Iceland

2015 was quite a different year for me: new city, new job, a serious relationship, no big travel, bought a house… pretty monumental in some ways, but totally not me in others. Now that spending on the house has settled down and I have more time for myself, I’m on a mission to make the things I love a priority again – read: travel more!

A good friend of mine with whom I’ve traveled quite a bit suggested a last minute trip to Iceland, which has been on my list for a while, so I said yes! We gathered one more friend to join us and with only a month’s notice we were off for a long weekend.

Iceland was a cool place and yet a little different than I expected. We did a lot of driving: checking out sites, making our way to an ice cave tour, wishing and hoping to see some northern lights… And while the time in the car was a little more than we’d anticipated, the landscape is breathtaking and truly other-worldly. More than once we commented that we felt like we were on Mars with snow, or that we were in some magical other land. It’s easy to see how there is a strong belief in elves and magical figures, with the vast openness and desolation, snow dancing over the road in the wind, and mountains that come straight out of the earth without warning. I’ve tried to capture these feelings in photos, but as usual, sometimes a photo just doesn’t get it. There are some videos though at the bottom, that capture quite a bit in mere seconds.

The only thing that was really lacking in my mind was more of a sense of Icelandic culture. EVERYONE speaks English, there are droves of American and British tourists, and while it does feel more like Europe than America does, it wasn’t all that different. Still hipsters with cool coffee shops and modern stores with rose gold household accouterments, but I suppose that’s the where the world is headed… With internet, social media, blogs, etc. everyone, no matter where they are in the world, has the same access to trends and ideas that spread like wildfire across countries far and wide.
All in all, I’d recommended it. I’d love to go back in the Summer, because seeing the country without snow, partaking in summer outdoor activities, and seeing endless daylight would be in stark contrast with the Iceland I experienced.

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Valentine’s Day Video: A Simple Steak Dinner

Oh Valentine’s Day – what a funny holiday… I’ve never been a huge fan, but being the lover of a good celebration, I do think it is kind of fun to make or do something special whether or not a special someone is involved. Last year I made these for my girlfriends and two years ago I made this for dinner. This year, for the first time in quite some time, I will be having dinner with my boyfriend, enjoying a night at home, and prepping for a vacation – all the things that I love most: great company, good food, frequent travel.

During my trip to Europe last summer, I had a healthy amount of time with friends and family, but still toured around a lot of the time by myself and had to good fortune to rent an entire apartment in Brussels for a weekend. I took full advantage of having a nice terrace and even a full kitchen as I cooked an impressively simple steak dinner one night. A single piece of filet mignon called my name in the grocery store and I swear I was out the door for under 10 euros with that, a few potatoes, green beans and a bottle of wine in my bag. After a little research, I decided to cook the steak with some red onion, finish it in the oven and reduce some of the wine down for sauce. So so so good.

It may seem that it’s a bit weird to be posting my ‘steak for one video’ for Valentine’s Day, but I think it’s good to remember on this funny little holiday that even if there is no special someone, there can still be pleasure found in doing things alone or treating yourself to something nice. Not to mention that while the video does showcase a meal for one, it is easily adapted for two and would make the perfect simple weeknight Valentines Day meal to show your someone you care.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/59129251 w=700&h=500]

Steak recipe inspiration here ,tips:

  • I used red onions instead of mushrooms, both would be great.
  • My piece of steak was thinner than in the recipe, so it would have actually been cooked after a sear on both sides, gauge if your piece is thick enough to warrant a trip to the oven.
  • I don’t generally have demi glace with me on vacation, so I just used red wine to deglaze the pan and reduced it thicken, use a good amount, not just a splash like in the video
  • Finishing with butter is always the right thing to do.

Potatoes: place in cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender. Mash into a chunky mixture with cream, butter, salt and pepper.

Beans: boil until tender, finish with garlic, butter and salt in a saute pan.

Europe 2012: The Video

Well, let me tell you, making a video for a two-week trip is quite a task… But I was determined to continue to develop this new-found hobby and have spliced together some of the best moments (ie. the moments I remembered to capture as moving pictures) of the trip. As we are our own worst critics, I always feel like there’s room for improvement, editing choices that could always fit a little bit better, but it is amazing how a quick little video does bring an entire vacation to life.

My father has said he’d like to see more of me in the video; however, I’m holding to the claim that it is hard to video oneself (on a train, walking in a strange city, drinking Belgian beers) while traveling without a tripod. So for now, please enjoy the lovely sites (my favorites are from the air) and wait patiently in anticipation of my next travel video, where I may or may not be making an appearance…

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/52669746 w=700&h=500]

song: RJD2 – Ghostwriter

Apfelkuchen a.k.a. Apple Cake

At this point it should come as no surprise that I ended my European holiday in Stuttgart. After my au pair year, I have friends to catch up with, old haunts to visit and nostalgic food to gorge on. It was a great end to the trip and felt so much like home that I felt like I could have stayed forever. I actually felt that way on my entire trip seeing as that I was staying in apartments and visiting with friends, pretty much some of the same things I do at home – except with more leisure time and better beer.

