedral, the louvre, the arc de triumph, the eiffel tower…all the typical sight-seeing spots. we rode in a motorbike, enjoyed croissants and espresso by the river, and stood on the edge of the huge crowd gawking at the mona lisa.

and if you’ve never braved the terrifying crowds to see this beautifully small painting, here’s a quick (shaky!) video to give you an idea of what we faced.

hardly the way to study this magnificent work of art…but i suppose we can say that we (sort of) saw it.

but there were some definite highlights. wandering french alleys, having some kind american stranger give us his used tickets to the louvre so that we could skip the line and get in for free (thanks again!), eating incredible cheeses and enjoying local wine with every meal…and being able to drive around in such a huge city was a lot of fun. all the guidebooks tell you not to, that americans can’t handle it, but my husband did a great job. we got to drive through some beautiful neighborhoods and see things like the moulin rouge that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

while paris was actually not my favorite french destination from our trip, it was a delight. and i hope to someday spend a bit more time in this magnificent city.

want more? check out my initial posts on our eight-day, eight-country road trip through europe, our first night in prague, and watch my short video with some of the highlights. next up later this week? lyon, the gastronomic capital of paris – and one of the most beautiful, relaxing places we visited in europe.

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…

barcelona, marathons, and tapas

have you ever stepped off a plane in a brand new place, and immediately felt like you were home?

i’ve been lucky enough to experience this feeling twice in my life. once when i moved to san diego to work with an amazing theatre company in coronado…and once this weekend, in beautiful barcelona.

i know i’ve been gushing a lot recently about gorgeous cities. part of it is because i love to travel, and this is my first time in europe and i’m a little overexcited. another part is because it doesn’t quite seem real. i feel very blessed to have the opportunity to spend several months living in and traveling through europe.

but mostly, i carry on because these cities are breathtaking. and for me, barcelona is right at the top of the list of amazing places that i’ve visited.

sun-drenched, sandy beaches. bicycles, skateboards, and brightly-colored taxi cabs. sparkling sea water. spanish architecture covered in bright street art and graffiti. tapas and sangria. palm trees and gardens everywhere. huge outdoor sculptures. fresh seafood. wide streets and narrow alleyways. friendly, smiling people. 100-year-old construction projects. tiny bars and cafes. clear skies and warm sunshine. and these deliciously addictive little steak sliders called pepitos.

i know, i know. i just wrote multiple blog posts about how i don’t want to eat meat on a daily basis, and here i am carrying on about steak sliders. i’m sure you must all think i’m a dreadful hypocrite. i don’t have much of a defense – i absolutely love food, and it’s hard for me to rationalize limiting my eating choices when i’m in a new country for only a few days. but honestly, i only ate a few – and they were totally worth it. and i enjoyed them enough that it won’t be hard to avoid red meat for awhile, since nothing will compare to those little burgers.

spanish food is just too delicious to ignore. enjoying tapas is a wonderful way to eat – you get to try tiny bites of everything, and it forces you to eat at a more leisurely pace. you sip your sangria, chat with friends, share bits of everything, and laugh your way through delightfully relaxing meals. and trust me: nothing gets you ready for several days of sight-seeing like a pitcher of sangria. 

we walked all over the city, making friends and finding beautiful hidden corners and side streets.

we visited a huge indoor market, with every fruit, vegetable, fish, meat, juice, honey, jam, candy, oil, and pastry you can possibly imagine.

we made friends in this tiny, ridiculous place that only served cava and burgers, who introduced us to leche de pantera, a deliciously strong cocktail with a ridiculous name.

and we spent almost an hour walking around and staring at gaudi’s basilica de la sagrada familia, a staggeringly huge cathedral that’s incredibly detailed and absolutely beautiful.

even the craziness of a 15,000-person marathon didn’t diminish the beauty of this city. watching my husband and friends finish the race was a blast, even if they did abandon us at the finish line. at least we had beer to keep us entertained. and really, when you’re sitting on the grass by a huge, gorgeous fountain in spain, it’s hard to stay mad for long.

and that seems to be the magic of the city. the people seem so contented, and when you get to wake up to gorgeous water, beautiful architecture, and delicious food every morning, it’s easy to understand why. i’ve enjoyed living in budapest, but i absolutely loved my brief time in barcelona.

and if i get my way, maybe one day i’ll live there too.

