With the Click of My Camera

My memory is not what it used to be. Ok, that’s a lie. It’s always been on the hazy side, so I can relate to writer Nick Fauchald’s admittance that he has “food amnesia” in an article called “A Digerati’s Food Diary.” Like Fauchald, my life revolves around food, yet I can’t recall last night’s dinner without digging into the depths of my cluttered brain. I share his sentiment that memorable meals should be, well, memorable, but the repetitious nature of eating complicates the matter and often buries those gems of an experience in the back of my mind. And that is just what I hope to capture in the many food photos I take – an experience, linked to a memory, linked to a feeling.

On a recent trip to New York, I wanted to ensure that each click of the camera represented my experience in the city and presence in each moment. I created the right lighting, posed plates creatively, and sheepishly admitted being a food blogger as curious passersby glanced in my direction. I came away from four food-filled, exhausting days in Manhattan with over one hundred shots of breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, and many more beautiful photos of friends’ restaurant dishes, market produce, and food trucks. I couldn’t help myself in the dining capital of the world. I noticed every kind of cuisine represented, allowing me to be transported to nearly any continent I so desired.

One location that I was yearning to visit via New York’s transformative food scene was Ukraine. In an effort to connect to my heritage and nourish my beet-loving soul, I visited the East Village classic Veselka, a traditional Ukrainian restaurant with a modern twist. They are known for their borscht, even offering up a restaurant cookbook with the standout purple dish on its starkly white cover. It’s the meal starter I sought out since stepping off the Megabus in Midtown just days before. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the cool and refreshing liquid after walking miles around the city in the mid-summer heat.

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As I currently review multiple pictures of the best Ukrainian meal of my life (that also happened to be vegetarian – no small feat), it’s that pinkish-purple cold borscht that sticks out in my mind. Even though the experience was just days ago, I know I will continue to remember the enjoyment in sharing that meal with two of my classmates, of comparing their equally delicious hot, meaty borscht to my choice, and of that gorgeous lazy summer evening sitting out on the restaurant’s patio sipping our soups.

More than that, this one dish that I captured in June 2012 in New York City with two friends transformed me to my grandmother’s kitchen table in western Ukraine during the 1960s. I am exuding the same anticipation and excitement over Veselka’s beet, cucumber and egg-filled cold borscht that my father expressed every wintry Wednesday of his childhood over my grandmother’s hot beet, cabbage and potato recipe. My father wasn’t physically with me on that Saturday evening in the city, but I felt closer to him than ever. And I will always connect that memory and feeling to this one photograph of a simple cup of soup.

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Back in the present, I finally remembered that last night’s dinner was leftover spinach lasagna. I just couldn’t bring myself to capture on film this quickly and individually eaten meal because it didn’t compare to my beloved borscht; not in the past, present, or future.

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A Day in Y-Town

Youngstown, Ohio might not be a top destination on your “to visit” list, but it was lovely for a weekend afternoon trip. My Pgh friend Sara is originally from Y-town, as they say, so she was happy to show me around her neck of the woods and check out the Grey to Green Festival going on.

We started with lunch at a local restaurant chain, where everything had meat in it…so I ended with my standby: a bunch of side dishes! I actually really enjoyed my house salad, baked sweet potato and asparagus. If you’re at a meat-heavy chain restaurant, ordering a few sides (make sure you choose a veggie!) is a good way to get a balanced meal.

What was maybe not so balanced, but soooo worth it was dessert. Handel’s Ice Cream, here we come!!

Holy cold, creamy treats, batman! This place makes all their own ice cream fresh (every couple days they’re making a new batch of each flavor), and there’s like 848563 flavors! Red velvet, s’mores, pumpkin pecan, spouse like a house….OMG, the list of unique offerings never ends! Of course, I had to try multiple flavors and find out what “spouse like a house” was like. FYI, according to Sara who worked there for many years, it is “malted vanilla ice cream with peanut butter ripples and pieces of chocolate covered pretzels.” WHAT? Amazing! Every flavor was so delicious and tasted really fresh. I just found out that there are a couple Handel’s Ice Cream’s not too far from me. This could get dangerous…

Banana cream pie, spouse like a house, chocolate peanut butter, and buckeye ice cream

After the sugar coma, it was time for festivalling! We perused the beautiful Wick Park while enjoying some of the Grey to Green vendors. I chatted with the Vegetarians of Youngstown and ogled over adorable alpacas!

Hello, furry friends!

My favorite part was meeting Sara’s cute mama and checking out her house after all the fun. I even got to see some fancy artwork from the young prodigy:

I definitely could not draw flowers like that at 10 years old!

It was such a lovely afternoon, and just a little over an hour away. Hmmm, where else can I go for a day or weekend trip? I’m thinking the Spa at Hotel Hershey is not a bad idea!

Random Thoughts

In case you ever wondered what happens in this brain of mine, here are some of my thoughts this week:

I start graduate school in a month! freakoutmoment

I appreciated Lady Gaga’s well-spoken insight and genuine comments while judging So You Think You Can Dance last night.

Boston is an awesome city…like a smaller, more relaxed version of New York.

How did I not know for several days that Amy Winehouse died?

Why does it seem like our split government is fighting like 5 year-old children?

Holy Canoli! Mike’s Pastry is awesome.

I saw this box floating all around Boston

Peanut Butter Canoli!

Yes, that canoli is in my thoughts. Daily.

Ready to GO!

Happy Monday to the world! I am more excited than usual on this beginning of the week day because tomorrow Hubs and I will be in Arizona! For 9 glorious days. In the desert. Yay!

