My 30th Birthday Part 2: Tuscany, Italy

Welcome to the Italian villa of my dreams. While I will probably never be a rich, aristocratic billionaire, I can certainly live like one for a weekend! To be honest, renting a huge-ass villa wasn’t necessarily my birthday plan. I wanted to celebrate with some friends in Tuscany, and as the list of attendees grew to around 25 people, it was clear that we would need a BIG place to stay.I’d envisioned a sophisticated birthday weekend, sipping wine in the sun, gobbling up homemade spaghetti dinners at a big table with all of my friends, visiting vineyards, and playing charades around a roaring, warm fireplace at night. Tuscany was my ideal backdrop for the birthday antics, and after pursuing Booking.com (hello employee discount!) I managed to find the MOST DREAMY villa ever to host the birthday crew and our antics. Let me tell you about this villa . . . .  Continue reading

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My 30th Birthday Part 1: Bologna, Italy

Italy is hands down my favorite country in Europe. The landscape is so vast with hundreds of miles of rocky coastline, rolling hills and vineyards, tall mountains that broach the sea, and turquoise blue waters that lap the shores of pebbled islands. You have glorious Rome, with it’s dirty streets and brilliant pizza, Florence with endless artistic gems, Milan with elegant cathedrals and a knack for fashion. Everywhere you look there are glistening fountains, gelaterias, and elegantly-tall domed basilicas. If you escape to the countryside, you will find some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. And let’s not overlook the abundant olive and lemon trees – all hail the home of pesto! There’s Lake Como with it’s mermaid-worthy blue hues. There’s ancient villages such as Cinque Terra and Positano, carved into the cliffsides along the sea. And there are wonders of ancient architecture and engineering such as the ruins of Pompei and the Colosseum. There always seems to be a surplus of sunshine in Italy, which is perhaps why this country produces some of the sweetest tomatoes in the world. I did not truly believe tomatoes were a fruit until I tried them warm and sun-kissed off of the vine in Italy. And I guess that leads me to the food. If you don’t like pizza, pasta, warm oven-baked bread, or gelato, we can’t be friends. But you’ll still manage to find something to eat in Italy – the freshest mozzarella, seafood caught that day, tiramisu, panna cotta, and a schmorgesborg of soft cured meats, such as prosciutto (ideally wrapped around cool melon) are just a few of the country’s specialties. If your mouth is not watering and your heart is not lusting after an idyllic Italian vacation, I have failed you as a writer! For me, Italy is on par with England, France, Belgium, or Spain. It’s a country I’ve been to before but will never tire of, and try to visit at least once a year. This year, I totally lucked out. Amie and I went to Cinque Terre right around my 29th birthday, Kai and I went to Trieste in the summer, and then I spent my 30th birthday (finally getting to the point of this post!) in Italy as well. When I hit three decades, I wanted to be in my favorite country with my favorite people. And so I selected the best of the bunch from Amsterdam and the US, booked a giant villa, mapped out an itinerary, and flew into Bologna to celebrate thirty years Italian style with all of my favorites. Continue reading

A Pit Stop in Trieste, Italy

While planning our trip to Slovenia, Kai and I realized that flights from Amsterdam into Ljubljana were quite pricy. Like, €260 each pricy, which was a bit more than we were hoping to spend on a long weekend trip in Europe. As our ultimate destination was Lake Bled, we knew we would have to rent a car anyways, as there are no airports in the close vicinity of the lake. So when we found €80 return trip tickets to Venice, which is only a 2.5 hr drive from Ljubljana, we quickly got excited about saving some money and also spending some time in Italy! Kai and I had both been to Venice before, and so we decided to do a pit stop a bit closer to Slovenia in Trieste, Italy. We flew into Venice late on a Wednesday night, slept at a cheap and cheerful airport hotel, took advantage of the free breakfast the next morning (ohh how my heart loves a good Italian breakfast of meats, cheeses, crusty bread, and espresso!) and hit the road early enough to arrive in Trieste by lunch time.  Continue reading

