Athens

This vacation has been on my list for a year now, ever since all our friends went to Greece over Spring Break and Ronnie just took me to Rome. Besides that, who wouldn’t want to go to Greece?!

We took a flight straight from Alexandria to Athens around 1 in the morning, arriving two hours later at 4:30 AM (math…). We found a coffee shop that was open and had wifi, where we hung out a bit and made a plan for the day while we waited for things to open, particularly the luggage storage place. Eventually, we had a plan and headed out to make the most of International Monuments Day.  It just so happens that on April 18th, all of the monuments and museums have free entry!  So, with very little sleep, we checked off monument after monument, starting with Hadrian’s Library and ending with the Acropolis.

If you prefer to just look at photos, I don’t blame you. They can be found here.

I highly recommend using this guide to get you through and around Athens. It was very helpful for those of us who don’t know what to do or see. Also, a good idea before you travel, research some restaurants, bars, sights, etc and use google maps to place a star on the location. For some reason, even though I don’t have cell service or data, my phone can show me where I am and I can use that to find our next spot.

After being up all night and walking all the way around the Acropolis, were exhausted by 2 pm and went to check into our Airbnb where we crashed hard. I think we made it out to a small shop later to get some food for dinner and a SIM card. Naturally, most of our meals included cheese, pork, bread, and alcohol.

Day 2 in Athens started out at a cute little coffee/book shop at the base of the Acropolis. There’s nothing like Greek yogurt with fruit and a fresh croissant for breakfast. We headed to the Acropolis Museum and a few other sights we missed the day before.

Then we headed to the Cinque Wine Bar. The owner shared all sorts of knowledge about the wines, cheese, meats, fruits, and nuts that we ate there. Unfortunately, I have a terrible memory for things like that, plus her Greek accent made it a bit hard to understand. I just know it was one of the most delicious parts of the trip. We also met a couple of graduate students on vacation and chatted with them for a while.

We climbed a hill, wandered the Monastiraki flea market, and found a real supermarket to buy some dinner.

Day 3 was a sort of a surprise. We thought we were leaving for Santorini on this day, and that’s what we were telling the people we met. Fortunately, the night before, we checked and verified that we actually had an entire extra day in Athens! We spent in Piraeus, the main port. There wasn’t much to see or do there so we bought ferry tickets and then walked around the marina for a bit before heading back to the central part of Athens for dinner and drinks. We had gyros from a little shop and went to Brettos Bar for some drinks where we ended up chatting with two American couples for a while.

Day 4 We got up super early and hopped on the metro to catch our ferry to Santorini.

Diet

Here’s another interesting thing about moving across the world that you don’t really think about, your diet. You’ve had the blog about the Egyptian food here so you know what that’s like, but our home cooking has changed too.

I learned how to cook based off of a type of meat. Say you have some ground beef, so you could make tacos, tamale pie, stroganoff, or hamburgers depending on what you feel like. Then you’d add in the appropriate vegetables and sides to make a meal.

The problem with Egypt is that you never know about the meat. One of the grocery stores nearby has a meat counter with beef, lamb, turkey, and chicken.  However, we just got home from shopping there where I had to swerve around a shopping cart with cow parts sticking out of it. In the middle of the store. I should have taken a picture. Also, one of the ads we’ve received from this store has a picture of a chicken that’s greenish blue.  We’ve bought beef from them once and it was impossibly chewy.  The ground beef has chunks of…stuff in it.  So we pretty much stick to the chicken which must be frozen or eaten that same day.

The freshest meat in Egypt is the seafood.  The market by the school has plenty of fresh shrimp, crabs, and fish of all kinds…there was even a live turtle one day.  So you pick the vendor with the most ice to buy your dinner.

The other safe meat option is ordering from a place online.  They deliver from Cairo, but it’s a bit pricey.  We’ve gotten some delicious salmon, tuna, and beef steaks from there. But I’m also convinced that the beef just tastes different here.

And then there’s the pork store where almost everything is already cured so you can’t really go wrong there.

Aaanyway. All that was to point out that I can no longer plan my meals around meat.  So we turn to vegetables.  My goal is to eat vegetarian at least once a week.

I learned to steam vegetables and eat them.  No seasonings or salt or butter or anything. This is fine, but it gets old.  Especially when you’re trying to make a meal out of it.  So one of our recent purchases was The Vegetarian Option. I found it in a bookstore in Cairo and it seemed to be good, edible vegetarian stuff.  No weird tofu, fake meat, things we’d never find in Egypt type stuff. So far we’ve only made one thing, but it was delicious so I’m planning to make more.