When I lived in Germany, my closest friends were a group of British expats, as I was determined to steer clear of other Americans, yet couldn’t speak German to befriend native folks. We spent the year going to fests, trying to find spicy curries, taking trips here and there and in general living it up. Since then, the group has dissipated a bit and has returned to their home countries, yet a few have stayed including my good friend Nicola and her husband Joe. They so graciously put me up in their new house for my time in Germany and it was just lovely. Nicola took some time away from work and we spent a day making jewelry and baking a cake (the jewelry being her hobby and the cooking mine). I spied apple trees in the field across from their house and insisted that we trek out there so I could bake up something tasty. I found a supremely simple recipe online and we had a little afternoon tea and cake all displayed on her new tea set in its inaugural usage.

The cake was delicious! It was in the vein of my favorite types of cakes: not too sweet, no frosting and some fruit in there too. I loved the huge chunks of apples and the slightly tart bites that they brought to the cake. The simplicity of this cake is what also makes it amazing, I made the entire cake by hand and was done in what felt like a matter of minutes. This afternoon treat felt like the perfect combination of German and English tradition, bring the best of my au pair experience together.

my new favorite tea spoons from Zara Home

Apple Cake from epicurious

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 large apples
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in quarters and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature.

Europe 2012: J’aime Paris

Paris, how I love you… The very first place I ever went in Europe was Paris. My parents took my sister and I on a two-week European vacation back in 1994? 1996? No matter… We spent a week in Paris staying in an apartment on the Îls Saint-Louis, and a week in London. In Paris, it was amazing being able to walk to the bakery every morning for fresh croissants, get fresh gelato at one of the best shops and walk all over this amazing quintessential European city. I have since returned once, during my nanny year, and was just as thrilled with this place.

On this visit, I just wanted to live. My friend Kendra flew out and met me for a few days and we stayed in an apartment near the Notre Dame (touristy, but central) – we ate well and walked around soaking it all in. Her friend Judith came towards the end of my stay and together we treated ourselves to lunch at the restaurant of the Top Chef France 2012 winner. There was nothing super elaborate about this visit. No wild nights, no long lines for museums, but it was everything I wanted. When I told people I was going to Paris it was solely with the purpose of walking around and eating croissants & baguettes all day long, which is exactly what we did. Highlights included:

  • the view from top of the Arc de Triomphe
  • walking around Monmartre
  • croissants and coffee for breakfast
  • Le Grande Epicerie at Le Bon Marché
  • Laduree macaroons (especially the vanilla one)
  • lunch at l’ACAJOU (Top Chef winner Jean Imbert’s restaurant)
  • finally vising Shakespeare & Co.
  • learning that a savory crepe is called a galette
  • From previous visits: Musée Rodin and Musée d’Orsay

Europe 2012: Belgium

Every time I go back to Europe I try to do something or go someplace new. After living in Germany and traveling pretty well for a year, I’ve checked most major cities and sights off my list, but feel like it’s a waste to go all that way and not try to see something special and new each time I go.

When I was first planning this trip, I had grand visions of hopping down to Portugal’s beaches, or Frances west coast, but at the end of the day in the spirit of an easy relaxing vacation, I decided to keep all my distances just a train’s trip apart, which led me to Belgium. I had been to Antwerp for lunch on a road trip several years back just so I could say I’d been there, but I felt like the land of waffles, beer and chocolate could use another tour. I stayed in Brussels, in a fabulous Airbnb apartment, and spent one day touring that city and the next in Bruges. Bruges is an absolutely charming town one hour west of Brussels and is definitely worth a visit. Yes, it was very touristy, especially on a Saturday, but the canals and Dutch style buildings won me over.

All in all, I was definitely happy with my solo time in Belgium. I did love the waffles, tried a ton of new beers and relaxed the way I do best.

Highlights:

  • Musée Magritte, Brussels – get the audio tour, as most of the museum is in French or Flemish
  • Bruges – walk around, soak it in, have lunch
  • Lunch boutique, Bruges – cool, trendy lunch spot away from the main square
  • Spotting cartoon murals in Brussels
  • You must try the waffles, beer and chocolates – you can’t go wrong!

BRUSSELS

cartoon murals throughout Brussels

Manneken Pis – why he is famous and costumed this day, I don’t know

St. Gilles neighborhood where I stayed, away from the beaten path

sunset from my host’s kitchen

BRUGES

Europe 2012: London Calling

 

I studied in London spring quarter 2004 and hadn’t returned since. It was a round trip point for my entire trip and man, if felt good to be back. I had forgotten just how busy and crowded the city is, fully of vibrant energy and charm. It was a bit overwhelming in the really touristy areas, but I did manage good deal of chill time as well. The absolute best thing about my visit there was being able to stay with my cousin and his wife, whom I have not had the chance to spend that much time with before. They are absolutely lovely people, well-traveled and foodies to boot, so we got along just great. Brian and I went for a couple of bike rides along the canals in their neighborhood, which was definitely a highlight, and the other days I managed to wander around the city, familiar and new boroughs alike. Below is just a glimpse of the activities and sites that filled my time.

Highlights:

  • Bikeriding along canals inDalston/Hackney
  • Walking around Covent Garden all the way to South Kensington
  • Taking a double decker bus home
  • Walking around Hampstead Heath and Islington (Goldfinger house in Hampstead)
  • Slow motion flash mob at the Tate Modern
  • Borough Market

my initial in detail

display at the front of the Victoria & Albert Museum

family

clockwise from top left: The Pavilion Cafe in Vic Park, coffee at The Counter in Stour Space, Fish & Chips at the local gastro pub The Prince Arthur, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen

Tate Modern