A Romantic Evening at Casa di David, Amsterdam

I’m writing this post while soaring on an airplane towards Italy. I’m turning 30 this weekend and wanted to celebrate three centuries of life surrounded by friends and the Italian countryside. Although I grew up in the US, my family is very Italian, and so my birthdays were always accompanied with big family dinners and a spaghetti and meatball feast, typically followed by Italian pastries (supplied by my Grampy), gifts, and many well wishes. I know good Italian food. I have so many wonderful Italian chefs in my family, and I have also ventured over to Italy on many occasions to take in the scenery, the culture, and above all, the cuisine! When in Amsterdam, it’s hard to come by a decent Italian meal. There are many restaurants offering Pizza (and don’t get me wrong, some of these joints are fantastic!) but there are very few locals that are comparable to the real Italy. img_7271Casa di David is on my list as a  ‘definitely yes!’ when it comes to Italian dining in Amsterdam. A few weeks ago, the boy and I were lucky enough to snag a front-of-the-house table on a dark and dreary summer evening. And so we stayed dry inside, sipping wine and twirling fresh pasta around our forks in the candlelight. Continue reading

Corniglia & Manarola, Italy

Hi friends, happy Wednesday! It’s been a while since my last post. Lately, I haven’t been spending a lot of time on my computer, which means I haven’t been very diligent in editing photos, and thusly, posting on the blog. I’ve been wrapped up in some cool real-world things, such as securing a new job (more on this exciting news later), training for a half-marathon, making art, and enjoying the holiday season. Last night I zoomed Stateside for Christmas. I’m currently sitting on a bed in my parent’s house, fending off cats and waiting for a suitable hour to get a cup of tea (because it’s only 5am – ohh hey hey jet lag). I am hoping to share one more Berlin post with you this week before we all get swept up by Christmas cheer. Let’s see if I can stick to this goal! Today, I thought I’d share my remaining Italy photos. So far in Cinque Terre, Amie and I had explored Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare, and Riomaggiore, saving two of the most dreamy villages for last. 10408869_805372874830_3375569558160099926_nManarola (above) is the second smallest village in Cinque Terre, renown for winemaking and seafood. Geographically, it’s not hard to see why. The village is perched on a cliff, dangling in a slew of pastel colors above the sea. Small fishing boats chug in and out of the harbor, towing in the day’s catch and providing fresh fare to the village. While I’d been told that Manarola was hands-down the most beautiful village in Cinque Terre, our first stop of the day would be Corniglia, the only village in Cinque Terre that is not directly adjacent to the sea.
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Vernazza, Italy

For the past 18 months, I’ve been dreaming of Italy. Shortly after my breakup with B, I had an irrational brainwave (probably inspired by a Pinterest board) imploring me to roam the Bel Paese (or beautiful country, in Italian). I spelled out the dream holiday previously in this post – the trip would involve exploring Tuscany, grooving my way through Rome, and splashing in the sea on the Amalfi coast. At the time of my fantasy, I did not know Cinque Terre existed. If you did not know Cinque Terre existed, you are in for a delight. IMG_0761Cinque Terre means The Five Lands in Italian, and is comprised of five stunning seaside villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Hiking trails and trains scale the lush, hills of the Italian Riviera, connecting the villages. Boats also ferry between the villages, however a major part of Cinque Terre’s charm lies in the fact that the villages aren’t quite accessible by car. Olive and lemon trees speckle the hills, terraces run along the rugged, steep landscape, overlooking the sea, and seafood is plentiful in the local cuisine. Essentially, Cinque Terre is an Italian lover’s dream, and so when Amie made her semi-annual pilgrimage to Amsterdam, we booked an inception vacation (a vacation inside Amie’s vacation) to the stunning Italian Riviera, to visit none other than Cinque Terre. Continue reading

Milan, Italy

Last week I went to Milan for work. I spent three nights in swanky a hotel, attended an innovative conference, drank lots of wine, enjoyed some fantastic company, and gorged on spaghetti, polenta, lasagna, and risotto. Ohh, how my stomach misses Milan. I’ve been to Italy once before (a long weekend in Venice with my sisters), but to be honest, I still haven’t had my fill. My dream holiday (which I’ve been planning in my head for about a year now) involves renting a car in Northern Italy and kicking off a grand road trip. I would start in the Italian Alps, making sure to jump in Lake Como before driving down through Tuscany, stopping at quaint bed and breakfasts and drinking lots of wine along the way. The next stop would be Rome, where I would visit the Pantheon and over-indulge in dish after dish of pasta. Finally, I would drive down to Naples, do some sightseeing, return the rental car, and spend the last week of my Italian holiday sailing along the Amalfi Coast, swimming, eating seafood, and sipping limoncello in the sun. This fantasy has been churning in my head for some time, but for now, smaller, bite-sized pieces of Italian adventures will have to do.IMG_4790I have very few photos of Milan, despite being there for three days. I blame work, which rightly so took up most of my Milan-time. However, I committed to being a geek (woo) and lugged my huge DSLR all around Italia. So on Wednesday night, after three hours in a pub (unfortunately working) and two hours before a business meeting, I was able to sneak off, go on a walk around the beautiful Milano, and take a few sunset photographs to share.

