Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Travel Destination: Cinque Terre, Italy

Along the northwestern coast of Italy is five small villages that make up Cinque Terre. These five villages - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare - are connected by a walking trail, known as Sentiero Azzurro, and are easily accessible by train as well. The distance from one town to the next varies with the toughest legs from Vernazza to Monterosso and Corniglia to Vernazza. The entire hike can be done in less than 6 hours in one day, if desired. Because it was scorching hot when I went, I took it easy and did the entire hike in three days.  This gave me time to explore each town. When I was there, the trail was closed off between Manarola and Corniglia, making the hike shorter and easier.

The rolling terrain of this region is a visual feast but can make the hike a bit of a challenge. I found it be relatively easy overall and in fact, I ended up walking the trail in flip flops and sundresses. Although the heat was a bit straining at times, I was purely focused on my surroundings. Not only is the Mediterranean constantly in your purview, the region boasts plenty of local wine and olive producers. The small towns are little treasures themselves, each with its own character.

I am most familiar with Riomaggiore as it was my base. The town was not the quietest out of all the towns but offered plenty of restaurants and markets. I always ended my day here with a swim at the beach, even if it was a little bit too crowded at times. Manarola and Corniglia were smaller towns. At the top of Manarola sits the Church of San Lorenzo and the town's bell tower. I thought Corniglia was the most charming despite the lack of restaurants and shops. The roads in this quant little town were narrow and windy. In order to swim in Corniglia, the descent down to the cove from the town was quite steep. Vernazza was impressive for its natural harbor and sleepy feel. Monterosso was the most touristic out of all the towns on account of its large sandy beaches and crystalline waters.

Cinque Terre was breathtaking.  I intended to stay there for 3 days/2 nights but ended up staying 5 days/4 nights!  I felt relaxed the entire time.  Every day my routine was similar.   I woke up around 8 am to have a light breakfast, then went for a short hike, went to lunch, took a nap on the beach, went for a swim after my stomach had settled and then had a seafood dinner.  Honestly, wish I could live like that for the rest of my life.

Monterosso al Mare
The beautiful sunset.
Fried squid, anchovies and french fries.

The Two-Buck Chuck Wine

I love going to Trader Joe's to pick up cheap groceries.  However, I love going to their wine shop even more!

Typically, I pick up $10-15 bottles when I want some wine at home.  The other day my friend convinced me to pick up a $2.99 bottle from the Charles Shaw brand, which is exclusively sold at Trader Joe's.  The wine is so cheap - cheaper than a NY one-way subway pass in some states - that it's been nicknamed the 'Two-Buck Chuck.'  Just a few days ago, it was reported that Trader Joe's raised the price of a bottle in California from $1.99 to $2.49 due to a bad crop season.  So horrible yeah?

Anyway, I bought a bottle of the Merlot with zero expectations.  Perhaps my expectations were too low, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't completely offensive to my taste buds.   Still, wouldn't buy it again because it was too acidic and couldn't even finish the one glass I poured for myself.  Then I went back to pick up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to give the wines another shot.  The Cabernet Sauvignon is better than Merlot because it's softer and fruitier.  The Chardonny, on the other hand, was undrinkable.  It's the equivalent of Pabst Blue Ribbon to me.  Not to waste the Chardonnay, I mixed it with the Cab!  The Cab could not mask the taste of the Chardonnay.

Since I only drink wine maybe once or twice a week, I don't think I'd buy the 'Two-Buck Chucks' again, even though I'm living off of a "fashion" salary.  I believe if you feel like treating yourself, treat yourself to something you like.  It's similar to craving ice cream but going for the low-sugar, low-calorie, nonfat version.  For those who drink wine on a daily basis, it makes sense.  For $2.99 in NYC, cannot say it's not a steal.

Elie Saab Love: Backstage and Front Row Images from the Couture Show

My favorite images from the designer's Spring/Summer 2013 Haute Couture Show.  Ah his dresses are like a dream.

Photo: Elie Saab

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Traveling Solo

Enjoying a crepe on Rue St. Honore in Paris.

I loved traveling alone.  Below are a few reasons why you should do it yourself.
  1. You have the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want.  We constantly have to accomodate someone - a boss, a friend, family member, or even a pet - for most of our lives.  When do you ever get to set your schedule for more than one day?  I pretty much went to a museum every other day in Europe, not a lot of people have the patience or interest to do that.  
  2. You learn to think on your own.  Unless you have a tour guide with you at all times, no one is there to hold your hand to tell you what to do or how to get somewhere.
  3. You take more initiative to talk to random strangers because you get tired of being alone.  At the same time, you'll also get to decide when you want "me" time.
  4. In connection to number 3, you learn about other people.  As you do this, you will start to realize that no matter how different someone's background is, you can find common ground with them.
  5. You will gain new interests.  You will most likely see, hear or taste something you've never done or had before.
  6. Booking last minute travel plans is so much easier to do.  A ticket for "one" should rarely be a problem.
  7. You will humble yourself constantly when you have to ask for help, which is perfectly acceptable.  A lot of people are pretty helpful and more than happy to help.  No one has ever declined to help me.
  8. You set your own budget.  For example, if you want to stay at a 5-star hotel or a hostel, that's your own decision.
  9. You will have so much fun despite what happens and have plenty of stories to tell your friends.
  10. Since traveling solo can be challenging at times, you will feel you can accomplish anything, and do it all over again!
Even though I have enumerated all the reasons why one should have the courage to travel solo, please always do research before you go to a country, especially if you are a woman.

