Blueberry Almond Granola & Emergency Snack Preparedness

I’m taking a break from my travel posts today to talk about a very important snack: Granola. Nuts.com has an ongoing healthy snacking campaign and I’m excited that they’ve asked me to be a part of it by sharing a recipe and giving others snacking inspiration. When I think about a healthy breakfast or a snack, my mind always hops over to Granola-ville. I’ve always considered it to be the first “adult” food I ever started liking, and it’s a staple in my diet up to today.

Hazelnut Coconut Granola & Blueberry Almond Granola

Hazelnut Coconut Granola & Blueberry Almond Granola

I started my lifelong affair with Granola after I first tasted Chewy Bars made by Quaker Oats. In my mind, I still have to call them “Chewy Tendre” because the boxes that we used to get had the French “tendre” right underneath in the same size font so it looked like it was one phrase. I later moved to Alpen, Nature Valley and Kind with the occasional Luna or Clif Bar. When I got married and embraced cooking and domesticity, I found out about the extent of sugar and random ingredients that go into making one granola bar. It’s insane, and some popular granola bars have had it on lists for products with the highest sugar content. Suffice it to say that when I came across the concept of making my own bars, I was more than intrigued. I thought it sounded incredibly cool and hippie which to be honest, added to the appeal :) I am absolutely amazed at the different granola bar variations out there. I personally have made dozens of variations, used dozens of ingredients and have made granola in squares, rectangles, clumps, loose, and they’ve all been delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever met a granola recipe that I didn’t like.

Making your own granola is quick and simple and easily customized. I’ve used so many different combinations of ingredients and I have never taken more than about 15 minutes (excluding baking) any time. Imagine that – 15 minutes (no I’m not gonna save you 15% or more on car insurance) is all it takes to make breakfast for the week! Or snacks that help you stick to your diet or healthy eating plan! I honestly think that the achilles heel of any diet is the snacks. You spend so much time focusing on eating your healthy or well portioned meals, and forget that at 2:30 when you want a cup of coffee, you want a snack to go with it. And thus comes a defining moment in your diet – fight to eat healthy or flight to the corner cafe to stuff your face with cupcakes? Failing to plan your snacks means that you’re one brownie or cookie away from ruining your diet. Which I often do. We’re all human.

Another benefit is that you can hide so many different ingredients in granola, including those that you know are superfoods but don’t want to or like to eat by itself. You can add so many ingredients and have so many variations – Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Almonds, Peanuts, Cashews, Pistachios, Macadamia, Hazelnuts, Chia Seeds, Ground Flaxseed, Shredded / Flaked Coconut, Chocolate Chips, White chocolate chips, Dark chocolate chips, Peppermint chips, Butterscotch chips, Dried Cranberries, Apricots, Blueberries, Raisins, Currants, Goji Berries, Acai Berries, Vanilla Extract, Almond Extract, Lemon Extract, Mint Extract, Pine Extract, Protein Powder, Matcha Green Tea Powder, Espresso Powder, and Ginger Powder. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But it sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

It’s not unusual for me to find bags of crushed and unrecognizable snacks in my purse with no recollection of when or how they got there. I seem to have a squirrel mentality…gotta store up those snacks in the inevitable event that I get hungry and mad and can’t concentrate on anything else until I eat! Finally figuring out that I should keep an emergency snack drawer at work was one of my greatest revelations. Up to a few years ago I had a pretty awesome emergency snack drawer at work, but in recent years my drawer deteriorated to a pathetic corner of the top drawer of my desk. I’ve been trying to rectify that, and the granola recipe I’m sharing with you today is item #1 in my new and improved snack drawer.

This granola isn’t too sweet, so it doesn’t feel like dessert, but it doesn’t feel like a tasteless blend of ingredients either.

Blueberry Almond Granola

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

My right hand man. Food. And Coffee.

My right hand men: food and coffee.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups Rolled Oats
1 cup whole Almonds
1 cup Sunflower Seeds
2/3 cups Dried Blueberries
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Agave (or Honey)
1 tbsp Cinnamon
1 tbsp dried Vanilla (or liquid vanilla extract)
1/4 cup Coconut Oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix dried ingredients in a bowl. Add agave, vanilla (if using extract) & oil. Mix well. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and spread mixture evenly on tray. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring at 20 minutes. Let cool and harden and store in an airtight container.

So check out Nuts.com for other snacking ideas and ingredients. Give this granola a try this weekend and start next week off right!