It’s still very much a work in progress, but I’ll keep you updated on how our vegetarian adventures are going. I’m finding it harder than I thought. Of course I’d be happy to eat potatoes every day, but I’m not the only one who eats around here.

Egyptian Culture: Food

Ah, what to say about Egyptians and their food.

First, just to get the diplomacy out of the way: Egyptians have food. There is indeed food here in Egypt that people do eat. Some of it is even delicious, and some of it would actually make you want to slice the taste buds off your tongue one by one.

What could be that bad, you ask? I’m prepared to tell you. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with “Egyptian cuisine”.

One important rule we have learned in our short time here – one that applies not just to food, but also to our new life in general – is that one must never have any expectations. That’s because, with expectations, even if someone hasn’t just served you pizza made with ketchup or a Caesar salad dressed with mayonnaise with extra mayo on the side, you’re still likely to be disappointed in the end.

The second important rule we’ve learned is that one should never trust a restaurant that makes any claims about the ethnicity of its food. Yes, the Syrian restaurant on the Corniche is believably Syrian, and I’ll trust you if you purport to be an Egyptian restaurant. But if you have the words “AMERICAN CAFÉ” in big letters on the front of your building, why then would you serve burgers made of kofta? If you’re an Italian place, why does my spaghetti Bolognese have BBQ sauce in it? No thanks, I’ll pass.

So, as you can tell, we don’t get on well with most of the restaurants around us. There are at least two in our neighborhood alone that we’ve sworn off completely, and we try to stay away from anything that calls itself a “cafe”. Most of our worst experiences (the ones you read about in the previous two paragraphs) were had in “cafes”. (I have to admit that I was in rehearsal while Bethany was having the “worst meal [she’s] ever had in Egypt”, so I can’t really describe it. Maybe she can.)

It isn’t all bad though; there are some restaurants we’ve actually enjoyed. Since we live on the Mediterranean, we have had some luck with seafood restaurants. And there’s China House, which just barely compensates for its mediocre Chinese food by having the best views in Alexandria.

IMG_3062I definitely wouldn’t want to sound like I’m whining, so there are a few Egyptian foods that we do like. Egypt has taken shawerma from the Syrians, and because we come from a small town about as far away from the Middle East as you can get, it’s new to us. Personally, I could eat shawerma until I explode, and then I would get some more. Bethany isn’t quite as hooked on it, but she likes it enough to have found a favorite (Gad, ubiquitous until you’re actually looking for one.)

They have this thing called feteer, a dish I was introduced to when the flutist in the orchestra ordered one for me during one of our breaks. I’m afraid I will never be able to recreate this, as it involved speaking to someone over the phone. (Seriously, why can’t I just know Arabic already?). It’s basically phyllo dough filled with stuff, so imagine a puff pastry calzone. So good.

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Feteer.

And there’s fattah. We’re not entirely sure what goes in this one. There’s rice, and plain yogurt, and sometimes meat. And maybe some kind of cracker thing on the bottom? It’s bowl food, served in a bowl.

Then there’s the Egyptian foods you eat not necessarily because you like them, but because they’re just..there. Kofta (little ground beef wieners), felafel, . Foul (pronounced “fool”) is just beans. Special beans, I’ll grant, but they go crazy over it here. I don’t see its appeal. I haven’t tried koshary yet, but some people like it. From what I understand, it’s essentially chili served over macaroni and maybe other noodles and maybe other stuff. Like I said, I haven’t had it yet.

What else do Egyptians like? One word: Sugar. Excuse me, I mean “SUGAR!!!” They have a serious thing for dessert here. Not necessarily good dessert, but as long as it’s made of sugar, I don’t think they really care. It’s incomprehensible how much sugar they eat. I’m struggling to describe it accurately, so I just won’t.

We’re looking forward to a couple upcoming trips out of Egypt, mainly for the food. I’m sure we’ll talk about it.

I’ll leave you with this image of a crab bathing in some soup.

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Pictures and food

We seem to be falling into a pattern of multi-post blog entries. I guess there’s just too much to say to condense it into a readable post.  This one goes with Hurghada.  As promised here are some photos.  Mostly of water..

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The view from our basically private beach.

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I think I will also take this time to speak about the food we ate.  Egypt’s food is pretty decent, just very very very very repetitive. And they try to sell you the same thing, just with a different name. Anyway, Hurghada has been one of the only places that I’ve eaten too much food. The first night we had Thai food. My fried rice was served in a half of a pineapple.

