Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Europe 2010: Istanbul

Posted by Katie

Istanbul was truly like no other place I have ever been before.  

And while the sights and sounds of the city are what I'll remember most (particularly the call to prayer blasting from every mosque and the uncut Ottoman rubies and emeralds the size of apricots a Topkapi Palace), Nick and I also had some very enjoyable dining experiences while in Istanbul. 

It was very hot that day and so you shouldn't be surprised that our very first taste of Istanbul came in the form of Turkish ice cream, or dondurma. Dondurma is very different from American ice cream or even gelato in that it is very stretchy and sticky.

This constancy makes it very easy for ice cream men to play tricks on unsuspecting tourists like me. The servers use a long metal rod with a flat paddle at the end to pull up the ice cream and press it onto the cones.

This guy liked to do a little trick where he would pass me an ice cream cone using his rod, only to pull the ice cream off the top of the cone with the rod, leaving me holding an empty cone. This happened enough times for a small crowd to gather around the stand to laugh at my misfortune before he finally decided I had earned my cone, ice cream and all. Here's what the finished product looked like:

I was expecting the ice cream to be chewy because it was so stretchy, but the consistency was actually pretty smooth and more like gelato once it hit my mouth. Unlike gelato, however, I had no desire for two cones in one day. The flavors (vanilla, caramel and chocolate) were a little off from what I was expecting and, for some reason, the thought of how stretchy the ice cream could be made me a little queasy. Good thing Nick and I were sharing so I could pass our cone off to him to finish. 

For lunch, we ate at a little restaurant somewhere in the vast Grand Bazaar. 

Our waiter seemed to speak English well so I asked him what his favorite item on the menu was. This confused him a lot but he ended up pointing to the "meat roll." This turned out to be a large tortilla rolled with tomatoes, french fries and some sort of unidentifiable but tasty meat. (Ok, so it doesn't look that great in the picture below, but it was good, promise.) We also ordered some freshly squeezed orange juice, which apparently is huge in Turkey as there were orange juice stands everywhere. 

After lunch, we headed to the Spice Bazaar, where I received my favorite salutation of the trip. 

While I was taking the picture above, I noticed that the clerks (you can see one in the blue polo) were all elbowing each other. After I put my camera down, one of the brave ones came up to me and said "Hello, beautiful angels." Love it. 

Turkish delight was everywhere at the Spice Bazaar, and like anyone who has read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Nick and I were eager to try some samples. Too bad I'm allergic to pistachios though (sad, right?) because they are a main ingredient in most turkish delight. I ended up sampling some sad-looking candy similar to turkish delight but it was tasteless and boring I just know the real thing has to be so much better. 

Our last stop before heading back to the ship was at one of the many corn-on-the-cob stands. The corn is either steamed or grilled. Nick and I went the grilled route. 

Tasty, but I swear, Turkish corn is like 10 times more sticky and hard to get out of your teeth than American corn. Maybe that was just Nick and me though. 

And now, some more pictures from Istanbul! 

But first, did you see this Monday's episode of The Bachelorette? If you didn't, watch some of that too. We didn't have time to go to a Turkish bath or to the Bascilica Cistern so it was cool to watch them go to those places on the show, though I was kind of disappointed I didn't get to see them in person.

 Topkapi Palace

One of the Harem rooms in the Palace

Hagia Sophia (basilica turned mosque)

Inside the Blue Mosque (the first picture in this post is the outside)

Coming up next: Nick and I drink too much wine and argue over whether our Athens tour guide will get fired by her company. (Yeah, no Kusadasi post. All I ate there was a Magnum Gold?! bar, and you already know about those.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Europe 2010: At Sea

Posted by Katie

Although it might not seem like it, Nick and I actually spent quite a lot of time on the ship as we had to be back on board by at least 6pm everyday. We also spent 2 days "at sea," meaning that we stayed on board the whole day as the ship sailed to our next destination.

In case I didn't mention it before, we sailed on Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess.

I'm lucky enough to be able to compare our experience with Princess to three other cruise lines: Disney (family trip when I was about 12), Royal Caribbean (family trip when I was 18), and Carnival (graduation trip with the girls last summer.)

Princess definitely targets an older crowd. There were way less families with kids than were on Disney and Royal Caribbean and there was definitely no waiters dancing on tables in the dining room like on Carnival. That being said, we had a great time on board.

Here's my top 6 activities/people/places from our cruise:

6) Movies Under the Stars- The Ruby Princess has a huge movie screen on the top deck by one of the pools and they show movies there in the afternoon and at night. Nick and I probably chose the windiest and coldest night to actually do this...but the flannel blankets and the warm chocolate cookies delivered recliner-side definitely helped the situation.

5) Hutch, the port lecturer- Ok, so he was a huge jerk when we actually talked to him, but the ship played his lectures on every port on TV the day before we would dock, and they were super helpful.

4) The endless pool- This was more of Nick's favorite, but I'll admit it was pretty fun. For like 2 minutes. 

