Let me start this post with an UPSIDE DOWN smile :( Okay now that I have that out of my system, lets focus on the title of this post: I Bought The $10 Mast Brothers Chocolate Bar, So Why Am I Not in Chocolate Heaven. What the hell is that suppose to mean right? Well, this is what it means. I sooooo badly wanted to LOVE, I mean butterflies in my belly, love this Chocolate Bar. Why why chocolate fairy did you still my joy!
Let me start at the beginning. I was in the big NYC for a little work and a whole lot of Loving (wishful thinking I know) a few weeks ago. I started off the visit by seeing my friend Dan, who has an office just around the corner from the newish Ace Hotel in Manhattan. Yeah, that cool hip salvation army looking hotel chain. The one out of Portland Oregon. It’s an awesome place and they even have a Portland styled espresso bar just off the main lobby of the Hotel. Since we were so close, we decided to make the Ace our morning espresso destination. Wow, it did not disappoint. The entire lobby is a wifi free hang out zone, featuring a completely black 40 foot ceiling with massive roman style white columns holding up the place.
I think I must have passed out. When I woke, there was a large chunk of this dry bitter bar still stuck to my tongue.
We headed into the espresso bar and order up a few soy cappuccinos. As I am paying for our brews, what quirky little thing catches my eye on the counter? The one and only Mast Brothers Chocolate Bars. I couldn’t believe it. I just wrote a post on the Mast Brothers a week or so before heading to NYC. The post included a few amazing videos about the two brothers and their dedication to the old world craft of chocolate making. Their Brooklyn based store in the videos looked like a mini chocolate heaven to me. So, seeing these Willy Wonka type bars right there, on the counter was just too much to resist, I grabbed one and told the barista, add this to my bill. First words out of his mouth were, are you sure, they are $10. The number echoed in my head. $10 Doooollllaaarrrssssss. Time seemed to stop. Everything was in slow motion. I could hear the hiss of the steam escaping the espresso machines, the slurping sound from all the hipsters sucking down their espressos and my own breath rushing out of my lungs… and then these words leaving my lips, of course, no problem, let me have it. And oh did he! $20 or so dollars later Dan and I strolled out with two espresso’s and my new shiny heaven in a bar of Mast Brothers Espresso Dark Chocolate.
The tale of how Bad Ass Aria, never takes no for an answer, when it comes to reaching a Roma Lover. Well let me back up, let me start by saying, I got my train to Roma. Finally. It was quite an ordeal to get here. On the train that is. I have been challenged with an insane transition back into the real world from my peaceful countryside retreat in Noci. Away from food, wine, espresso, drama, computers, phones, language barriers, crowds of people, obstacles….Ahhhhhhhhh….
So…this is what happened…
The train station is in Bari, about an hour away from Noci. The van dropped me off, with 40 minutes to purchase my ticket, get some water, relax and slowly meander onto the train. I went to the self-serve computer to purchase my ticket but was having trouble. Hmmmmm, what was the problem…. well…the problem was the train seemed to be… sold out. Huh? SOLD OUT?? WTF?
My anxiety immediately started to build. I didn’t even think to buy my ticket in blissed out Noci.! Huh. Okay, pull yaself together. Talk to the authorities. So, I stood in the long ass line to talk to the Italian ticket guy. My turn comes, 25 minutes later. ‘I gotta get on that train. To Roma now.’ I demand. Not only does this guy not speak any English, he didn’t seem to give a shit and he just kept shaking his head, NO.
Well, mister grumpy Italia, I am not gonna take NO for an answer. My lack of speaking this beautiful language will not stop me either from convincing whom ever I need to convince that I gotta get on that f-ing train!!!
My cooking school has ended and now I have a few free days before I go back to Roma to meet my sister who will be joining me for the last two weeks of my Italian journey. Hmmmmmmm…what do I wanna do after a decadent week of abundant food and wine and socializing and lack of sleep…how about a silent retreat and f-ing cleanse! Ha.