Geneva, Fondue, Bucket Lists & Poppies

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Today, I’m reminiscing about Geneva. My friend and I traipsed around Switzerland & the south of France for an entire week. Geneva itself is such a picturesque city. It’s clean and calm and modern, a haven for expats and a home to various international agencies. Lake Geneva is just big enough that you gaze at every lapping wave in awe, but just small enough where you stand that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed.

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There are endless marinas and sculptures with very literal names (“boy with horse”), well manicured lawns that invite you to sit and stay as long as you want. The lake feels like it has a personality of its own. We started out at a section that felt uncharted and rugged…a little deserted, pebble beaches and shades of grey/green water. As we walked on though, the world started to become more vibrant, like someone took pencil crayons and coloured everything just a little bit brighter. The sun emerged from behind clouds, the boats in the marinas became whiter, bunches of flowers appeared and became brighter, the grass was greener, the water glittered with the rays of the sun.

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There are cafes with platforms right over the water, strings of lights casually hung over the walls, families of ducks minding their own business in the water, the occasional bicycle resting against a railing, benches scattered about, and random telescopes dot the walkway in case the mood to see the town over the lake strikes you.

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Every day I somehow managed to cross activities off of the Bucket List that I didn’t even know I wanted to do. We pretended to be drunkards passed out in front of Lake Geneva (photographic evidence available upon request) with a wine bottle that we discovered behind a bench, breakfasted with some birds, went exploring behind a random church, fell asleep on public transportation, ate an entire pizza at an almost empty bus stop at 11 p.m., and created an intensely wonderful “welcome to Geneva” Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing while cooking dinner in her apartment.

Another bucket list item? It all started in one of the most unique bars I’ve ever been in. Among it’s quirks, there was a piano in the bathroom and the walls were sponsored by Post-it. There were blank post-its around the place so you could write whatever you want and stick it to the wall. It felt like old school drunk texting. Make your professions of love, heartbreak, disappointment, jealousy, etc now people! Stick it on the wall! Hope that the object of your affection walks in and sees your brave revelation! Ah bar bathrooms. Where life happens. I of course professed my love for my friends because cocktails make me love everyone.

I’ve been told by many people that my singing voice borders on the offensive, so I tend not to participate in any karaoke type activities. However, my friend Nadine seems to be the kryptonite to my “no karaoke” will of steel. I’ve sung karaoke twice in my life and both times have been with her…the first was a few years ago when we killed a Taylor Swift song, and then again in Geneva. Sing karaoke in a Bar in Geneva with friends? Check.

One of my private moments of zen was on our way to the airport. We had to get two buses to make it and the stops were a short walk from each other. We jumped off Bus #1, practically ran uphill with our luggage, hoping that we wouldn’t see the Bus #2 fly by. To my right, there was an enormous fenced off grassy field, an unnaturally simple and beautiful expanse. From where I was standing, all I could see was green, light brown, and the bright blue of the sky and the cottony white of the clouds. As we were struggling up the incline, I glanced down and saw a single vibrantly red wild poppy growing on the little line of grass along the curb. Despite being born on Remembrance Day, I had never seen an actual poppy in real life. My poppy knowledge was limited to the felt & plastic pin distributed by the Red Cross, and to the tehnicolour field in Oz where Dorothy and her buddies take a power nap. To be honest, I never thought about the real flower, and it was never in the running as my favourite.

However, I never knew that the petals looked like tissue paper and is an interrupted shade of fiery red. I’ve found my new favourite flower, which is funny because it should have been all along. Finding zen at the side of the road. I feel like a 90s song.

I actually didn't get a shot of the Poppy because of the aforementioned running for Bus #2

I actually didn’t get a shot of the Poppy because of the aforementioned running for Bus #2

So. I almost forgot about the food. I really wanted to try Fondue in the most irrational way. When I got there I found out that Fondue season was over. There’s a fondue SEASON?! These people limit your cheese intake!?! Unacceptable. I learned that Fondue, while delicious, is more about the social aspect of it. As my friend so realistically put it, “at the end of the day, it’s just cheese and bread” Lol I love her and all, but that kind of thinking can really damage a friendship :)

I adapted this recipe from the Nugget Market Gouda Fondue recipe, and also omitted the crostini and decided to go all out and bake it in a bowl of bread.

I’m also linking up at Fiesta Friday this week, hosted by Sarah at Sarah’s Little Kitchen and Kaila at GF Life 24/7.