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There was a whole area that was very “non-Egyptian” called the New Marina.  There were lots of great places to eat that served alcohol.  That’s a big deal for us. They had sandwich boards out front advertising camel steak and beer for 150 LE as well as BOGO alcoholic cocktails.  Needless to say we returned three times. And yes I ordered and ate a camel steak.  At first I thought they we full of it because my steak tasted quite normal. Ronnie ordered an actual beef steak so we were able to compare.  It was slightly different and according to google, it tastes like a cross between lamb and beef.  Perhaps I had just forgotten what steak tastes like…anyway if you ever have the chance, eat camel steak. It’s delicious!

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Another popular place in Hurghada for eating is Moby Dick.  Recommended by the Egypt guidebook we have, we thoroughly enjoyed people watching and guessing their nationality.  Hurghada is a great place to do that. They also talked us into reserving a Christmas dinner there.  Our first meal was not great, but the Christmas dinner was pretty good.  Ronnie had duck and I had beef along with salad, soup, bread, dessert, and a bottle of wine.

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This guy created shapes out of everyone’s towels and took pictures.  He also took pictures of us together around the boat.  It was pretty fun and I regret not buying them.

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As excited as we were about drinking actual drinks, they were pretty bad.  The pretty blue one was supposed to be a Mai Tai. It was pretty much straight up lime juice with something blue in the bottom.

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This was right next door to the hotel and I snuck around the corner to take some pictures.  I thought it was pretty fascinating. _DSC0197

Egypt’s flag off the back of the boat.

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One Christmas day, we went to a restaurant called the Starfish.  Right inside the door there’s a huge display of fish on ice where you can choose what you want. We ate some of the biggest shrimps ever, some pretty tiny crabs, and a fish.  Again, tons of delicious food. _DSC0212

After lunch on the boat, the cook dumped the leftovers into the water and these fish came to eat.  It’s a shame I didn’t have an underwater camera.

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It’s so interesting that the reef looks pretty ugly from above, but it’s a colorful garden from below. Here are some posters of what you can see. There were a lot of orange and yellow fish, but my absolute favorite that I distinctly remember was the Naso Unicorno.  Look it up.

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There were six other couples on the boat besides us.  It was quite enjoyable…minus the incredible amount of wind.

We didn’t end up going again. It would have been a much better day to go, but we enjoyed swimming from the beach at the hotel instead.

In order to catch you up…

I must write a floog (food blog for any newbies).

I don’t know what it is about moving, but whenever I do I feel like I have to break in the kitchen right away. In the last two weeks, we’ve made breakfast pizza, spaghetti sauce, black forest cheesecake, fish tacos, and steak. So here we go. Get your recipe books out!

Breakfast pizza. This one is easy. I copied it from another blog so I’ll give credit to BS in the kitchen. A great name for a blog in my opinion because who really knows what they’re doing? I didn’t have any green onion or potatoes (who doesn’t have potatoes?!) so we did without. It said to cook for 5-10 minutes which seems like a large difference to me. But after 5 minutes the eggs cracked on top were still veeeeery runny. 10 minutes was a bit long, but one of the eggs was a bit juicy for my husband who refuses to eat completely cooked egg yolk. Here’s my picture.  It’s funny how he doesn’t like cooked yolk, but when I asked if he wanted to crack an egg he broke it and said, “that one’s yours”.

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Next we have spaghetti sauce.  For those of you who are on Facebook, you might remember my desperate plea for help with my spaghetti sauce.  You see, my mother always had us help in the kitchen, so we know how to cook.  When we started going away to college, my sisters typed up a Word document of our favorite recipes.  Mom’s spaghetti sauce was among them.  I’ve made it a few times over the years and it has been ok, just not quite the same.  However, when I made it a few weeks ago, it was awful!  It only tasted like tomatoes and just would not work out no matter how many spices I put in it.  So after several conversations with various people, I decided to ditch her recipe (sorry mom) and try something else.  I found several recipes to refer to mainly for amounts, and created my own.  I must say, it was delicious.  Feel fry to try it and critique it.

Because it is summer and because we live in the Tri-Cities, we have acquired quite a bit of fresh produce.  By quite a bit I mean bags and bags of fresh tomatoes.  We rarely eat tomatoes, and they were going bad, so we ended up in a full on tomato processing mode last night.  We peeled and cut all of the large ones, and peeled and froze the smaller ones.  Some of the cooked chunks were frozen and the rest ended up in the spaghetti sauce.

Now that I’m done with all of my back-stories, here’s the recipe we ended up with.  The entire process went something like this, “here, put some of this in.  It’ll make it taste better.”  By the time we were finished we realize, we should probably write this down if we even want to make it again. 

