Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pistachios, Kosher food, Squid & Pasta

So, not surprisingly, the food in Italy is amazing. Seriously. And the only things in Venice that are cheap are wine, cheese and meats. I recently got back from an amazing trip to Europe for a wedding. I flew into Venice, stayed there for 4 nights and then traveled to Croatia to meet up with folks for the wedding. In Italy they know the value of the following food-centric philosophies- use what you've got around, keep it fresh and honor tradition while still being creative. Here are a few things I really enjoyed:


I love grocery stores. I especially love going to grocery stores and markets in foreign countries. Not only is it typically a good way to save money, but it's also a great way to experience the place you are visiting a bit more like a "local." I met a really cool gal at my hostel and we traveled around together for a few days. One day, on our way out to the islands, we dropped by the produce market and picked up fresh strawberries, cherry tomatoes and cherries. We had already purchased some delicious wine from a nearby shop where the owner pours wine directly from a vat into a large water bottle. When we got to the island, we asked around for the local grocery store (much to the local's surprise) and picked up prosciutto, sopressata, salami, bread, butter, dark chocolate, olives and an array of cheeses. Needless to say, it was quite the feast and the food lasted us through our travels to Croatia the next day, where we had a train picnic. Here's a picture of that:

Squid Pasta

The picture isn't great, unfortunately, but this was pretty amazing stuff. It's pasta that is jet black from squid ink and has, of course, squid served along with the noodles. The dish absolutely turns your mouth/teeth black, but you can easily wash that down with some wine. Or a spritz con aperol! Speaking of spritzes--

Spritz con Aperol

This drink is another specialty of Venice. It is light, refreshing and delicious- clearly made to be sipped for hours before moving on to dinner or more serious beverages. The basic construction of a Spritz is soda/sparkling water, white wine and either Aperol or Campari. It can be served over ice or neat but should definitely be chilled. I read somewhere that Campari is considered a bit more masculine because it's bitter, but I think it might just be a matter of taste. Highly recommend this drink to cool you down on a hot day.

Seafood Pasta with Pistachios

It was a very fresh, basic but inventive pasta with mussels, clams, shrimp and then the surprise- pistachios! Yet another reason why it's always smart to order the house specialty.

Kosher Food in the Venetian Ghetto

The term "Ghetto" is Italian/Venetian and originates from Venice. Starting in the 16th century, Jews from all over Venice were forced to move to one part of the city which was essentially an island. There were gates on the bridges going out of the ghetto to other parts of Venice and at night the gates were locked. The only people who were allowed to pass were doctors and the police. Within a century the Jewish population in the ghetto grew to over 5,000 people. They had 5 synagogues, kosher markets, schools, etc. By the 1940s, there were only about 1,500 Jews left in the ghetto and during the Holocaust 247 people were rounded up and taken by the Nazi regime. Only 8 people came back. To think that they suffered a loss of a 6th of their community and have continued to live in Venice is amazing. You can read more here. While the Jewish community in Venice is fairly small today, there are still folks living and worshipping in the Ghetto, which brings me to the absolute best meal I had in Venice. Twice.

The Gam Gam Kosher Restaurant is the only kosher restaurant in all of Venice. It has a combination of mediterranean, typically venetian and traditionally Jewish fare. The best thing to get, which I had both times I visited, is the Antipasto combination for 9.80 Euros a person. They basically bring around an array of amazing, fresh dishes with pita bread and you feast. I also had some really good Matzah Ball Soup. The staff is lovely and one night there was a group of very friendly men from the local Synagogue celebrating a birthday. There are pitchers in the bathroom sinks for ritual hand washing and somehow the restaurant just feels like a home. Here's a picture of a gorgeous sunset I took in while sitting, eating, drinking wine and making new friends that night:

Denim Jumpsuits, Exploding Bows and a Plumage Vest.

So, as any good southern lady should, I do enjoy J.Crew. They've got some classically pretty items, good colors and patterns, and the clothes tend to be pretty well made. I'm a pretty shrewd J.Crew sale shopper and on any given day, I'm typically wearing at least one J.Crew item. Today I've got on the Jackie Sweater- a favorite of Michelle Obama!

That said, sometimes J.Crew has some absolutely bizarre stuff that they try to sell. While I am absolutely in favor of creativity in fashion, in what world would someone spend just shy of $300 for a denim jumpsuit (not to worry, it's on sale for $169.99!)?

Sometimes, J.Crew just seems to have a good sense of humor when it comes to naming clothes. This shirt - which is actually pretty cute- is named the " Prabal Gurung at J.Crew Exploding Bow blouse". That's right - Exploding Bow.

Exploding bow, indeed! That will set you back a cool $225.

Out of all of the crazy attire they're shilling on the "J.Crew Collection" right now, the nuttiest by far I think must be the Plumage Vest. It's on sale -- for $479.99. And ugly as sin.

I guarantee that there is some Cajun man deep in the heart of the South Louisiana bayou celebrating the day when J.Crew approached him about using Nutria pelts for high fashion.

**For all of you who have never heard of Nutria, they are an invasive species of swamp rat that Louisiana has been trying to eradicate for decades. Picture below!**

I like to imagine my sweet grandmother's face if she saw me stroll into her house wearing, perhaps, that jumpsuit with the plumage vest over it. Most likely she'd say "Well, I do declare!" Probably followed by "Bless her heart, she always was a tomboy."

Well, I do declare!

This is one of my favorite sayings- it comes from my sweet grandmother Dee Dee. She says it when things are surprising, shocking, exciting, etc. Usually she's lounging on her front porch, sipping coffee (or a toddy), having a ciggarette and visiting with folks. I've decided I should start documenting moments when the only thing to be said is really, "Well, I do declare!"