The above photo is the Duomo di Milano, a Gothic cathedral that took nearly six centuries to complete!

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Twenty-Eight at Spaghetteria

I have officially been alive for 28 years. I wanted to share something profound here – droplets of wisdom or wise old words. But today, I don’t feel like looking back. I don’t want to dwell on twenty-seven or twenty-six, twenty-one or the past. I am sitting here in a clean, ironed shirt, wearing red lipstick with pearls in my ears, and I just want to be. I want to experience the happiness that is pouring from my chest. I want to glow and grow, and hold the present moment in my heart. Birthdays are great because they give us pause to reflect – to establish our own personal resolutions. This year, I will live in the moment. I will not fear the future or hold on to the past. I will appreciate my surroundings, my friends, and the small moments that are often overlooked. IMG_3564Yesterday, my 28th birthday, was a day filled with countless honey-sweet moments. All summer, I’ve been inviting different girlfriends over for dinner on Wednesday night. I’ve coined the evening ‘Woman’s Wednesday’, and I’ve been lucky enough to share my dinner table with some brilliant ladies. As my birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, I decided it was fitting to invite a bunch of my favorite girls out for a big family-style Woman’s Wednesday dinner. Another favorite Wednesday tradition of mine is eating pasta. Growing up, my big Italian family would gorge on spaghetti and meatballs every Wednesday night, so for my birthday this year I asked the girls to meet me at Spaghetteria for massive plates of handmade pasta, crisp Italian wine, and deadly sgroppinos. Continue reading

Creamy Avocado Carbonara

A while back I shared with you a recipe for Bacon Avocado Rolls. Flaky and delicious, these croissant rolls are stuffed with crispy bacon and a scoop of fresh avocado. They’re then baked in the oven, and served hot, ideally with some juice and a sunny side up egg. I’ve made them a dozen times, but since my last blog post, there’s been an alarming development. Turns out, some people have a strong distaste for hot avocado. This hot avocado loathing was news to me, but apparently it’s a thing, like how some people simply can’t stand coriander, or fathom why you would serve a pot of tea without milk. The Huffington Post has even weighed in on the debate, which apparently has been going on for some time. Intrigued, I asked a few friends what they thought, and the results were mixed. . .

There are very few foods that can’t be improved with a hit of heat. Four in fact. Cucumber, Lettuce, Mango and that queen of green, avocado. Deliciousness is about creating tension on the tongue. Creamy gelato and crunchy cone. Hot curry and cool raita. Sweet cookie and bitter chocolate. That’s what makes the avocado so damn appealing. It’s cool creaminess makes the perfect antidote to the hot, the sour, the crunchy, the spicy, the sharp and the salty. Put an avocado under the heat and immediately you take it of its natural habitat. Like any dolphin at Sea World, it’s not surprising that it ends up brown, mushy, flavorless and sad. – Bex

Why on Earth would you cook an avocado? Some produce needs cooking (think: potato) and some creates whole new sensations when cooked (think: tomato). But the humble avocado’s cool, creamy deliciousness is perfect just as nature created it – and the perfect foil to so many dishes, hot and cold. But don’t take my word for it. The food-science bible, McGee On Food & Cooking, spells it out: “Heat generates a bitter compound and brings out an odd, eggy quality.” Cool and creamy vs. odd and eggy. You decide. – Robbie

OK, you hot avocado haters, this post is for you. I spent the weekend brainstorming a good, non-offensive cool avocado dish. What I came up with was simple yet filling, comforting but delicious, and above all else, cold – creamy avocado carbonara.

For this recipe you’ll need two avocados, two cloves of garlic, four cups of cooked spaghetti, a splash of cream, a pack of bacon, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and salt & pepper to taste.

IMG_9280First, you’re going to want to cook your pasta. Put a pot of water on to boil, salt the water, and wait for it to bubble.