Vance Spaghetti 

4 c. Or two cans of stewed tomatoes

2 c. Or 15 oz. tomato sauce

2 6 oz. cans tomato paste

1/2 large sweet onion diced

1 zucchini diced

1 small green pepper

8 oz. fresh mushrooms

3 cloves of garlic

3 beef bouillon cubes

3 bay leaves

1 Tbs. thyme

1 1/2 Tbs. oregano

1 1/2 tsp. basil

1 tsp. celery seed

Salt and Black pepper to taste

1 tsp. sugar

1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce

1/4 c. Red wine

2 lbs. Italian sausage

Cool it all for a while.

Now obviously there aren’t many directions, but for those of you who have the slightest idea of how to make spaghetti, you brown and drain the meat before adding it to the sauce.  I’m proud of that recipe.

My husband made the Black forest Cheesecake.  It is so delicious and came from a small cheesecake cookbook we picked up from some bookstore.  It has an amaretto, maraschino cherry flavored cake with chocolate sour cream frosting and he also added amaretto flavored whipped cream on the top.  Wonderful!  Let’s see if I can find a picture.  

Fish tacos.  Sounds weird right?  I found this recipe when we were making a meal for some gluten/dairy free friends.  The fish is good by itself, but this time Ronnie made avocado cream sauce, and I made cilantro, lime rice and fresh pico de gallo (remember all that produce?) to go with our tacos.   Mmmm delicious.  This is a recipe I found on Pinterest.  Usually these recipes I read, maybe make once, and promptly forget about it.   Not this one.  It’s super easy and super delicious.  Try it!

Steaks.  I had to add this in here just to brag about my husband.  I love to eat steak, but I don’t know how to cook them.  Ronnie has been perfecting his technique and has been doing a great job.  I like different seasonings on mine, but it is still good.

One more story, then I’ll be done…When I was little the thought of any pink in my steak completely grossed me out.  So my loving parents cooked the steak until it was dead.  Really really dead.  Most people would call it burnt.  Then one day I was invited over to Ronnie’s house for dinner.  They were having steak.  They asked me how I wanted it cooked, followed immediately by, “please do not say ‘well done'”.  So I timidly said, “As well done as you’re willing to make it.”  It was pink.  Maybe even a bit red.  And you know what?  I didn’t die!  It was actually really good.  I will now eat my steak done medium.

I should just drop everything and become a chef…

I think this picture might just have to speak for itself.  I have to admit, I was extremely proud of this dinner.  Grilled Salmon covered in pesto, baked zucchini fries, and the bread was spread with the remaining pesto, sprinkled with mozzarella cheese, broiled and then sliced avocado on top.  On nights like these, I wonder why we ever bother going to restaurants (since I’m such a fabulous chef).

Have you ever washed your laundry with an entire box of dryer sheets, cardboard box and all?  Apparently Samson was climbing around in there and knocked it into the washing machine.  Little bits of cardboard everywhere…but it turned out much better than I thought.  Not very messy at all and the clothes ended up clean.

Friday I got a much needed haircut.  And Saturday we went shopping to get some clothes for the wedding next week.  Then we went over to my parents’ to help with some cider pressing.  It was a lovely afternoon and I think they got about 50 gallons.  

Leaving for San Diego on Friday morning!! Hopefully this week flies by.

September!

I’ve failed you.  So much for my weekly posts.  I wrote this one about 2 weeks ago but it never got posted for some reason.   So here you go…two weeks late.  I’ll write you a more recent one too.

Not much is new this week but here’s my weekly post as promised.  Monday with the evavuation for the spraying of the invisible cockroaches went well but the entire day was a waste of time.  I took the cats to my parents’ where Sophie hid under a chair and Samson wandered around meowing very loudly.
Other than that I worked pretty much every day.  It’s very tiring in a not really doing anything but standing around sort of way…

Ok. Food.
Sunday we bought a bunch of salmon at Costco.  We grilled it for lunch and had some rice with avocado.
Monday we had hot dogs and saurkraut.
Tuesday we went over to a friends house for hamburgers and brats. I brought couscous with vegies
Wednesday I worked late so it was hospital food for both of us.
Thursday we attempted steak again.  We just can’t get them quite right. I also grilled zucchini slices in butter and garlic salt. Yummy!
Friday night was date night to Applebees.  Their chocolate lava cake is delicious! I love chocolate.  Even Mr. thatstoomuchchocolate liked it.
Tonight prolly won’t be very exciting cause we’re both working late.