Smoked Gouda & White Wine Fondue

  • Servings: 2-3 (or 1 if you love cheese)
  • Time: 15 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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Ingredients

1lb round loaf crusty Bread of choice

1/2 lb Smoked Gouda, cubed
1 clove Garlic
1/2 cup White Wine
2 tbsp. Cornstarch
1/2 cup fresh Tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp. dried Basil
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Salt (or more to taste)
1/8 tsp Nutmeg

For dipping:

1 Pear, sliced
1 Apple, sliced
Crackers
Grapes
Cubed Bread from loaf

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp serrated edge knife, carefully slice off the top of the bread (about 1/4 inch) and cut a hole / circle around the inside of the loaf, leaving about a 3/4 – 1 inch border on each side. Use your hands to pull out the middle bits of the bread, hollowing out the loaf and creating a “bowl”. Cube the removed bread and set aside for later. Place the bread on a baking sheet and warm in the oven for about 10-15 minutes

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Smash the garlic and rub on the inside of a saucepan. Use a spoon to break it up as much as possible. Warm the skillet on medium heat and add wine. Stir to incorporate garlic bits and wine. Toss the Gouda cubes with the cornstarch and add the cheese to the saucepan and stir constantly for about a minute to encourage melting and prevent scorching. Add basil, black pepper, salt, nutmeg & tomatoes. Keep stirring to ensure that all ingredients are incorporated and that cheese is melted. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Carefully pour mixture into bread bowl.

Serve with desired dipping instruments.

Note: I liked the crackers the most while Rabin thought the pears were the best. We both agreed that the bread bowl is the winner because it stays crispy, is already covered with melted cheese, and feels like round two when you finish eating all the rest. Ahh, compromise.

Monaco, Cocktails & Prison, please

When I say Monaco, what pops into your head? My first thought is James Bond in a white tux in a casino. The Sean Connery 007, please and thank you. Then I think of the Grand Prix. Then probably Princess Grace. If you’re Guyanese, I know that the local nightclub of the same name will feature in your thoughts at some point.

Monaco (the country, not the nightclub) is what you’d imagine – even during the day you just feel the place dripping with glamour. The impeccably maintained villas, the French Riviera gently lapping in the not-so-distant distance, the boats moored at the dock seemingly on standby in case a grand getaway is needed by a lady decked out in diamonds, heels, a mink stole and an evening gown that probably cost more than the GDP of a small country. Sean Connery is the Captain of the yacht, naturally.

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Public streets look like works of art. You don’t even want to drive. We found a seagull clearly accustomed to tourists perched very calmly on a ledge overlooking the Riviera, ready and waiting to pose for the inevitable #seagullselfie. I mean, I took a selfie with the seagull as well. I’m not a Neanderthal.

Pastel colours are what the fabulously wealthy wear, right dahling?

Pastel colours are what the fabulously wealthy wear, right dahling?

As close as I was willing to go

As close as I was willing to go

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Monaco also has some extremely cool architecture. There’s the Monaco Oceanographic Museum (Musée Océanographique de Monaco) where the curator was once Jacques Cousteau! How incredibly cool is that? The man who defined marine conservation & exploration and made the world collectively fall in love with the sea once worked in that building.

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Not too far from the museum is the Prison. Yep, you read that right. The PRISON is tucked into a hill, and it overlooks the French Riviera. It’ not all easy living though – there’s the other side that doesn’t overlook the ocean – some of the windows are blocked by vividly green trees and flowers that populate that section. Quelle horreur! Those poor prisoners! I don’t know if there’s supposed to be some deeper meaning to having the museum & jail both sharing the same view – maybe regardless of where we are, we’re imprisoned by the land? That the sea is the only true freedom?

Man, I wish there was a job where I could just sit and find the symbolism and metaphors in stuff all day. Maybe at the Jail?

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Yep, that’s the French Riviera right behind that prime real estate spot…the Jail.

Anyway. So seagull, jail and museum apart, there are the more popular sights – the Grand Prix track, which we got to drive on, the Monte Carlo Casino, and the Café de Paris. We also got to see the Monaco Grand Palace and see the changing of the Guard. The atmosphere just feels like everyone is on holiday and the entire place is a street fair.

Just call me *insert popular race car driver's name here*

Just call me *insert popular race car driver’s name here*

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I thought that a cocktail would be much more fitting for this post. Very James Bond-esque and all that. This is a French Monaco Cocktail and is surprisingly easy to put together, plus I’m up for any cocktail that has beer in it. Who says I can’t be girly?

I adapted this recipe from Saveur but changed 2 out of the 3 items – I substituted Grenadine for Pomegranate Syrup and since a certain husband of mine drank the Stella that we had in the fridge, I used Heineken. You can really use any beer you like.