sweden, denmark, and the plant-based diet

this weekend, steve and i were fortunate enough to be able to visit two countries i never thought i’d get to see: sweden and denmark.

i did not bring warm enough clothes. but these countries are absolutely gorgeous, particularly the city of copenhagen, where we met up with a few of steve’s friends and got to view the city through a local’s eyes.

of course, on our way to copenhagen (taxi, plane, bus, train, metro, train), we stopped in the swedish city of malmo for lunch at a little place called victors, and had a chance to wander around a bit before our train to copenhagen arrived.

when we finally arrived in denmark, we were fortunate to be able to stay with two different and wonderfully kind couples, who showed us around the city, brought us to fabulous restaurants, and put up with my constant photo-taking.

copenhagen is beautiful. buildings can only be built to a short height of six stories, so the city has an open, breezy feel to it. every street has wide bike lanes that are slightly raised from traffic, and absolutely everyone seems to ride their bicycle around town. while this dynamic makes things a bit hectic when walking for hours, it also gives the city a delightfully charming feel.

one of steve’s triathlete friends, david deak, was even kind enough to cook a few meals for us with his girlfriend, sharing his plant-based diet and food philosophy with us. one of our meals were these absolutely delicious buckwheat and quinoa pancakes. you must try them, immediately.

despite the cold wind that refused to die down, we were able to see all of the major copenhagen sights: the little mermaid, the opera house, the royal palace…

…and the free town of christiania, one of my favorite sights from the trip. there’s nothing quite like seeing hash and marijuana for sale in a display case. of course, i couldn’t take pictures inside this autonomous, rebellious little community, but i did get a photo of the gate separating the commune from the rest of the city:

love it.

we even visited the carlsberg brewery, and saw the largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world.

as we took our hundred and one trains, buses, and planes back to budapest, steve and i couldn’t help talking constantly about how many animal products we consume on a daily basis. it’s easy to think that i eat a well-balanced diet because i like fruits and vegetables, but i’ve realized just how many quick sandwiches and bowls of pasta i often eat in my hurry to get out the door and explore the city. as much as i love veggies, i’m not consistently eating in a healthy way.

as a girl who finds it hard to imagine a day without smelly cheeses, crusty bread, or rare steaks, i was intrigued by the idea of plant-based eating. and while i’m not sure that i could completely give up meats, fish, and dairy for good, it seems like my diet could use a change. hungarian food is mostly chicken, with serious amounts of pasta, dumplings, and cream-based sauces on the side, and i’ve been struggling a lot with finding a healthy balance between the veggies i love and the rich, delicious local cuisine. but i think it’s time for me to stop eating meat and cheese at every single meal and get healthier, especially if i’m serious about eventually completing a marathon. it may even help my knee to heal completely and let me finally start running on a regular basis. and if limiting my intake of meats and cheeses will also help me lose weight, how can it be a bad thing?

so we’ll see what the future holds. going fully vegetarian over the summer wasn’t a completely successful experiment, but it did show me that if i want to try limiting my weekly intake of animal products, i need to spend more time and research planning my daily meals – something i tend to avoid. perhaps something as simple as meatless mondays is just what i need to get me on track.

would love to hear thoughts from some of my fellow foodies! how much meat, fish, and dairy products do you typically eat during the week? would you ever consider a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet, or have you ever followed one? and am i nuts to think about starting this while still living in europe?

“this is hungary”

budapest is breathtaking.

incredible architecture is nestled in next to rundown buildings covered with graffiti. modern buildings unexpectedly mixed in with ancient moldings and doors. houses are built right into the hills, and crumbling walls house brand new apartments.

the smells here are so vivid. paprika, garlic, sweet wines, smoked meats, peppers and cabbage, ripe cheeses, fresh pastries. there are markets hidden through
doorways that offer every fruit and vegetable imaginable, butchers and cheesemongers just waiting to sell you their delicious wares. the danube cuts right through the city, and the smell of the river and the sight of the huge bridges that cross it makes everything a little more exciting.

and the parliament building across the river…photographs can’t capture the massive size of this absolutely magnificent building, but i’m sure i’ll spend the next few months trying. our cab driver called this building the “house of crazy” but i can’t get over how gorgeous it is.

