Invincible Summer

by NJG

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Breaking News: Formerly landlocked Kansan leaves the continent, blogs about it

Hello from Portland,
city of giant tomato plants, cabbage-eating-aphids, and two geriatric dogs, one of whom sits in the kitchen while I am away and the other, the basement.
Before I left on my trip abroad, I posted a photo of Beija on Facebook and wrote "Au Revoir Beija
". The lesson I learned in this is: If your dogs is 14 years old and you make any mention of the word "goodbye" (or get a tattoo of her name for that matter), everyone will assume your dog is dead and start freaking out.
I had to tell everyone Beija was not dead, and that I was just bidding audieu online. Okay.

So after years of being landlocked and only crossing the border to see Canada and Mexico, I traveled to Europe (in particular Italy and England) to visit Jeb (who was on tour in Italy with YACHT) and Beth (who is staying in London).

I wanted to show you some comics & food highlights from my trip.

1. Sketchbook pages about the 24 hour trip there (click to enlarge):

I landed in Milan and at my first show of the tour found this:

2. Italian Food Highlights and lowlights

COFFEE: even from a machine in the hotel lobby you have delicious espresso with crema. It is what you get anytime you ask for coffee. I was in hog heaven.

ROADSIDE FOOD: When you stop at a "My Chef" or "Autogrill" in Italy, you will be treated to DELICIOUS olive bread sticks, pasta, some vegetables, possibly focaccia, and always olive oil with balsalmic vinegar in the dining area. This was a food highlight for me after years of touring in the U.S. where ketchup packets and the smell of Subway are the hallmarks of our road food.

PEOPLE FEED YOU. When you are touring Italy, it is customary for your hosts to both house and feed you.
Highlights of this: many courses of delicious food and wine, always finished with espresso.
Lowlight:a delicious but dubious pesto which, after a little post-dinner detective work, appeared to include "fromaggio".

LOWLIGHT: Getting charged $11.00 for two espressos when Jeb & I were set free in Milan with our unwieldy Italian. Damn you, service charge for sitting!

HIGHLIGHT: Eating redemptive gelato (senza latte) for $2.50 and taking a photo with my filthy Food Fight tote bag in front of the Prada store.

HIGHLIGHT: Swimming in the Adriatic Sea


ENGLISH BREAKFAST: Often including vegan sausages. Shown here is breakfast from a hotel with butter-soaked mushrooms but otherwise vegan fare (I hate the word fare).

Kind of like long , sausage-shaped veggie burgers. Delicious ones.

I went to Saf in London for a late dinner with six people.
If you ever go there, I recommend coming early (our top three choices from the menu were sold out). I enjoyed their drinks (including quinoa vodka) , appetizers (Ex:Caviar Blinis- Beetroot and fresh herb caviars served on sourcream, sweet potato blinis with chives and shallots), and my dessert (chocolate orange torte). Here are some entree details:

This taco trio arrived soggy, with each shell heaped full of a salsa or bland guacamole only. The side salad was delicious.

This was the stand out dish from our table. The plating was lovely, and the tofu had all the flavor that I was missing from my sad risotto. Speaking of the risotto....

It's main selling point (from the waiter) was that it was "filling". That feature was missing from the very dainty tofu dish, but when you are fine-ish dining, do you really need it to be a giant hearty vat?

Anyway, the risotto was missing something. Most definitely salt. When we received some salt it was locked inside a hellish and non-functional grinder, maddening each risotto-haver at the table as we ground and ground the salt to no avail.

The longer the risotto sat around, the more oatmealish it became. It was a large, heavy portion that, though complex on it's own, could have benefited from some flavor diversity and something to lighten it up.
I think this risotto deserves to be a strong side, and not a weak main course.

My last meal abroad was this strict vegetarian snack provided by Delta, with it's own sterile grape holder and totally not vegan gelato (first ingredient: skimmed milk). In case you're wondering, there is a very decent mini baguette with vegetables and vegan pesto shrouded in that foil.

I leave you with this buck toothed fellow from the Natural History Museum in London.

Over and out,

p.s. Here is a video of Italian highlights.

p.p.s. Here is an interview I did with Radar Productions about my upcoming writer's retreat in Mexico.


j a m i e said...

the chocolates in the previous post sound fantastic. i like seeing the food people eat while traveling. i forgot what i ate the first time i was in london, although i think a lot of toast. the 2nd time, i ate pasties and brie&tomato sandwiches on baguettes, that come wrapped up at all the stores, like how we find tuna and egg and chicken salad at all the gas stations. and i had chinese food one night. the end.

piffle said...

blimey!! yes vegetarian is easy (not in my seaside towns though) but vegan is just impossible, london is no too bad. how did you manage?

NJG said...

Piffle, I ate okay over there. S&M Cafe, Chinese food, and the incredibly cheesy and toothsome kale chips from natural grocery story (is it called The Grocery?).
I tried lots of mysterious items from that store. Tofu parfait type things.