French Monaco Cocktail

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 2 mins
  • Difficulty: super easy
  • Print

Adapted from Saveur

Ingredients

1 1/2 oz Grenadine Syrup

2 oz. Lemonade

8 oz. Beer (pale lager – I used Heineken)

Ice, for Cocktail Shaker

Instructions

Add Lemonade & Syrup to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake (not stir!) and strain into a glass. Top with Beer.

Another plus to making this? This is a pretty easy drink to put together when you’re at a party and want to show people that no, you’re not too far gone to make a cocktail, okay? And hell yes, you can recite the alphabet backwards…Z Y X…and, um…you know the rest…and so forth…V T W and all that. :/

Cambridge, Supermarket Addiction & the “I didn’t go to Brussels”…Sprouts

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I had planned a Brussels visit toward the end of the trip. I was going to visit my brother in Cambridge and then hop on the train to Brussels for the day. But the London Rail is a thing to be reckoned with, and my super awesome planning skills clashed with a rail strike. Seriously, it started the day I arrived and finished the day I left. I did not feel like battling on the train for almost 2 hours to London, then possibly having my Brussels train delayed or cancelled. So I decided to save whatever little money I had left and go bankrupt in Cambridge instead of Brussels.

I spent about a week in Cambridge with my brother, chilling and catching up on some much needed sleep. We watched the entire “Burning Love” series, which was hilariously fantastic by the way, and a good portion of “the League”. Once again I failed to find “Its always Sunny in Philadelphia” very funny. For a genius, my brother keeps holding on to this irrational hope that I’ll find it hilarious and brilliant one day. I still hold out hope that Joey will leave Pacey for Dawson so we all have our impossible dreams.

We did go out quite a bit as well. Cambridge is everything you’d imagine a University town to be – collegiate, cultured, lots of cafes, old stone buildings, tree-lined walkways and grassy squares with groups of people lounging about and discussing something that will probably make me feel like Penny in the Big Bang Theory. I did just feel smarter being in the town. Those Cambridge people also live life on the edge – there is also the constant threat of being hit down by a cyclist. I cannot stress how many bicycles there are in this town.

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Apart from these near death experiences, we visited King’s Chapel, saw Kitchen Bridge where Stephen Hawking & Jane Wilde courted (and is most recently featured in the Theory of Everything), and saw the Cambridge version of the Bridge of Sighs, which apparently leads to exam rooms at the end of the semester. Ah, genius humour.

King's Chapel

King’s Chapel

We also went punting on the River Cam, which is a classic and cool Cambridge experience. Tourists, parents, friends, (we even saw a wedding party!) get to sit quite comfortably in a little boat and travel down the river with guides using only their sense of balance and a long stick to navigate. It’s quite entertaining to see people that are not guides choose to navigate – let’s call it an aquatic version of bumper cars.

This is what happens when you're so busy getting the perfect picture that you don't notice someone about to run into you :/

This is what happens when you’re so busy getting the perfect picture that you don’t notice someone about to run into you :/

Generally, my brother tends to describe (apparently) odd things that I do as very “Indi”. So staying home one morning to wait for an Amazon delivery of the best cookies I have ever tasted in my life? Very Indi (and very worth it!). Geocaching? Indi. Listen to a guy performing in the square then finding him on Facebook to see if he has an album out? Indi. Leaving me for a second in the liquor aisle and coming back to find me in the same aisle with two new dinner plates in my basket? Indi. Going to a different supermarket to browse every single day? VERY Indi. One day we went twice. Don’t blame me. Blame my parents and grandparents. And ok, blame me a little. But I mean seriously, how can one resist the nearby Farmer’s Market, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer? If I lived there I’d probably never spend my money on anything else.

Another “very Indi” thing is that when I travel, I get the urge to cook and try different ingredients that you wouldn’t normally get in Guyana (or is super expensive). I love restaurants, don’t get me wrong, and we went to our share of those, but I love the feeling of inspiration I inevitably get whenever I’m in the supermarket. It’s like crack to me. I pick up all these weird combos of stuff and can’t wait to go home and make it or eat it. How can you resist the impossibly cute vegetables in the produce aisle? I listened when the baby Brussels sprouts called out to me. Then I listened again when the cherries, zucchini, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and 3 types of lettuce greens called out to me as well. You can call me the Vegetable Whisperer. I don’t mind.

