Monday, September 29, 2008

Culinary Adventures, or at least, Adventurettes

As I walked down our hall tonight and inhaled the sweet smell of pepperoni pizza coming from the oven, I found myself reflecting on the culinary adventures of the past few months. Or rather, the refreshing lack of culinary adventures. I went from pita and string cheese in California, to farmhouse cheddar and baguettes in Oxford, to large white loaves and Babybel cheese in Sofia. I traded in Honey Bunches of Oats for Frosted Shreddies for Bulgarian granola. I exchanged chocolate chips for chocolate chunks in my cookies and Celsius temperature controls on the oven for Fahrenheit. I swapped mango mojitos for hard cider for peach cherry collins. We even ate Thai and Mexican in England, as well as summer pudding and pasties. So basically, I've been able to stick to my intensely picky habits throughout our tour. Aren't you happy for me? Ha ha. Anyway, to get to the point of this little intro, I thought I'd give you my eight favorite food discoveries in Europe so far (what's so great about ten?). Just for fun.

8. Apricot scones as sold on the street by the River Bosphorus in Istanbul. Thick. Crumbly. Sweet but not too sweet. Let's just say when I realized the treasure I had discovered, I was sorry I hadn't bought ten to carry me through the next two weeks.

7. Grated carrot-honey-apple salad. The name pretty much says it all. This proved to be an incredible starter at our first favorite Bulgarian restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo.

6. Dessert cups. Every kind is delicious. Coffee frappe or chocolate pudding with whipped cream on top, vanilla pudding with chocolate upper crust, creme caramel custard with a constantly refilling internal spring of sauce exploding up from within. These little beauties literally line the refrigerated shelves of English and Bulgarian grocery stores. They shatter the competition - those dinky lunch time snack packs in the U.S.

5. Porridge. But only at Bill's cafe in Brighton. Bill (or one of his peons) packs it with berries, currants, chopped hazelnuts, and maple syrup. And the kicker is that he bakes in the cream. No milk necessary when you carve into this puffy fruit-filled sensation.

4. Shopska Salad. No one from Bulgaria buys less than twenty tomatoes when they hit up the fruit stands. The owners of the stalls must be snorting into their sleeves as they sell me my one pathetic little tomato. Why? One of the most traditional of all Bulgarian dishes is the Shopska salad, and it is way better than it sounds. Not that it sounds so bad. Shopska, as served by quality restaurants everywhere, fills a HUGE plate with giant hunks of fresh tomato mixed with hefty slices of cucumber. A little (or a lot of) white cheese is sprinkled over that and the happy consumer douses the whole thing with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Voile. Taste sensation, and cute, too.

3. Fry's peppermint cream bars. There's really nothing else to say. Creamy milk chocolate surrounds peppermint fondant. I'm still bitter it didn't come #1 at the candy bar potluck. Ah well, I'm not giving it number one here either...

2. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice. OK, so this isn't actually a new discovery if you want to get technical; my mom has been making it for me since I was old enough to hold a sippy cup. But here you can order a tall glass of fresh squeezed orange juice at bars, restaurants, and cafes, and my but it does hit the spot. I've sipped its sweetness in France and Serbia, and now I've purchased a lovely cheap yellow plastic juicer which, amazingly, has a strainer to catch the seeds before they fall into the final product. What a revolution! I may have to bring one home to Cooke St.

1. The brioche loaf the size of a cow in a back alley in Paris, from which a large man sawed off a rock sugar freckled hunk as per my specifications. Also, the bakeries stuffed with lines of every kind of tiny delicate sandwich cookie you can imagine, sharing flavors with fancy soap lines - lavendar almond, ginger orange, cocoanut, maple. Also, every other dessert in Paris.

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