3) Ballroom dance lessons- Yes, Nick and I can now Rumba, Cha-Cha and Waltz (sort of).

2) Bartending/cocktail competition- I won! Well, the girls' team won. Same thing.

1) The International Cafe- It's almost embarrassing how often Nick and I stopped by this little dessert cafe, but hey, it was right near our stateroom and if you had the peanut butter cup (peanut butter mousse topped with chocolate mousse with a dollop of fresh whipped cream) you would have been there everyday too.

And now a few more pictures: 

Champagne waterfall on formal night #1

Top decks

View from our stateroom window

One of the ship's many galleys

Performance in "The Piazza"

Formal night #2

The ship docked in Venice

Coming up next: sticky Turkish ice cream in Istanbul

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Portland Restaurant: Oswego Grill

Posted by Kelly

What: Oswego Grill
Where: 7 Centerpointe Dr, Lake Oswego, 97035
Honeys Heart: Steak!

Recently Adam doubled as the "handy man" at his work and for his much appreciated multi-tasking he received a thank you gift certificate to Oswego Grill. We decided to use the gift card to splurge on a tasty anniversary dinner.

Locally owned and operated, Oswego Grill is located just of I-5 in what used to house an Applebee's (...or similar chain). The food is great and since we didn't feel a need to hold back we ordered cocktails, an appetizer, salads, steaks, wine, and dessert.  We also ended up with about 7 take home boxes (seriously).

To sip on while we read and re-read the menu we each ordered a cocktail and the "cheesy bread" my aunt suggested. I chose the Rising Sun martini ($7.50) with Yazi ginger vodka, fresh passion and mango and Adam went for the Island Tea ($7.50) with mango and guava puree, gin, rum, vodka, triple sec and a splash of sprite. Both were good...but I think mine was better!

Actually the "cheesy bread" is Focaccia Tillamook Bread ($6.95) topped with provolone, mozzarella, and Tillamook cheddar. Cheesy and delicious! 

After enjoying our appetizer we moved on to salads, which unfortunately were so delicious I forgot to get a picture before we ate them. We both chose the Iceberg Wedge Salad ($5.95) with bacon, red onions, roma tomatoes, bleu cheese crumbles AND bleu cheese dressing. I can resist the bacon, Adam can't resist the bleu cheese...

It was time to order steak, and therefore also time to order wine. I ordered the Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon and Adam chose a favorite among the regulars, the 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon. They were both great, but I'll admit I switched to the 14 Hands. Good pick Adam!

To go with our wine (or maybe it's the other way around) we ordered steaks. The 7oz Filet Mignon ($25.95) caught my eye, and Adam wisely chose the "most flavorful of all steaks" the 18oz Bone-In Rib Eye ($29.95).

My steak was tender, melt in your mouth, delicious. But I will agree with the statement on the menu, Adam's had incredible flavor.

As if we hadn't had enough...(though we did take home most of the cheesy bread and half of our dinners)....we both had to order dessert (and more wine.) One thing Adam and I don't agree on, and likely never will, is desserts. I like cheesecakes, cobblers, pies, flan, custard whereas Adam will pick anything with chocolate. On this particular night we were feeling frivolous and each ordered or own. I went with the Individual Apple Pie ($5.95) and Adam waited 17 minutes for fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.

They did smell great, but I stick by my choice. My apple pie leftovers made a tasty breakfast...

We had a great experience at Oswego Grill. The food was wonderful and our waitress, Amy, was really friendly and attentive. We had a chance to glance at the happy hour menu and I think we will need to return. The prices range from $2.95-$3.95 and include the cheesy bread, fish tacos, sliders and more! I'll let you know how it is!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Europe 2010: Mykonos

Posted by Katie

Aside from Barcelona, Mykonos was by far my favorite place we visited. I mean, how could you not love a place as beautiful as Mykonos?


And, as if the scenery weren't amazing enough, the food was soooo good.

Nick and I had our first of two lunches (that's right, two) at a small kebab place located somewhere within Mykono's winding streets.

I wanted a lamb gyro, but unfortunately the lamb had not arrived yet that day, so we had to wait. At least we had this little beggar for company:

Even better, when the lamb finally did arrive, it arrived in this:

And it was definitely worth the wait. So tender and perfectly flavored. And the pita it was wrapped in was soft and deliciously doughy, a perfect complement to the lamb, tomatoes, lettuce, french fries and tzatziki sauce (yogurt with cucumber, dill and garlic) that it held.

For our second lunch, we ate at a cafe by the harbor. This was the view from our table:

After perusing the menu, I decided to try the moussaka, which I had never tried before. Well, found my new favorite Greek dish. 

It reminded me of lasagna, but with potatoes and eggplant instead of lasagna noodles and creamy b├ęchamel sauce on top instead of mozzarella. Even though I had already eaten that first lunch, I didn't have any problems finishing my second one.