We generally ate at home in the mornings, a wonderful combo of fruits and veggies and hummus – a tub of which was somehow destroyed by yours truly in less than a week. Coffee was made by my brother in a cafetière (what a showoff). We usually ate out at lunch and dinner was either me cooking, or a guilty purchase, knowing that we had leftovers in the fridge. Our greatest triumph was ordering food online while we were out and having it arrive literally 5 minutes after we got home. These are honestly the little joys that I live for.

One night we decided to make dinner and clear out the remaining untouched veggies (basically brussels sprouts) in the fridge, partially because I wanted to cook, and also because nothing else could really fit in the fridge. I admit, I have made this dish for breakfast in the past, and it actually works as the first meal of the day. Have the Brussels sprouts with scrambled eggs and you’re good to good for the morning. It’s an incredibly simple recipe that I came up with a while back. I don’t know why people say that brussels sprouts are disgusting. I’ve never come across a green vegetable that I didn’t like except okra, but come on – the okra fan club is pretty small isn’t it?

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This is also a really simple side dish and is very low maintenance. You want the sprouts to get a little burned. It gives it that charred, BBQ-y vibe without too much effort.

I didnt go to Brussels...Sprouts

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: less than 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

3 cups mini Brussels Sprouts (regular sprouts will work as well)
3/4 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/3 – 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
1 1/2 tbsp. Olive Oil

Cut Brussels sprouts in half lengthways. If using regular sized sprouts, cut into quarters. Warm Olive oil in a skillet, and swirl the pan around to make sure the oil is somewhat evenly distributed. Place Brussels spouts cut side down and season with 1/4 tsp salt & 1/4 tsp black pepper. Cover and let cook on medium heat for one minute. Remove cover and let cook for another minute.

Stir sprouts (you do not need to keep it facedown at this point), season with remaining salt & pepper and let char for another minute or two. Keep a close watch to make sure sprouts do not char beyond your desired texture. Add cheese to skillet, stir to distribute evenly. Let cook for another minute until sprouts are crispy and cheese bits are melted.

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In summary: Cambridge is great. The intricate history of each building, the collegiate rivalries, the eclectic combination of students, distinguished professors and parents glowing with pride fills the air with a calm frenzy and makes you ask yourself on more than one occasion – “London Who?”

Rome Part II: The Colosseum, Vatican, Marinara Sauce & Assorted Fails

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Today we’re hopping back to Rome. I know, I’m making you dizzy with my disorganized posting, right? Sorry – I have a few more posts before my travel series is completed, so just bear with me. As the name of the post suggests, the lack of geographical or chronological order of this series is Fail #1.

So. Roma. I’ve always wanted to see the Colosseum, and for a long time it was the number one destination on my travel bucket list. I even voted for it in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, along with Petra in Jordan, Hagia Sophia in Turkey, Macchu Piccu in Peru, the Acropolis in Greece, Christ Redeemer in Brazil, and my eternal favourite, the Moai on Easter Island, Chile. Of my choices, 4 were chosen as the new 7. Just call me a semi-psychic.

Of the seven wonders chosen, I had only ever seen the Great Wall so the Colosseum was my second, and it did not disappoint. It is also super cool to happen upon the Colosseum the way that we did. One minute, you’re minding your own business as you turn a corner onto a road with lots of traffic (forget smiles, traffic is the universal language) and bam! There’s the Colosseum just chilling out at the end of the busy street. You push past the gelato stands, souvenir stalls, salesmen hawking selfie sticks, and stop to marvel at this relic from the Roman Empire. Getting inside is a bit of a task, but once you do, the sheer magnitude and detail of the internal structure is overwhelming. I mean seriously – having been sucked into the intense black hole of time that comes with construction, actually understanding the effort that went into the construction of the Colosseum is mind boggling.

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Once you get over the impressiveness that is the Colosseum, you look over and see the Roman Forum in the shadow of the Colosseum. Travel guides really do undersell the Forum. You read about it and generally understand that it was the city’s main Piazza and served as the political, commerical and judicial centre of the city. I admit, I skipped over a lot of the reading because it seemed too dry to me – we get it, every town has an old market. Being there however makes everything come to life. In this rubble of the Roman Empire, every stone, every monument, every pillar has a story. You see the intricate carvings that adorn the curve of the Arch of Septimus Severus (which made me think about Alan Rickman nonstop – points to you if you get my reference), you visit Palantine Hill where Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome lived, and you marvel at the Temple of Caesar (where Julius Caesar was cremated). This is one place that I really didn’t devote enough time to and if I ever get the chance to visit Rome again, I’ll definitely go back.