do you know that song stupid american by eddie from ohio? it keeps running through my head as i nod and smile at shop owners and market workers. some are kind, some are obviously annoyed, but all patiently wait as i stutter the two hungarian words i know (“hello” and “thank you”) and attempt to pay for my onions and chicken thighs. hungarian is a gorgeous, complicated language that is utterly baffling to an ignorant, language-challenged american, but i’m working on it. my next essential word is “please” before i start on numbers.

steve and i have only been here for three days, but the excitement hasn’t worn off yet – not even close. there’s so much to see and explore, so much people-watching to do, and so many recipes to make. would you believe me if i told you that about three blocks away is a small hungarian cooking school that offers classes in english? you can bet i’ll be trying that. i took my first attempt at the classic hungarian dish paprikás csirke (chicken paprikas) for dinner tonight and while i have no idea how “authentic” it is, it was certainly delicious.

i’m craving great recipes right now, so send me whatever you’ve got. i have nothing but time here and i’m planning to cook something fantastic every day. and if you’d like a postcard (once i figure out how to mail them) leave your address as a comment or email me.



baking class – cake time

i get a lot of questions about my culinary classes – what kinds of things do we cook? how are we taught? do we get to do everything ourselves? and how hot are the kitchens, really?

well, we cook just about everything. sauces, fillings, pastries, meats, vegetables, you name it. this week i made my own sausages, grilled steaks, dipped cakes in chocolate, whipped egg whites for mousse by hand, and poached pears. we learn by doing, and we do it all ourselves. sometimes we get to watch the teachers and assistants do demos, such as grinding meat or making different items than we do, but most of the food we prepare by hand, learning as we go.

and the kitchen is ridiculously hot. you know how it’s hot outside right now? how it’s 100 degrees in boston, and humid? image putting on long pants, sneakers, a long-sleeved chef coat over a t-shirt, and a hat, then going into a big windowless room with about 20 ovens, over 100 burners, 2 convection ovens, deep friers, grills, and a ton of refrigerators and freezers, all pumping out hot air. plus, we’re all running around like crazy people. needless to say, it gets hot in there. and not in a fun, sexy way – in a gross, sweaty, irritating way.

but we have an awesome time. and just for you, i took some pictures in my baking class last night, to share a bit of what we made. the yellow layered cake is a victoria cake, two moist layers that taste a bit like pound cake, with buttercream frosting and strawberry preserves in the middle. the ovens in our kitchen are pretty unpredictable, and many of our cakes came out a bit dry, but they looked beautiful. the small squares are lamingtons, an australian specialty that’s surprisingly easy to make. sponge cake is cut into individual portions, then coated in chocolate icing and rolled in coconut. these are absolutely delicious, and i can’t wait to try them out at home…

…on my gorgeous new cake stand, which i won in a contest on the amazing stephanie’s blog, desserts for breakfast. it arrived yesterday, and i can’t wait to put it to good use – maybe these lamingtons will have to get remade soon.

the international conference of food styling and photography

this past weekend, professionals across the food industry – chefs, photographers, stylists, creative directors, nutritionists, students, teachers, you name it – gathered at boston university for the third bi-annual international conference of food styling and photography. and let me tell you, this conference was intense. every moment was packed with presentations, photos, techniques, business advice, self-promotion tips, lighting and composition advice…even the breaks involved everyone scrambling for a cup of coffee, asking presenters questions, and trying to get someone your business card, hoping they remember you when they get home.

i attended all four days of the conference, and it was totally worth the time, energy and money that i had to sacrifice to do it. i learned so, so much about the industry – though a lot of it as information on what to stop doing, or start doing – and i feel like i have a better understanding of different careers that exist in the world of food and visual media.

each of the sessions focused on a different element of the food styling and photography industry, letting participants hear from all different perspectives. friday started with “essentials of teamwork,” showing how stylists and photographers work together to create the perfect shot, and giving more insight to each of their roles. the morning was spent with the amazing delores custer, who demonstrated how to style and control difficult foods like pizza, ice cream, foamy beer, and how to create the perfect dollop of whipped cream. in the afternoon, we were able to watch photographers deborah jones, jeffrey kauck and viktor budnik work with food stylists lisa golden schroeder, nir adar and karen tully to create shots of cheese for an imagined company. we got to observe their styles and techniques, ask questions, and they even tethered their cameras to computer programs so that we could see the photos they were taking while they worked. deborah and lisa also let us see the differences between various settings, like iso and aperture, so that we could see how these subtle changes affect the overall look of the photo.