Nick decided to try the "Greek Plate 1" which had pieces of pita, tzatziki sauce, moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, a meatball, and french fries. All very tasty too.

Needless to say, we left Mykonos fat and happy. And the island is definitely on my list of places that I'd like to return to.

Also, here's a picture of the giant pelican that hangs out around Mykonos and serves as its unofficial mascot. His name is Petros.

Coming up next: More about The Ruby Princess

Monday, June 21, 2010

Europe 2010: Capri

Posted by Katie

I went to Capri when I was on my Italy trip in high school and while I remembered that the island was very beautiful, my main memory was of the amazing gelateria that I found there (surprise, surprise).

I had been chattering to Nick probably nonstop about how we HAD to go back, so imagine my disappointment when I found out that our day-long tour of Sorrento, Pompeii, and Capri would not end in Capri like we thought, but would instead start there. Would my gelateria even be open?!?

Luckily for us, it was! And even though we were probably the only people on the island eating gelato at 10am, it was definitely worth the odd stares we got as the gelato was just as good as I remembered.

I was worried that I might not be able to find my way back to R. Buonocore, but, not only is it on the main drag, the delectable scent of the freshly-made cones makes this gelateria hard to miss.

True to form, I got stracciatella while Nick tried the equivalant of mint chocolate chip. Glamour shot necessary:

I know right?

Believe it or not, R. Buonocore's gelato is not Capri's only culinary delight. Both Capri and Sorrento are known for their limoncello, a lemon liqueur. Nick and I tried samples of some cheap limoncello at a souvenir store and it was horrible, but I have a feeling that if you got the good stuff, it would be pretty enjoyable.

Limoncello is traditionally made with humongous Sorrento lemons (see them hanging in the photo above?), but if you want to make your own limoncello, regular lemons will do just fine. Here's Giada De Laurentiis's very simple recipe. Thinking I might try it out after my lavender infusion is ready...

Anyway, as it turned out, the gelato on Capri was the food highlight of the day. Our tour-sponsored group lunch in Sorrento was pretty nasty and the lemon soda that Nick tried in Pompeii was barely potable. Oh least I got my gelato!

Up next: I discover moussaka on the very picturesque Mykonos

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Europe 2010: Rome

Posted by Katie

In Rome, with no Rick Steves or friendly tour guide to make suggestions, we were faced with lunch on our own. We made a rule after a bad experience in Barcelona that we could not just stop at the first restaurant we found, that we needed to shop around a bit before deciding where to eat. This rule may sound easy to follow, but when you're hungry, ok when I'm hungry, I can be a little hard to reason with.

Luckily, Nick stood his ground and after wandering the streets just across the river from Vatican City, we finally decided on a little place packed with locals that can only be described as a convenience store/pizzeria. I know, sounds a bit off-putting but the pizza looked amazing...

...and tasted amazing too, despite the fact that it was heated up in a microwave circa 1972. Upon being warmed up, each huge piece was folded up and wrapped in wax paper, for easy on-the-go eating.

My piece was topped colorful roasted peppers (called peperoni in Italy) and Nick's had tasty bits of sausage with peppers and onions. We enjoyed our pizza on a park bench in the company of some very persistent pigeons.

Of course, we also had to indulge in some gelato during our stop in Rome. Check out Nick's great multitasking skills:

That time, Nick tried amarena, sweet cream gelato with candied sour cherries, and I went with frutti di bosco, a mix of "fruits of the forest" like blackberries and blueberries. Very refreshing.

Next up: Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Europe 2010: Florence

Posted by Katie

After our morning tour in Florence, our tour group was let loose to have lunch and explore the city on our own for the rest of the afternoon. Our tour guide pointed out a restaurant in the Piazza Santa Croce called Boccadama that her and her fellow tour guides like to eat at, so we figured it had to be pretty good.

Boccadama is definitely tourist-oriented (check out the fancy English website linked above) but I would have to say that our meal there was the best of our trip.

We started out with the Bruschetta al Pomodoro (5 euro). Very fresh and delicious.

Nick had Spaghetti "Don Vito" (9 euro) for his main course. Fresh pasta with tomato sauce and traditional meatballs. So, so good.

For my main course, I considered trying something new, but then I decided I'd go with my old standby of Spaghetti alla Bolognese (8 euro) so I could compare. It was some of the best bolognese I've ever had. I finished my plate of spaghetti before Nick did, and that never happens. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

We also had some Chianti with our meal which was quite good as well. Too bad I can't remember what kind it was...

So you probably want to see a picture of us enjoying our amazing meal, right? Right.

And even though we were soooo stuffed afterward, it was our first day in Italy so you know we had to get gelato.

Stracciatella (strah-cha-TEL-lah) is my very favorite. It's like chocolate chip but so much better because they usually make it by drizzling chocolate over sweet cream gelato and then mixing the chocolate in when it hardens. Yum.

Coming up next: tasty convenience store pizza in Rome