BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Running to stand still

We started our visit in Ireland with a trip to the bog of Allan. Though there is bog all over the midlands... including a decent chunk just a short walk down the road from where we were staying, Brad felt the need to find something more than just a piece of turf.

Finding the bog of Allan interpretive centre was a bit of a goose chase, as the road signs were pointing in the wrong direction (was it the work of bored teens or the wind?).  After correcting our course we then discovered that the right road was blocked by the construction of a new road... requiring us to completely redirect ourselves all around the countryside until we finally found the locked up interpretive centre. Luckily the caretakers were at home, and they provided us with an enthusiastic tour aimed at our group of 6 young children.

Regardless, the bog of Allan was mostly just a bit of turf, and a two room museum on the history of the bog in Ireland.  This was my favorite museum piece... made of wool that was dyed by bog dwelling plants.
After that first day we put aside sight-seeing and spent our time visiting friends, shopping in Dublin, exploring country pubs and hanging out in Maynooth.
But Brad wasn't done with his search for that piece of Irish wilderness.  So to ease his spirit, we spent our last day searching for the Burren.  Though we didn't hike in... after a 2 1/2 hour drive (only a Canadian consider that to be a "day-trip", though I'm not sure our children would agree!) we did find a piece of the Burren.
Yes, it is a rocky field.  Interesting... but... after seeing the Colosseum in Rome and the Eiffel Tower, I think the children were a little less than impressed.  Nikolai did pick up a rock to bring home... but I think that was simply because there didn't seem to be any tourist shops nearby.

Since I have already blogged a number of Irish recipes... for this blog I'm going to revisit Italy, and share the recipe of Ligurian chickpea bread.  We ate it twice... the first time was at a fast food restaurant that appetizingly described it as "chickpea gruel". The second time we ate it was at a pizzeria, where all of the locals seemed to be eating it as a appetizer to their pizzas.  It was delicious both times and luckily it is easy to make!


The most important thing about farinata is to scale the recipe so that it fits whatever pan you have available. Ideally you would have a 10" deep dish pizza pan. I don't have one of those, so I made a triple batch in my cookie sheet. I think the only real consideration is that the pan should be metal, and have sides at least an inch high.

Whisk to combine 2/3 cup chickpea flour, 3/4 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Allow to sit for at least 4 hours.

Heavily oil your pan with 2 tbsp olive oil. Pour batter into the pan and shake it around to combine it with the oilt.  The batter should be about 1/4 inch thick.  Then top with your add ins.  These will sink into the batter, and be baked into the farinata. Bake at 400 F for 20-30 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Above is onion, tomato and cheddar, below is rosemary and Parmesan. But any kind of cheese and cooked vegetable combination would work.  At the pizzeria we ate pumpkin, tomato and Gorgonzola!

The texture is sort of like polenta.  And the leftovers were great reheated and served with a tomato sauce.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Deep within the Emerald Isle

Going back is usually hard.  You feel homesick for what you knew. You're different. Changed by time and life events. And the awkwardness of no longer belonging.

I was worried.

But my worries were needless.

A culture that is partially defined by the word "diaspora" is well practiced at having people visit. Everyone simply acted as though we'd never left. So we were able to enjoy our time, and visit our old haunts without feeling out of place.

We did so much that I don't even know where to begin... that is only compounded by the fact that I have two slightly crazy, jet-lagged children, so I think I'll simply touch on Saint Patrick's Day and leave the rest of my tales for another day.

This time we opted to go to Trim, as the Dublin Parade would be a bit much for Uliana, and the Maynooth parade fell during nap-time.

As a decent-sized market town, Trim had a lot of small-town fun activities.  The day started out with a homemade boat race on the river Boyne...
...then a soap box race down a hill opposite the famous castle.

This was all capped off by a parade of locally made floats (our hosts are probably still laughing about the fact that a tractor pulling a bale of hay was considered a "float").

Brad was very excited to discover that Ireland has embraced the world of craft beers (he's so hipster).
It was a very busy (and exhausting) day!

Now for a quick and easy jet-lagged brunch.  Hash is made easy at our house with our very cool mandolin.

Crispy Vegetable Hash
Grate 2 cups of potato, and 2 cups of vegetables (onion, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, etc). Toss with 2 tbsp of melted butter (or oil). Add in 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp sweet paprika, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp black pepper and 1 tsp salt (to taste).

Roast in the oven at 450 F for 20-30 min, until nice and crispy.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Il y a tout ce que vous voulez

Ah Paris... a wonderful city to visit. Like Rome it is packed with tourists and hustlers, but the broad boulevards, and open vistas keep you from feeling hemmed in.
There is so much to see, and it is a city made for walking, so Nikolai never struggled to keep up. He even had extra energy to hike up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.
There were public bathrooms everywhere, playgrounds everywhere, and croissants everywhere.
Throw in some stinky cheese, and we were travelling with two happy children.  Our only struggle was around taking the metro with our stroller.  But even then the Parisians were happy to oblige, if Brad was unavailable to help carry the stroller, then someone else was sure to pick up the bottom and help me haul it down the stairs.
Now we're in Ireland, and having a fab time visiting with all our friends... (one little five year old is sitting next to me wondering about how my computer works, so I'm going to skip right to my recipe).  There is a grain-free crepes, called a succa, that is traditional in the south of France.  After discovering that, I had to try it out myself in our tiny Parisian kitchenette.  It worked out quite well, though I think I need to work on my flipping technique... I'll blame the pan for now!