I was looking on line at a bunch of different towns and hotels and then, after many searches, I found it: Abate Masseria Resort in the town of Noci. This place sung to me through the computer. I asked Silvestro what he thought about Noci (which means Walnut in Italian) and he said, “Noci? Why would you want to go there? It’s a farm town in the countryside and there is nothing to do.” Perfecto. That’s exactly what I want. Nowhere to be, nothing to see, no one around, no espresso, no wine, not a lot of food, just the sound of birds singing, wind blowing, farmers working, ahhhhhhh… bliss. So I took the train from Lecce north to a town called Bari, got into a cab and drove 45 minutes into the mountains, arriving at Abate Masseria Resort in peaceful Noci.
Lets be honest, I am not gonna be eating shellfish when I get back home and if I wasn’t here in Lecce I would not be eating all these ‘shit’ eaters at all. Well…that is what they are! And, as you know, while I AM here, I say… f-it! But I gotta admit, it’s been a wee bit challenging for me. But, I’m doing the best I can with embracing the all the many crustacean meals we are making. And we do seem to be making a lot of them. I mean, we are along the Adriatic Sea and all, where the water is clear and blue and beautiful. It surely looks clean but as we all know, looks can be deceiving so while I am here, it’s better not ta ask or investigate if the Sea is, in fact, clean so….F-it!
Today was an easy peassy fish soup that surprisingly didn’t taste too fishy or was too stinky. Which is kinda surprising cause it’s clams, shrimp, mussels, scampi and cod fish in a pot with white wine, tomatoes, garlic, sea salt, red pepper flakes, fresh chopped parsley, basil and mint. It’s very quick to make. The soup takes, at most, about 8 minutes from start to finish. Thank god for the bread today cause I basically dipped it in the soupy part, avoiding the ‘shit’ eaters as much as I could…
Yes, friends, this is almost it. The Awaiting Table is coming to an end. It’s been so lovely but, I gotta tell ya, I am f-ing filled to the brim with food and wine. I need to stop f-ing eating and drinking! Ahhhhh… 1 dinner and 1 lunch to go…I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…okay…twist my arm…. :)
The temperature keeps rising here so we wanted to create the least amount of heat in the kitchen while making dinner. That was the plan anyway. But as you know, plans don’t always go as planned. Somehow I volunteered to make the eggplant over the hot stove. The dish shoulda been called eggplant with essence of Aria from all the sweat I dripped making them. And right next to me, Ted was sweating a big pan of yellow bell peppers and next to him Giuseppe was sautéing a pot of string beans…I mean…come on guys! This was probably the MOST heat we made in the kitchen!
The only thing that wasn’t creating any heat was a classic Leccese dish. It’s basically a bread salad with fresh vegetables. The difference is that they use a local dense hard bread to do it called, Frise Integrali. It’s cooked like a biscotti so it’s very hard and the only way they eat it is by soaking it in water to rehydrate it and then eat/use in recipes when soft. Am I the only one who finds that strange? I mean, why not just keep it soft in the first place? Well, I asked of course, and Silverstro informed me that this particular type of bread has been around for years and originally was eaten by field workers and those who travelled long distances because it doesn’t spoil. So they would pack the hard bread in their bag and when they got hungry travelling along the countryside, or working in the fields, they would forage some wild onions and tomatoes, what ever they could find and soak the hard bread in the fresh stream until soft and managia (that’s eat in Italian)! Well, I’ve tried it both ways and personally, I like it better crunchy. But then again, I’m American, so what do I know… :)
If my life in Italy wasn’t envious enough for you… and me for that matter …I’m gonna break down my days here in Lecce. Around 10am we all meet at the café for our morning espresso drink of our individual choosing. I first started out with an Americano but since it is so freaking hot here I have moved onto the iced espresso with the almond milk I talked about in my previous post. Oh and since I am being so honest with you all, I must admit, my one shot of espresso has moved onto two! It’s a pretty molto bene way to start the day, I gotta say.