While you’re waiting, you can start cooking your bacon. Put a pan on the stovetop over a medium heat. Add a swig of olive oil, two peeled garlic cloves, and your pack of bacon. If you prefer, instead of the bacon you could always use good pancetta. This is a carbonara, after all.  Use a wooden spoon to knock the bacon around in the pan until it starts to brown. Crush the garlic with your spoon, so your bacon picks up a strong garlic essence as it cooks.IMG_9254Once your bacon is cooked, take it out of the pan and put it on a chopping board. Cut up the bacon and the garlic into small, bite-sized pieces.IMG_9292By now your water has probably boiled. Follow the instructions on your pasta box for cook time. If you’re making spaghetti like me, your pasta will probably need about 8-10 minutes in the pot. I always check my pasta regularly so it doesn’t end up over or under cooked. IMG_9308When your pasta is done, take it out, strain it, and put it in a big bowl. Now you’re going to want to make your avocado sauce. Scoop your avocado out into a big mug. Add 1/2 cup of cream into the mug along with the avocado.IMG_9297Use the back of a fork to mash your avocado and cream into a rich sauce. I used an immersion blender to speed up the process, but a strong whip with a fork should also do the trick. IMG_9304Next, add 1/2 a tablespoon of salt, a few good cracks of pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil to your sauce. Now you’re ready to mix everything together with your pasta. Start by adding the chopped bacon to your bowl of spaghetti.IMG_9312Next, add the avocado cream sauce.
IMG_9322Using two big spoons, toss everything together.IMG_9324Lastly, you’re going to want to grate your cheese to sprinkle on top. IMG_9326IMG_9333Give the pasta one final toss, and serve.IMG_9337IMG_9360BUT WAIT. There’s more! My recipes on Pressed Words tend to be fairly unhealthy. That’s because I really only have time to photograph food photos over the weekend, and my weekend meals tend to be slightly more indulgent. During the week I DO eat healthy. Salads for lunch, whole grains with dinner. Some eggs or fruit for breakfast. Monday through Friday I make an effort to eat healthy, where as weekends are typically reserved for cheese and fresh bread and wine and chocolate lava cake.

However, this Sunday, because I couldn’t stomach a full blown carbonara after an all-you-can-eat buffet (we went here the night before) I decided to tweak my  carbonara, to make it a bit more wholesome. So if you’re also looking for something a bit lighter, as this recipe already calls for cheese, bacon, and cream, here’s a nifty little tweak for you.

Meet my good friend Mr. Zucchini. IMG_9284He’s going to help us make a healthy version of the avocado carbonara.

Using a peeler, slice long, green ribbons from your zucchini. IMG_9287Keep going around and around until you’re down to the seeds and all sides of the zucchini has been peeled. Then, toss your ribbons into a frying pan with a spritz of olive oil, and cook over a medium heat for about 6 minutes. The ribbons should be soft but still a bit crunchy. Now, pretend your zucchini pasta is regular pasta. As you did with the spaghetti, transfer to a bowl and add the bacon.IMG_9371The the avocado sauce and the cheese.IMG_9375Ta-da! Now you have a lovely, slightly modified avocado carbonara that you can enjoy guilt-free. A his and hers, if you please ;)

Serve with some extra cheese and olive oil on the side. And a refreshing glass of wine (it is the weekend. after all!)!

IMG_9378Now, before I go, I wanted to tell you that there were some hot-avocado lovers out there, like Emily. . .

Hot avocado? Sure I was skeptical. The two best things about avocados are their creaminess and their freshness. I love the cooless of avocados on a spicy fajita, or a tangy salad – they have the potential to neutralize acid, add cream without heaviness, add flavour without overpowering – avocados: the miracle fruit. Add heat, and you risk losing that freshness…can you imagine a hot cucumber? None of the crisp, clean, brightness left – that was my worry with hot avocado. Nevertheless, I’ll eat anything with bacon on it, so I made Ali’s rolls. I was worried they’d be a bit dry in the middle, so I mashed the avocado and added a little crème fraiche and a dash of Ranch dressing mix (hard to find outside the US – you can substitute this with a little onion powder, garlic powder, dried parsley, salt and pepper,) which made a creamy paste which worked well with the crispy bacon. And the result? Surprisingly, avocado tastes EXACTLY the same when it’s hot as when it’s not. It’s also resilient enough to retain its consistency, which means, as much as there are those among us who are resistant to the idea of a hot avocado, you really have no argument. I’ll admit, heat doesn’t add anything particularly spectacular to them, but it doesn’t detract from them, either. The avocado added as much creamy, savoury warmth to the salty, crispy bacon as it would have cold, although I think it was better, as it was wrapped in warm flaky pastry. So I’m sold on this hot avocado business – next stop, avocado soup? Hm . . .   -Emily

So, are you team hot avocado or team cold? If you’re team cold, I hope you enjoy the avocado carbonara. And if you’re team hot, well, I heard B put the carbonara in the microwave the next day, and . . .  I’ll leave that little discovery to you!

xo Ali