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At the western end of the city, the Vatican is a totally different experience. St. Peter’s Basilica is a sight to behold, and so is St. Peter’s Square. You stand there and look at this world- famous building that seems to strike the balance between old world power and modern day grandeur. I can’t even fathom the way it must feel to be there during conclave or when the Pope is in residence.

Kudos to Rabin...'s camera.

Kudos to Rabin…’s camera.

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We got the opportunity to climb to the top of the Basilica, which has an incomparable view of Vatican City and Rome, but also proved that claustrophobia can pop up when you least expect it.

Hey there, Rome

Hey there, Rome

When I was younger, I used to read about Nancy Drew being trapped in a small secret passageway, or when I would see movies where the people shimmied through air ducts, I’d feel my throat constrict. Actually, that still happens to me. The thought of it was terrifying and I believe that that reason alone is what made me abandon my dream of becoming a world famous detective (Mustang not optional). St. Peter’s Basilica brought all those fears rushing back. You climb 320 steps in a narrow winding passage with so little space that you can’t put your hands on your hips without your elbows grazing the walls.

Don’t get me started on the staircases. I was panting quite loudly and although I’m sure everyone had a good laugh at the unfit chick, I was more on the verge of hyperventilating. Also, I’m kind of unfit. While the view was amazing, my panic was not. I also started to think about St. Peter and “upon this rock I shall build my church”, and my mind drifted to Angels & Demons again. The antimatter was placed on the tomb of St. Peter in the catacombs below the church, and I couldn’t think of a more terrifying scenario than being trapped under the rubble of the already ridiculously narrow walkway.

This imagination of mine can be a serious burden. Fail #2.

Sooo let’s take pictures of panicked Indi instead of calming her down :/

Apart from the claustrophobia and the extreme tiredness brought on by copious amounts of pasta and bottles of wine, the only other fail was Rabin’s. Relax! He wasn’t the fail, his self-imposed challenge was. He had pompously informed me before the trip that he would be spending a day only eating pizza in Rome. This decision was taken after I had mentioned that the guidebooks suggest that you order it “al taglio” (by the slice). I congratulated him, but to be honest, I didn’t care. I was more taken with the idea of eating nonstop pasta, cheese & mushrooms. I also know that when Rabin makes these sort of weird self challenges, if I stay very quiet and don’t remind him, he’ll either forget or lose interest in it.

Ta da! I told you I was semi-psychic. He was so inexplicably intense about it that we ended up eating no pizza whatsoever.

So today’s marinara sauce is very simple, and is actually not a bad sauce for a pizza or flatbread once you cook it down (and therefore reduce the liquid) a little more. You don’t even need many additional toppings since the sauce is kind of chunky. I used a simple classic recipe but added my own twist – i.e. wine. I used it with the Baked Arancini I posted about a while back.

Supercharged Marinara Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 14oz tin Diced Tomatoes
1 14oz tin Tomato Sauce
2 tsp Garlic, diced
2 small Onions, diced
1/3 cup Red Wine
3 cups loosely packed Spinach
1/2 tsp dried Oregano
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions

Warm olive oil in a pot. Add onions and cook until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute until sizzling and fragrant.

Add red wine and cook until liquid has reduced by about 1/3 – 1/2 the original amount. Add both tins of tomatoes (diced and sauce), along with oregano, pepper & salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until thickened.

Stir in spinach and cook for another minute or two. Remove from heat.

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Also, why did I write about pasta and rice when I planned to have salad for lunch today!? Ugh. Fail #4.

London, Coronation Chicken & a Tribute to a Friend

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Less than two months ago, I sat at the Oscar Wilde Bar in London indulging in my first High Tea ever, with 4 people that I had only ever spoken to online. Sounds weird? It was my first blogger meet-up. A fellow blogger, Selma (of Selma’s Table) had organized a wonderful afternoon.

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From left: Me, Justine, Ginger, Marita & Selma

On the day that I met the girls, I was panicking a little. Ok a lot. I was tired, I had flown in that morning from Geneva and I kept putting off breakfast because I wanted to 1) check in 2) get through security 3) get on the plane 4) get my luggage 5) check into the hotel 6) change 7) change at the train station after I realized the restaurant had a dress code. By the time I had breakfast, I was frazzled, tired, and had a burning in my chest that only intensified after I ate. I had also misaveraged the time to meet up because I tend not to consider travel time in Guyana – everything is 15 minutes away and people are always late.