Sissy's (Dallas)

Whenever I go back home (Dallas), I always like to try at least one new restaurant. Since I don't keep up with the restaurant scene in Dallas, my cousin usually picks the spot - her choices never disappoint. About 80% of the time, I want Southern cooking. This time we went to Sissy's Southern Kitchen located on Henderson.  The space is charming, not too pretentious for Dallas, service was on point (I never get bad service in the South!), and food was satisfying.  If it's any indication how popular this place is, it was packed on a cold and rainy Monday night.  Reservations in advance are recommended.

We started off with the deviled eggs - easily one of my favorite appetizers.  Sissy's version was a nice twist because it was topped with caviar...

The most popular dish on the menu - the fried chicken.  I am pretty picky about my chicken, and this passed the test.  Crispy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside.  Perfect!!

Better than sex chocolate cake...that's the name of the dessert, not my words!  It was delicious and addicting anyhow.  

Song of the Day

Support the artist by buying this song on Amazon here.

On My Travel Bucketlist

Place: Taktshang Monastery, Bhutan
(Photo:  Douglas J. McLaughlin)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Film Recommendation: Helvetica

A movie on a font?

I spent a week watching a handful of documentaries on design because I was feeling uninspired.  I stumbled on one that I'm surprised I ended up liking - a film about the typeface Helvetica.  Yes, really!  Helvetica goes through the history of the font, the personality it evokes and explains its ubiquity (it really is everywhere).  Here's a quote from the film if you're not sold by the trailer yet.
You can say, "I love you," in Helvetica.  And you can say it with Helvetica Extra Light if you want to be really fancy.  Or you can say it with the Extra Bold if its really intensive and passionate, you know, and it might work." - Massimo Vignelli
Oh yes, Valentine's Day is coming up.  Remember to use Helvetica Extra Bold to say "I love you."  Your lover will know you really mean it.

Rent or buy this documentary from Amazon here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

11th Street Cafe (Manhattan)

Europe and Vietnam taught me how to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee.  For 28 years, I drank my caffeine on the go or at my desk in the office.  Now when I want to relax, I want to sip a cup at a cafe.  But finding a good coffeeshop to do work at in Manhattan proved a lot more difficult than I thought because I had Starbucksanitus - someone who is addicted to Starbucks - before.  Today I found a great place called 11th Street Cafe on 11th and Greenwich.  The space is small, but the vanilla tea latte and spice tea latte are amazing.  11th Street has an extensive food menu as well.  I had a taste of my friend's curry soup - totally delicious.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My First Attempt at a Peach Pie From Scratch

I hosted a Southern themed dinner party for a small group of friends awhile back.  I opted to make a peach pie from scratch using this recipe by Joy the Baker instead of buying a pie. The recipe was surprisingly simple to follow, and I am an amateur at best in the kitchen... The crust for this pie was amazingly crispy and loaded with butter.  Since it is freezing in NY right now, I think I'll make this pie again this weekend. 
Please note that I have re-written the recipe in my own words and have used my own pictures.

Peach Pie (makes 1 nine-inch pie)
For the Crust:
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (cold and cut into cubes)
5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ice cold water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

For the Filling:
about 12 ripe peaches
1/2 to 2/3 cups granulated sugar (depending on how sweet you want your pie to be)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
scant 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, for topping crust before baking

We will start with the crust... Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together. Using your fingers, mix in the cold (cubed) butter until the butter breaks down. In a separate bowl, mix together the vinegar and the water. Creating a well in the center of your flour mixture, pour the vinegar/water in the center. Moisten the flour mixture using a fork as best you can. On a slightly floured surface, divide the dough in two and create disks of equal size. In a plastic wrap, cover each disk and refrigerate for an hour.

I didn't use blueberries as Joy did because I love peaches. Now onto the filling... Slice each peach into 8 or 12 parts each. Just a personal preference, but I don't like my peach slices to be too thick.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, spices, flour and cornstarch. Pour the sugar mixture all over the fruit and gently toss. I love when each piece of fruit in my pie is oozing with sweetness so I try to make sure each slice is covered with the sugar mixture. Next stir in the lemon juice. Refrigerate the bowl of fruit.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Joy recommends placing a rack in the center and covering the bottom rack with a baking sheet. This should prevent any pie drippings from messing up your oven.

Remove one of the dough disks from the refrigerator. On a slightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 13 inches round. Make sure the dough doesn't stick to the surface so gently remove from the surface as appropriate. Roll the dough until it starts springing, which means the butter has warmed up enough. If the dough starts to tear, you can always cover them up with extra dough. I constantly tore my dough...

Once you've rolled out your dough enough, place the disk in a nine-inch pan. Place in the refrigerator. Remove the other dough disk to create the top crust. Repeat the process from above. When you are finishing rolling, remove both the pie and fruit filling from the refrigerator. Pour the fruit into the pie dish. Now you can gently remove the top crust from your floured surface and drape over the pie dish. There will be excess pie crust hanging so you will need trim it to leave about 3/4 inch. I used scissors for this step. Using your fingers (some people use a fork), crimp the edges. You will need to create vents for the juices and steam to come out next. You can do so by cutting 5-6 slits into the pie with a small knife. Now use the beaten egg and glaze the pie. Cover the pie with the cinnamon sugar mixture. I probably used more than was instructed!!!

Now you are ready to put your pie in the oven... At 400 degrees, bake your pie for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 45 minutes or until the pie crust turns golden and the juices are bubbling! Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool down for at least 2 hours before you serve it. I let my pie cool down on the stove overnight...

I started making my pie at 10 pm and didn't get to eat it until dinner the following evening. I had to reheat the pie after 20 hours so am not sure if it would have tasted better if I ate it within 6 hours. Considering this was my first pie, I was a little nervous about how it would turn out... To my surprise, the pie was a hit with everyone! I highly recommend using this recipe. This pie is even better a la mode using vanilla bean ice cream - perfect for a hot summer day!  And a cold winter's night if you prefer.