To prepare for 100-degee dry heat (which we are NOT used to coming from Detroit and Pgh), I had a packing extravaganza last night! LOTS of lightweight tank tops and leggings, workout clothes, hiking shoes AND socks, and more…

Who knew there were so many types of hiking socks (from one company)?! Here’s my new fancy, breathable, foot-hugging pair from Wigwam:

Exciting, right? Along with my trusty Tevas, I’m all set for the rough roads and rocks of Sedona and the Grand Canyon!

Also along for the ride are a few reads I’m excited to dive into:

 

I like to switch it up between non-fiction, health-related books and fiction pieces. I want to get in as much “me” reading before I have to read about 800 pages a week in grad school!

Any summer reads or fun vacations planned?

Phoenix Adventures: Call Out

Hubs and I are traveling to the desertous Southwest at the end of June. Yes…the desert. in. the. middle. of. summer. Who thought of this brilliant plan? Oh, right, it was me :-/

I’m not sure if I’ll survive the heat (dryer is better, right?) but I’m hoping to do some fun things, see some beautiful sights and eat some delicious food in and around Phoenix, AZ. Got any ideas for us?

We have eight glorious days to do…whatever! Ahh, I love vacation. We definitely want to be in Phoenix/Scottsdale for a few days (where we’re flying in/out of), and maybe spend a day or two each in Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

I would love any hotel/activity/park/restaurant/area recommendations that you would like to share. I am especially on the hunt for delicious veg-friendly restaurants that both of us can be happy dining at. After all, food is top priority for me!

Thanks in advance for your wise words 🙂

Gas?

I recently took a little road trip to Detroit and stumbled upon a very timely forwarded e-mail about ways to maximize gas pumpage. I know this is totally random for my blog, but everyone (over the age of 16) pumps or has pumped gas, so just consider this a friendly FYI! Back to the food blogging soon….

TIPS ON PUMPING GAS (from a forwarded e-mail- NOT my exact words)

I don’t know what you guys are paying for gasoline…. but here in California we are paying up to $3.75 to $4.10 per gallon. My line of work is in petroleum for about 31 years now, so here are some tricks to get more of your money’s worth for every gallon:

Only buy or fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the more dense the gasoline, when it gets warmer gasoline expands, so buying in the afternoon or in the evening….your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role. A 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.

When you’re filling up, do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode. If you look you will see that the trigger has three (3) stages: low, middle, and high. You should be pumping on low mode, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some of the liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you’re getting less worth for your money.

One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL. The reason for this is the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine. Gasoline storage tanks have an internal floating roof. This roof serves as zero clearance between the gas and the atmosphere, so it minimizes the evaporation.

Another reminder, if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, DO NOT fill up; most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom.

To have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of gas buyers. It’s really simple to do. Pass it on if you think this is important!

What I Like Wednesdays: Part I

I’m starting a new weekly post called What I Like Wendesdays for two reasons. One- it keeps me accountable and on a regular schedule, so I HAVE TO write on Wednesdays (I know, I’m bad), and Two- I like a lot of things that you should know about!

Today on What I Like Wednesdays we will chat about Hostels. I LOVE hostels! Maybe I should consider changing the name of this post…OK, anyway, there are so many reason to like/love hostels (not the movie…). If you have ever stayed in one in Europe, South America, Asia, or even in some metropolitan U.S. cities, you might feel the sense of comraderie that they provide, among other things. Everyone has different stories to share, yet you still feel very similar to the people you talk to, as if an instant bond connects you just because you’re staying at this hostel in this city on these days.

Hostels provide an affordable, unique way to see a city. You can share a room with those of the same gender, sometimes get a private room, or more often than not, share a room with men and women from all over the world. Complete strangers from the U.S., Australia, Israel, and Argentina sharing the same room?! Yes, that’s what makes it so exhilarating. When are you going to get another chance to talk to (mostly) young adults, traveling around this ever-shrinking globe of ours and hear their stories and learn how different, yet how similar, their lives are to yours?

You become instant friends and often set your sights on the city together. Many weekends while I lived in Budapest, I would travel alone by bus or train to nearby cities and settle into a hostel. As soon as I dropped off my stuff and got acquainted with my surroundings and the people, I no longer felt alone. I could gather some new friends for a night on the town, a discussion at a cafe in the middle of the town square, or I could do my own thing. The possibilities were endless! And the hostel atmosphere- well, that was different every place I went. And I loved it every time!

Some of my favorite hostels (so far) include:

Hostel Celica (Ljubljana, Slovenia) – the former jail.

Happy Hostel (Belgrade, Serbia) – how can you not like a hostel with flower carpets?!

Czech Inn Hostel (Prague, Czech Republic) – what a great name!

Hobo Bear Hostel (Zagreb, Croatia) – it’s like living in a cave…

Greg & Tom Hostel (Krakow, Poland) – free dinner and drinks. YES!

As you can see, all the hostels on this list are European. That’s because I haven’t yet traveled to other continents or stayed at their hostels (sad face) and only stayed at one U.S. hostel. I think the U.S. is vastly behind Europe, and probably Asia and South America in their availability and uniqueness of hostels.

That brings me to my next point- a hostel is coming to DETROIT! Can you believe it?! There hasn’t been a hostel there in over 15 years, and some smart young adults will be opening the doors to a Corktown hostel around April 2011. Read an article about it HERE. Their new website is pretty cool, too!

AND there’s more…there are efforts to bring a hostel back to Pittsburgh as well. I am ready to be a part of the process and hope this can happen sooner than later. Read about their efforts HERE.

P.S. Warning: Hostels are great, but you ALWAYS need to be careful of pickpockets and thieves anytime you’re traveling, especially when it involves communal living quarters. I have never had any problems (knock on wood), partly because I am ever the skeptic and very careful who I associate with, and partly because I have always been responsible and never let anything important out of my site (hello passport, wallet & camera!). So please BE CAREFUL anytime you travel, even to a fancy hotel!

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