I was planning to use the tube, but the lines were ridiculous and I thought that a taxi would be faster. Spoiler alert: it was NOT. Dammit Google maps – I checked it after I got into the taxi. I also didn’t have water with me, so I was panicked, my chest was burning, and I was dehydrated. I was so frazzled that when the concierge asked me if I wanted to check my coat and purse, I gave him the plastic bag I had in my hand containing the comfy crocs that I had changed out of. Yes. That was all I gave him. A plastic bag of well worn shoes. I’m so classy. You can take me to all the fancy spots.

When I was leaving, I couldn’t find my tag, so he asked me what I had checked. I told him and he very nicely said, “ah yes. I remember you.” Serious respect to him for not being condescending (at least to my face)…I do love those Brits and their manners!

The most British day ever.

The most British day ever.

After adding that experience to my “Adventures of Awkward Girl” repertoire, I found the table, met Selma and the others that had arrived already (I wasn’t the last one there! Whew) and proceeded to have a lovely and very memorable afternoon.

How did this Tea happen? About a month before that, I had emailed Selma to tell her that I’d be in England for a day or two, and if she was available, maybe we could meet up for coffee? Not only did she respond almost immediately, she volunteered to round up other London based bloggers that I might have met virtually and make an afternoon of it. She even suggested Tea, which was awesome because a legit afternoon tea was on my food list. She took care of all the details – finding a restaurant, the reservation, contacting the other bloggers, confirming dietary restrictions – all I had to do was show up.

I had never met Selma in person before that day. She was a blogger that I met over at Fiesta Friday and then bumped into her at the monthly “In my Kitchen” meetup over at Fig Jam & Lime Cordial. Both meetups host dozens of participants, and quite often you might come across cool blogs, comment a few times on their posts, and then get lost in your daily life so you might not check in for a while. Selma wasn’t like that. She was a regular visitor and hosted Fiesta Friday on many occasions. One of her recipes was featured on Food52, and while that could have probably ignited jealousy in some bloggers (me included), Selma was so nice that you couldn’t help but be happy for her and thoroughly impressed. Because of Selma, I was able to meet Justine of Eclectic Odds & Sods, Marita at MyDinner.co.uk, and Ginger over at Ginger & Bread.

Sadly, Selma passed away about two weeks ago. The lovely Fiesta Friday gals put together a virtual tribute to her, and today I’m sharing a recipe that reminds me of Selma.

Selma on the right

Selma on the right

I’m sharing my attempt at Coronation Chicken. I don’t eat pork or beef so that kind of eliminates 3/4 of the popular British dishes to try. Coronation Chicken was created to honour Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1952 and is still reasonably popular today. You even see fresh coronation chicken sandwiches packaged for sale in Marks & Spencer, and it is a popular sandwich on High Tea menus (apart from cucumber sandwiches). Because Selma was responsible for my first blogger meetup and high tea, this recipe reminds me of a good friend, the power of food to connect people, and a lovely lady who will be missed.

Coronation Chicken

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Recipe adapted from BBC Food

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Ingredients

2 cups cooked Chicken, shredded

1 tbsp Butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

½ tsp Red Pepper flakes

2 tsp Curry Powder

2 tbsp Tomato Purée

3½fl oz dry White Wine

3½fl oz Water or Stock

1 tbsp Apricot Jam

3 ½ fl oz Mayonnaise

1 fl oz Heavy Crream

1 tsp chopped fresh Coriander

1 tbsp Lemon Juice

Salt and Black pepper, to taste

¼ cup slivered almonds (toasted lightly dry frying pan)

Instructions

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the shallot and red pepper flakes and fry for 2 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cook for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the tomato purée and cook for an additional minute. Add the wine and continue to cook until the volume of the liquid has reduced by half.

Stir in the jam and water / stock, continue to simmer until the volume of the liquid has reduced by half again. Set aside to cool.

Add the mayonnaise and the heavy cream to the curry dressing. Stir in the lemon juice and coriander.

Add shredded chicken, and add salt & black pepper to taste. Top with slivered almonds.

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Rome Part I: Arancini, Bernini & the Eternal City at night

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The Pantheon – literally right behind our apartment. Love this pic – very proud of myself :)

Italy has been my dream destination for as long as I can remember. I’ve wanted to visit every part of the country – Rome, Venice, Pisa, Florence, Milan, Turin and Pompeii. We almost didn’t even go to Rome on this trip because of two reasons: I wanted to do the entire Italy in one trip, and I was actually kind of afraid that the country wouldn’t live up to the hype in my mind. Ok, it was more the latter. Rabin convinced me to add Rome to the trip and I’m so glad he did. It was by far my favourite part of the trip and totally lived up to the hype. I love Rome so much that this Rome post is split into two parts – you’ll read Part II next week.

