Greece has been on the top of my travel bucket list for years. Even the recent economic challenges only amplified my desire to go (what can I say, this Jewish girl loves a deal). So when my next Alive Tribe retreat was slated for Greece, I knew I had to take a few days on either end to explore the islands.
I had high hopes for hopping around the Greek Isles, but as my early research proved, unless you personally have very few economic problems and own a yacht, this is easier said than done. The ferry system is a rather decentralized beast and difficult to navigate. If you’re planning a shorter sojourn, you’re better off sticking to one of the many clusters of islands or just choosing one for a quick weekend escape. Being prone to FOMO, reading through the guide book did nothing to help me narrow down my options and only made me more depressed at the unlikelihood of my food career ever affording me a yacht.
After asking several of my fancy European friends and reading up on a few of the undiscovered spots in the Greek Isles, I decided to go to Spetses, one of the small islands in the Argosaronic Gulf. This cluster is in the Southern part of Greece and one of the main draws is that it’s close to Athens—just an hour or two on the high-speed hydrofoil ferries. Spetses is one of the historically wealthy islands, with old captain mansions lining the harbor and new floating mansions moored in the bay with easy access to the many good restaurants in town.
Especially when I’m traveling solo, as I was on this leg of my Greece vacation, I love places where I can walk. The best part of Spetses is that there are very few cars and most people get around by bike, scooter, or horse drawn carriage. I am infinitely happier when the sounds outside my window include the clop clop of pony hooves, so this small fact sealed the deal.
The island is definitely a bit on the sleepy side, compared to some of the more popular tourist destinations like Paros, Santorini, or Mykanos. But it was the perfect size for a weekend escape and just the right speed for me. The beaches are also not the most sought after because they are rocky and lack the white sand that grace so many covers of Travel and Leisure. The water though never disappoints. And even if I found myself for the first time in my life wishing I owned a pair of water moccasins, it wasn’t enough to stop me from spending multiple hours a day porpoising around the shore. Continue reading
Since becoming gluten-free, dessert out at restaurants has been a much less joyous affair—unless, of course, there’s a salted caramel ice cream sundae on the menu, and then I’m IN. But most of the time there are only one or two options. And since most restaurants follow a certain formula with their dessert menus, those options are usually ice cream, crème brulee, or panna cotta.
For years I was resistant to panna cotta as my default dessert choice. It wasn’t something I would have ever ordered before I was gluten-free, so why waste my sugar consumption on something that didn’t make me want to do Meg Ryan impressions at the table?
The root of my bias was that panna cotta resides in the flan family. And there’s just no more mediocre dessert than flan. But I’ve discovered through many a family-style forced consumption that panna cotta is a much more delicate beast. It’s creamier, lighter, and less egregiously wiggly jiggly on the plate, even though it’s made with the help of gelatin. It’s also silly easy to make.
Because of my resistance to being put in a (gluten-free cake) box, this was the first time I actively accepted panna cotta as a willful part of my life and attempted to make it. I went with a dairy-free version using velvety full-fat coconut milk. I was a little afraid of heating the milk to the point where it boiled over the pot and created the world’s most annoying mess on my stovetop, which, as you can guess, is something that I’ve cleaned on more than one occasion (usually at the hand of this dish). As a result, my coconut panna cotta recipe didn’t set to the point where I would have turned them out onto a plate. But I didn’t mind this. They tasted no less creamy and delicious when eaten as a pudding.
A few pointers for new coconut panna cotta makers: whisk the coconut milk thoroughly before adding the gelatin since it tends to separate in the can. Some people deal with this later on by running their mixture through a sieve before pouring it into ramekins, but as I mentioned here, I am way too lazy to this step. I used a bit less maple syrup than I found in other recipes and found that it had the perfect sweetness for me. If you have a highly honed sweet tooth, you might want to add more. Continue reading
There are few occasions where being a vegetarian is particularly depressing, and most of them involve social gatherings around a grill. I don’t know from experience of being one. But I have dealt with the annoyances of having to cook for one in less than ideal, carnivorous circumstances like the Fourth of July.
In college, the vegetarians always stood out at a tailgate like the one token bisexual male in a women’s studies seminar. They’d come bearing a package of partially thawed Boca burgers in their book bag and patiently hover by the grill with hungry eyes, waiting for a spot to open up that wasn’t completely contaminated with burger residue. These frozen veggie burgers are a sad affair in the best of circumstances – like, at 3am after all the pizza places are closed and you’re thanking the campus Gods that there is one last garden vegetable patty in your roommate’s fridge. But next to thick beef burgers causing flare ups on the fire because they’re dripping with authentic juicy goodness, no amount of char marks will make your meal feel less like cardboard.
Last year on the 4th we had one vegetarian and one pescatarian in our midst. The big patriotic dinner was held at Charlie’s in Rhode Island, and since it was before we were dating and our relationship only bore a few chia-sized seeds of infatuation, I didn’t even get sous chef status. I remember looking on with one part awe and one part horror as the boys attempted to cook 25 lobsters on a 4 burner stove. I’m pretty sure dinner officially happened on July 5th, since it was almost midnight when we finally sat down to eat.