Mix together: 1 cup chickpea flour, 2 tbsp olive oil, 3/4 tsp salt, 1+ 1/4 cup of water, 1 tbsp minced rosemary and 1 tsp cumin (optional). The crepe batter should be quite wet, and will need to sit for at least two hours before it's ready to use to fully saturate the flour.
Then fry in hot olive oil until the middle seems cooked, flip over and add toppings then serve.  Traditionally it is served plain, topped with rosemary, cumin, salt and pepper. But you could also fill it with any sweet or savoury crepe fillings that you would like.

The kids definitely seemed to like it!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Another side of Italy

How do you know a Canadian tourist in Rome? They're the ones wearing t-shirts in March!  I think the Italians thought we were trying to kill our kids by not dressing them appropriately. The weather was a balmy 18 C, so Uliana was flushed even when she wasn't wearing a coat.  By comparison, the locals were still wearing winter coats and scarves.

Rome with children was a struggle.  The sidewalks were impassible with our stroller.  Even walking, they were a hazard as the locals would park their cars everywhere that wasn't barricaded. And there was lots of litter, including dog poo.  

Then there was the general lack of playgrounds, public bathrooms and street signs.  We were always getting lost, despite having a detailed map and guide book, which meant a lot of extra walking for Nikolai.  And even though it was off season, there were so many tourists (and hustlers) that it was hard for the kids to manoeuvre.

It didn't matter though, Nikolai is a natural traveller.  He loved it so much that he cried when it came to leave.
Our goal was to get to Paris, and going by train gave us a natural stop for our connection in Turin.  Despite having recently hosted the Olympics, it is not on the usual tourist circuit.  However, I would strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a broad scope European city.  It's Archeology Museum has all the history of the Roman Empire, as well the countryside is covered with stately palaces from it's former glory as the Capital of Italy.  
The town is laid out with wide boulevards, pedestrian zones and giant piazzas.  It was easy for the kids to get around, and buskers (rather than hustlers) were out everywhere... entertaining the locals with performances (music, acrobatic, and puppeteers). We only had one day there, so we went for a small 4 museum pass, so that we could see the central Royal Palace.  Though it was the medieval armoury that had Nikolai completely fixated.  There were at least a dozen knights on horseback with various different fancy suits of armour on display. Certainly a feast for his imagination.

Now, I do have a recipe to share... it's a basic grain-free biscuit that I've been whipping up in our various rental kitchens.  We are eating a little bit of grain, but anything more than a small portion at a meal seems to give both Nikolai and myself a stomach ache!  Who knew!  Anyhow... it really detracts from the pizza, pasta experience so we really aren't that interested in cheating.

Basic Grain Free Biscuit
Mix together 2 cups of flour (almond meal or chickpea flour or mix with potato starch etc), 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt.  Rub in 1/4 cup of butter (or you could use oil).  Add in 2 eggs.  At this point you should add in more flour to make a thicker dough as needed.  It should be like a scone/biscuit dough. Form it into little patties.  Bake or Fry until cooked.  

(This is an ad hoc recipe because it was adapted for different ad ins, and depended on what is available in our kitchenette).

You can amend this in many different ways.   I made an so far I have made almond meal with diced garlic and grated cheese biscuit.  As well as two different variations of a sweet biscuits with chickpea flour involving stewed dates in milk, raisins, nuts, and coconut.  I really think that ANY flavours you can think of would work well in this recipe... it's really just that basic.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

When in Rome

Our trip so far has mostly been focused on teaching Uliana to travel.  Ever since she's joined our family she has been the dominating personality... and that fact has only grown as she's learned how to walk, talk etc. So our trip was sure to be dictated by the smallest member of our household.

Luckily the flight went fantastically well.  We were given an infant bassinet seat in the bulk head of the plane. It meant that Uliana could happily sleep reclined, and that the rest of us had plenty of leg room.  We were seated in a section of babies... but I was the lucky mom that got to listen to other people's babies scream for most of the 9 hours (so much better than listening to my own baby)!

As it turns out Uliana was just saving up her screaming for after our arrival.  It's a nightly thing that occurs for about 1 hour at bedtime... only with the jet lag, it became something that she woke up to do in the early morning hours.  The time has slowly moved back from 4 am on our first night to midnight last night... but it has made it hard for the rest of us to quickly adjust.  Luckily everyone is sleeping in late... so we just rearranged our life to work around a late bedtime.

The only issue is that our late start in the mornings means that we really only have 2-3 hours to sightsee everyday.  Add that to the fact that Uliana lacks the patience that comes with maturity... have meant that we really haven't tried to do too much.  For example, we went to the Vatican... but didn't go into any of the museums, nor even the free St. Peter's Basillica (the line up was at least an hour long).
But we had a week to spend here, so we have seen LOTS.

Villa Borghese


Today was our first "full" day of sightseeing, and we went to the Roman Forum and Colosseum.  Since the Forum is basically a huge, ruined playground, it was pretty popular with our crowd.

I'm about to be attacked by a pint-sized gladiator so I think this blog is done! (Nikolai spent his Italy spending money on a sword and trained Uliana how to use it...)

On that note, Nikolai also is starting a blog.  It's called Sam and Lucy's adventures.