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Love this pic. Photography fluke but I’ll call it skills.

Being in Rome at night feels like the whole city is invited to hang out. You come out after dark, make your way through cobblestoned streets, pass centuries-old buildings and sculptures of deep historical significance, stumble upon dimly lit narrow streets that would pass for alleyways in other parts of the world, flatten yourself against the wall as vehicles manage to squeeze through, and sit down at a randomly chosen cafe or restaurant for what you know will be a fantastic meal. Order a bottle of wine, take your time drinking it and then set out again, planning to get lost.

That book there is was my Food Bucket List #nerd

That book there was my Food Bucket List #nerd

Insider tip: arriving into the city at night means that you’ll see everywhere lit up. The modern places will somehow melt away and your heart will jump into your throat when you see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica appear, illuminated from somewhere beyond your line of sight.

Before we went, I reread Angels & Demons by Dan Brown. Granted, it is not a history book, and huge parts of it are fiction. But that’s what I like about these kinds of books – you get your thrilling fiction and also walk away having learned something. I liked the book a lot more than the DaVinci Code, and I remember being enthralled by the way he managed to intertwine an entire story with the existing monuments and structures. At the time, I googled every place he mentioned, and remember literally gasping when I saw the picture of Castel Sant’Angelo and the Angel’s sword pointing downwards (and no, not a spoiler alert. The book came out almost 10 years ago, so the statute of limitations has long passed). Seeing that picture was one of the best ‘life meets literature’ moments that I’ve ever experienced. Seeing it in person was indescribable.

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I was also bowled over by Piazza Navona and the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana de Quattro Fiumi), designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Rabin and I googled the fountain and walked around it, reading out the symbolism and picking it out – did you know that the four male sculptures at the base of the statue were meant to represent the 4 known rivers in the world at that time (The Nile, Danube, Rio de la Plata and the Ganges)? Animals and plants from these regions are also artfully placed throughout the statue, and in the middle stands an Egyptian type Obelisk, meant to represent Papal power at the time. Among others, Bernini also designed St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The three rows of pillars are situated in such a way that if you stand at a certain angle, the rows disappear, and you only see one line of pillars. As much as I suck at remembering any type of history, there is just something about this city that makes me want to get lost in the endless history, myths and legends.

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Fontana de Quatto Fiumi

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The view from the Spanish Steps

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Piazza Navona

Ok enough gushing. I think Rome has figured out by now that I have a not-so-secret, head-over-heels, embarrassingly girly crush on it. Today I’m bringing you Arancini, a fried risotto (rice) ball popular in Italy. Arborio rice is cooked, shaped into a ball, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The more sophisticated type of arancini has a cube of mozzarella stuffed in the middle, so when you crack open that ball, the cheese just oozes out. So amazing! Since I’m against frying, I decided to bake mine, and also make my own marinara sauce. My Marinara recipe will feature in Part II next week.

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The recipe I chose was taken from Better Homes & Gardens. I amped up the seasoning a little more and removed the spinach. You can find the original recipe here.

Baked Arancini w/ Mozzarella

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

3/4 cup Arborio Rice

1 tbsp Olive Oil

2 1/2 cups Stock

2 medium Onions, sliced

3 cloves Garlic, minced

8 fresh Basil leaves

2 Eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup Flour

3/4 cup Panko Breadcrumbs (regular breadcrumbs should be fine, but panko will crisp up better)

4 pieces Mozarella cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes

Cooking Spray

Instructions

Warm oil in a saucepan. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and basil and cook for an additional minute, until fragrant. Add rice, and pour about 1 cup of stock to mixture. Stir until liquid is almost fully absorbed, then add additional cup, then remaining liquid. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for approximately 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Before you remove the risotto from the fridge, place eggs, flour and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls. Put some potable water in a fourth bowl and cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and remove risotto from fridge and divide into 4 equal parts. Take half of one portion and shape into a ball, then press down to make a deep indent. Place mozarella in the indent, and add remaining portion to cover the mozarella. Make sure that the ball is tightly packed and that no mozarella is exposed. Roll in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining three portions.

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Place on a baking sheet and spray generously with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with marinara sauce.

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Sorry for the crazy amount of pictures, but this is me editing myself :D. Happy weekend!

Hanging out on the Spanish Steps, thinking about my next meal

Hanging out on the Spanish Steps, thinking about my next meal