saturday and sunday were the main parts of the conference, and had the largest groups of people attending. saturday was particularly packed with
sessions, with the morning looking at both communication and upcoming trends. nanci doonan dixon and noel barnhurst spoke about communicating with clients and creative heads effectively, and antoinette bruno and leslie harrington gave insight into upcoming trends – new food styles and plating techniques, as well as colors and textures that will become more popular over the next year or two. after lunch, we heard from david ledsinger and sarah fletcher, gaining understanding on art directors and what they need from photographers and stylists before shooting, as well as during post-production. afterwards ilene bezahler and michael piazza from edible boston magazine spoke about their publication with john carafoli, highlighting grassroots organizations and local foods.

sunday put a focus on multimedia and creativity, exploring different ways to expand personal businesses and add new opportunities for growth. jamie tiampo discussed high end video techniques and new multimedia, and clark dever explained how to harness the power of social media to your advantage. kate baldwin showed the audience how to copyright photographs, writing pieces and blogs, and explained why it’s important to protect works and images. the afternoon featured a great presentation on collaboration and creativity with clare ferguson and jeff kauck, revealing how photographers and creative directors work together. after the presentation, participants finished up the main part of the conference by networking, talking with experienced stylists and photographers, as well as presenters to gain more knowledge and ask questions.

the last day was about a topic close to my heart – food blogging. jeremy zilar ofthe new york times kicked it off by discussing elements of a successful food blog, giving tips for design elements and strategies for keeping things clean and simple. steve adams and lara ferroni did a big presentation on how to take effective photos, and gave tons of information on how to shoot and edit, which software programs work well, and how to make blog photos great. they also did a full demonstration, taking photos in front of us and editing them, as well as showing how shooting tethered can make a big difference when learning photography and editing skills. after the break, the afternoon was spent with james scherzi, diane cu, todd porter and jeremy zilar looking at incorporating video and multimedia into food blogs. they discussed equipment, editing tools, and making the transition from still photography to shooting high quality videos. storytelling is crucial to this process, as well as not losing sight of the client’s needs and representing them well.

needless to say, i filled a notebook with sketches and scribbles. i still have so much to learn, but this conference gave me some of the tools i need to improve my writing, photography, food styling, blogging, and my ability to start my own business if i decide to. i met some truly incredible people, and got to hear from some of the industry’s leaders.

here’s hoping that over the next few months, i’ll really be able to implement some of the things that i’ve learned in my photography, and here on this blog.

p.s. i’ve gotten your emails and texts – i have tons of notes, and i will be typing them up over the long weekend. they’ll be posted attached to this blog as pdf files, once i figure out how to do that! i’ll send out tweets as they go up – sorry for the delay, but i want to make sure they’re clear to those that couldn’t attend the conference themselves. thanks so much for your patience!

icfsp – friday, day one
icfsp – saturday, day two
icfsp – sunday, day three
icfsp – monday, day four 

guest post at boston university gastronomy blog

just a quick update – i’ve spent all weekend at the international conference on food styling and photography at boston university, and it was absolutely incredible…and exhausting. i’ll be creating a full article with lots of photos and more information on each session, and i’ll also type and organize all of my conference notes and post them here by the end of the week – it’ll just take me a little time to process everything i’ve heard!

in the meantime, i was thrilled to write a quick article on the conference for the boston university gastronomy blog – if you’re not already reading this blog, check it out. so many cool things happening in the program, and lots of great people involved.

more to come on this conference, but for now, thanks so much to all of the presenters and participants! for a student trying to soak in everything about this industry, i was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of these industry pros. a truly incredible, talented and professional group of people – i hope to join you one day!

first csa box

i finally got my hands on my csa box from ward’s berry farm on thursday. i was so excited to pick up all the fresh produce, and the combination of goodies was awesome – arugula, beeets, garlic scapes, collard greens, dill, strawberries, and spring onions. i brought them home, and didn’t have any time to use my beautiful veggies. i finally saw my husband, who’d been working very long hours, and we spent as much of the weekend outside as possible.

i made a few different types of bread this weekend, my favorite utilizing some of the garlic scapes in my csa box.

i chopped up a few of the scapes and put them into a pompe à l’huile, a sweet olive oil bread. the recipe is from saveur, and came out really well – moist, sweet, doughy and delicious.

but today…i just wanted to cook. Continue reading