So, after we all slowly enjoy each other’s company mixed with the gentle kick from the caffeine, we walk down the road to the famers market and buy all of our fresh produce and ingredients for lunch and dinner. After shopping we walk back to school in the hot summer sun and start our prep to cook lunch. Also, if we are making pasta, we will make 2 different shapes and we’ll enjoy one shape for lunch and the other for dinner.
This is the first time in a long time I have enjoyed eating pasta. It’s fresh and dense and chewy and light and hearty all the same time so less is more, which means you don’t need to eat a mound of it to feel nourished and get satisfied. And since it’s a blend of unprocessed whole grain barley and semolina flours, it gives it tons of fiber, which makes for lovely regularity for this traveler. Sorry…I’m just saying…
Ummmm…before I mention what we prepared, I just want to give a shout out to a very special particular G Monkie who informed me that I am the first and only one blogging on this site who is writing about non-vegan dishes. Thank you for allowing me to share my non-vegan ways!
Well, I am here. In Lecce. The most quaint, glorious, Italian town I have ever experienced. Yes, I know this is the first time I have ever been to this country but I am still gonna stand by a statement like that. Lecce is everything I ever fanaticized an Italian town, along the coast would be. The friendly locals, the simple and rustic cuisine, the landscape, the vino and the…the…the (forbidden) ESPRESSO! Yep, my friends you read that right, I said it. I am proudly drinking it. It’s some good shit. I must say. I have missed you my espresso!
The espresso over here is totally different than in the states. Even the imported stuff doesn’t compare. I was talking to a local today about that and she says it has to do with the water here, which is loaded minerals and especially has lots of Iron. She says it balances the acidity in the espresso. And boy oh boy does it ever. Yum. Smooth, bitter, perfectly astringent and most importantly, it hasn’t given me the crazy cracked out feeling that I often get when I drink the stuff back home. This espresso just a nice little kick. A warm Italian embrace to get your day started out right. And while I am here in Lecce, or in Italy for that matter, I do believe I am gonna get into it. Well…I guess I already have.
So, this is what happened. I am in Roma right now and, being that I am a foodie, I was taken to a hidden Italian slow food restaurant last night for a 9:30pm dinner. Which meant that we didn’t really eat until 10:30pm, much much later than I normally eat. But I was fine with it. I mean shit. I am in Roma for f-sake!
We started with a salted cod capriccio with black truffles and red onion dressed with lemon and amazing olive oil. Then we went on to have fried zucchini flowers and olives, then we split an order of anchovy, raisin, pine nut homemade tagliatelle pasta and then I ordered an onion flan and he had the rabbit.
Oh yes and washed it all down with a lovely crisp bottle of white wine. Oh and I forgot to mention the traditional Italian aperitivo we started off the evening with, at a bar overlooking the coliseum no less. I forgot what the aperitivio was called but it was a mix of campari, sweet vermouth and sparkling white wine. Bitter and very very strong. Definitely woke my jet-lagged ass right up! Anyway we ate and drank and all was delish and merry. Oh and very salty. A bit too salty but f-it I am in Roma remember.
What is my point at painting the picture of my eating and drinking…well first it’s fun and if you are anything like me I like to have a visual…but my main point is…I went to bed with a full belly and a warm fuzzy wine haze. Which, not only affected my not so sound sleep but I woke up feeling not rested and very salty. Puffy to be exact.
It’s my last night here in Roma before I take to the train. Time just seems to go by smoothly here. There is a flow that has effortlessly slipped into my Roma life. Well, in my life in general but I am here now so…
Tomorrow, I am off to the town of Lecce, to attend, hopefully an amazing week long authentic Italian cooking school. Which happens to be in the Region of Puglia, right along the Adriatic Sea. Damn. I can’t believe this is my life. I have always been envious of those brave people taking trips like this, alone. And then, boom, here I am, doing it. Wow, how quickly your life can change if you choose to change it. Magic starts to sprinkle in and you suddenly find yourself in Italy. In ROMA!