My one vegetarian friend won’t be there this year, and the pescatarian has now transitioned into becoming a beefatarian, after trying a few bites of my pulled brisket and then segueing into ordering her own burgers at restaurants. Because of this, and thanks to the fact that I’ve been weaseling my way into the heart and kitchen of the man in charge, I’m lobbying for a traditional July 4th cookout, complete with dogs, corn cobs, and some patriotic potato salad. And since you never know when a vegetarian will accidentally walk into your backyard, I’ve been working on a much better alternative for the anemic Boca burger of BBQ’s past.
As you know, I’m all about finding mature twists on my childhood favorites. So you’d think by now, 6 years past my Jello-shot prime, that I’d have thought to put booze in popsicles.
But alas, it wasn’t until I came across this recipe for gluten-free margarita donuts that I started to imagine the possibilities of combining dessert and happy hour into one seamless magical sequence. And thus, Coconut Mojito Popsicles were born.
If I wasn’t old and lame, this is the type of thing I’d serve at a semi-adult pregame, to grease the wheels before tequila shots start getting poured. But since I can’t remember the last time I drank aggressively before a party that involved aggressive drinking, I think the most appropriate use for these boozy popsicles would be for a daytime affair – like, say, America’s birthday or any other summer Friday in July.
Because I’m old and lame and my liver has begun to turn on me, and not because I am actually that classy, I tried to upgrade these Mojitos with a few healthy twists. First, I used coconut milk, which though kind of fatty, does have a lot of great nutrients. Instead of the requisite brown sugar muddled at the bottom of a true Cuban mojito, I used raw honey to give the pops some sweetness. If you’re a sugar fiend and less concerned about your liver than I am, you might want to add more. These are the kind of pops that make your face pucker like a good quality Italian lemon gelato.
And then there’s the booze. If you’re in a more aggressive stage of the party that is life, I should probably make the disclaimer that these popsicles probably won’t make you drunk—unless you’re under 90 pounds or my dad, in which case, I would recommend only having one if you plan on driving home. Continue reading
Looking back on my years growing up in the kitchen, I have to give a lot of credit to these pan seared scallops as the turning point where I really started to experiment and assert my own tastes.
While my mom was the fish queen, she never really made shellfish. For all those New England summers on Martha’s Vineyard, I don’t think we ever baked clams, shucked oysters, or steamed lobsters at home. Crustaceans just weren’t really her bread and butter in the kitchen (even if the bread and butter came in the form of a mayo-heavy lobster roll).
But my dad and I were all about summer seafood, especially the fried clam rolls at the local fish shop. So it was probably sometime after I’d mastered my mother’s seared salmon and started branching out into foreign cooking territory that I noticed the fresh meaty sea scallops in the case and decided to have at em.
I’ve since perfected my pan sear on these bad boys more so than on any other protein. Here’s the trick: after removing the small muscle on the scallop (it looks almost like a Bandaid on the side, and peels off even more easily), pat the scallops dry with a kitchen towel, making sure not to smush or crush the meat. Get a large cast iron or non-stick skillet hot hot hot. Season the scallops with sea salt. Pour a thin layer of olive oil just to grease the pan and add a small pat of butter. This is key. You don’t have to use much, but the butter will help with the browning effect in the pan.
Once the skillet is smoking hot, carefully place the scallops in the pan clockwise. Resist all urges to touch them, perhaps even finding a purposeful distraction like switching your songza playlist from Cowgirl Kissoffs to a something more appropriate for your dinner guests. After about a minute, you should start to see a beautiful brown crust forming on the bottom. Now you can flip. It’s pretty hard to undercook fresh seafood, so don’t be afraid to only cook the scallops for 30 seconds or so on the second side. There’s nothing worse than a rubbery over-cooked scallop. I know, because I ate plenty of them during those early days of seafood experimentation.
Well folks, peanut butter banana smoothies aside, I’m officially home from Greece!
Thank you so much for putting up with my posting delinquency this week, and for your continued patience as I slowly endure my fall from grace, which included countless sunsets, donkeys and dips (both of the Greek yogurt and Aegean Sea variety).
Luckily, I had a house guest while I was away. So last night instead of walking into an apartment that smelled like one too many pairs of old Chucks with an empty fridge, I got to come home to a vase of fresh hydrangeas and a bowl of perfectly ripe avocados.
Needless to say, I ate pretty freaking well while away. And since it was Mediterranean fare, even eating my weight in tzatziki with a spoon at every meal didn’t leave me feeling overly bloated or like I wouldn’t fit into any of my non-tunic wardrobe upon arrival back in the States. That said, I think this is the longest I’ve ever gone without eating avocado, so the treats were very much appreciated.
I’ll give you a full recap of the trip, along with all my recommendations, in the form of an upcoming Hungry Girl Guide. But I will say that over the last 4 days, Charlie and I enjoyed some incredibly decadent breakfasts at our hotel. It wasn’t uncommon for them to include 5 different family-style options in addition to dessert.
This is a pretty far cry from how I operate at home before 9am, so as much as I loved diving head first into a plate of olive-oil soaked omelets or a bowl of Greek yogurt the size of my face, I’m pretty excited to get back into my morning routine of some sort of healthy smoothie that tastes just a little bit like dessert. Continue reading