This is also my first night without plans and I am hungry. A familiar loneliness crept in to my mind but thankfully quickly left. Aria, I said to myself, you are in Roma, get over yourself. No time to get depressed. No need to wallow. Get your ass up and out and explore the streets. Stumble upon a cute little café for dinner and embrace life. This moment. As is it is. Cause, remember the last post? I am here now. And it is perfect. And if it wasn’t, well, then, it would be different, right?
So I go walking, feeling the gentle warm breeze guiding me along the cobblestone street and the fresh Roman blisters on the bottom of my feet growing with each stride. It’s already 8:30pm and I seem to be falling right into the late dinner schedule here perfectly too. What do I want…hmmmm…a nice big crisp salad. Greens. Dark. Bitter greens. Simply, that is all I want.
Looking to spend a few winter weeks in the Swiss Alps skiing, eating, hot tubing and oh yeah, living underground? Fantastic, I just found the place for you. An ultra modern designers military bunker wet dream of a villa which sleeps 10 hmm un-comfortably. Yes, the Villa Vals has opened up their hill for you by designing a very eco-earthen dwelling, with all kidding aside, isn’t to bad. I love the circle entrance, but it’s just the concrete cold hard interiors which are throw me.
The location couldn’t be more stunning, why design something with such hard interiors? Couldn’t the designers some how bring in the coziness of nature or at least make it feel open and spacious? Some of these photos remind me of a hip MTV style Juvi Center. I am just saying. Would you fork over $4000 a week to live a Swiss underground bunker? Is it just me?
Maybe in person it has that seemingly missing homy feeling and for some reason the photos just can’t represent it accurately. If any of you flesh monkies out there in “G” land end up doing time here, please share your thoughts and experiences. Oh and photos if you got them. Also, let us know if you spent some time in the Third Reich, which might explain your preference for this underground kind of thing.
One of my favorite “G”-friendly neighborhoods in New York City is the lower east side, LES. Whenever I get the chance, I stroll through the gritty, cobblestone streets, peruse the quaint shops and get some tasty treats. ..that like totally rhymed.
Here is my vegan tour of the LES – I’ll let you in on a few of my favorite vegan-friendly spots . Where to eat, where to drink and where to meet the cutest shop-kitties around..
There’s a lot to discover on the vegan-friendly lower east side. Vegan cupcakes, music, fashion, drinks, and even adorable kitties in vegan shoe boxes (more on this in #2!)..
My Hood. It’s true what they say about NYC. When you live here, you tend to stick to your own hood. Months will pass where I won’t visit the upper west or east sides. Or Tribeca. Or sadly, even Central Park! But that is why it is pretty much essential to force yourself to get out of your own neighborhood and visit some fave spots.
And if you are an NYC tourist – well you definitely have an excuse to spread out and see all this town has to offer. Including the LES.
For a few years I lived right in the heart of the lower east side neighborhood. So I was spoiled: Babycakes at least once a week, soy chai from Teany, MooShoes perusing whenever I pleased. And of course now that we moved to a new neighborhood, I miss having easy access to those spots. So next time you are in NYC I hope you will check out my lower east side faves and think of me.
Neil Harrison and I have started a 3 year project to document the sociology, topography, and recent history of the USA. We will hit every state as we travel in a diesel converted LandCruiser with a tent system built into the roof rack. We have started a website (futureroadmaps.tumblr.com) and twitter account in the event that anyone is interested in following the project. The eventual goal is a coffee table book and accompanying exhibits that make up our contemporary survey of American life. We are on the first week of trip 1.
The Earthship is by far the most genius piece of architecture we have ever seen
Now i’m pleased to introduce you to the Earthship. This pictured is one of the earliest Earthships designed. We stayed here for 3 days. It sits in a very tough environment and is now getting a bit of an overhaul on the outside adobe on account of 15 years of neglect. Pretty impressive that a few cracks are all it has sustained. A regular house would have collapsed at 8000 feet with snowy winters and heat wave summers. Every thing in it is built from old tires and mud, the roof is a rain water catch, and the water is held in the large drum and then used for the dishes and toilet. It is as off of the grid as you can get, solar, gray water etc. In the below and above shots from Neil’s digi you can see the tires under the adobe styling.