Monday, July 28, 2014

London Book Benches Bike Binge

So, London has been flooded with book-shaped benches that each celebrate a book that is part of London's literary heritage (except Dickens, and, for some reason, Peter Pan, get two each).  Of course, "literary" is a flexible term, as one of the benches celebrates a... cricket almanac. However, the idea that cricket is a sport is a fiction*, so there's that.

The "Books About Town" event is sponsored by the National Literacy Trust and consists of 50 benches along 4 trails: Bloomsbury (near the Brit Museum), City (around St. Paul's and the Bank of England), Riverside (across the river from the Globe for about half a mile) and Greenwich (in, um, Greenwich). The Greenwich trail is cleverly located outside the range of the Boris Bike system, so you either get to pay some extra fees for keeping the bike too long or walk. Since I was hurting for time**, I opted to bike and then lug it back on the train.

My favorites:
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:
From London Book Benches 2014

A Brief History of Time:
From London Book Benches 2014

The Diary of Samuel Pepys:
From London Book Benches 2014

Most Disappointing? A tie between The Origin of the Species:
From London Book Benches 2014

and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
From London Book Benches 2014

And a slideshow with each of the benches

* I also think baseball is not a sport, so shut up about "Americans not understanding cricket". I understand it, but any "sport" that has breaks for tea time is a game.
** Also, I am lazy.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Screaming Baby Water!

I'm not a big fan of bottled water, but I have noticed that it is almost always packaged with images of nature. Not in Italy -- they love Screaming Baby water!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Piedmont and Cinque Terre Food Porn

After eating so many great meals in a week, it's been brutally difficult* to upload. But I persevere, so that you may be jealous.
First off, our last meal out in Piedmont, at Wine Bar Barolo Friends. We chose this as it was a) open b) had seats for 8 and c) was air conditioned (it was in the 90s). Unfortunately, mid-90s is not the ideal temp to savor Barolo, so we opted for a refreshing bubbly instead. The food was tasty, but not spectacular. I opted for spaghetti bolognese, since it seemed wrong to go to Italy and not have it. Toothsome noodles, rich sauce, a great dish, if nothing to write home about.

However, the filled pasta were delicious -- rich, but not overwhelming. Definitely a highlight.

After that, it was off to Cinque Terre. We picked a restaurant with a view and one that our host recommended: Il Casello. Unfortunately, we had no reservation so we had to make do with being seated a bit off the patio, but the view was still nice:

Neither Lindsay nor I were big fans of sardines, but we changed our tune after trying the Cinque Terre-style sardines at . As we enjoyed our view of the sea, the rich, meaty sardines in a tomato sauce with fresh olives and garlic. It completely changed my opinion on sardines from "ugh, salty" to "I'm listening..."

Our main was the catch of the day, local sea bass, with roasted potatoes. It was light, tasty and I didn't even feel guilty for eating something overfished since it was local :)

Of course, we couldn't go without trying the local pasta, trofie (basically short, thick pasta that's been slightly twisted -- a little thicker than slivered almonds) al pesto. The pesto was bursting with flavors, the olive oil mixing well with the garlic and basil. Scrumptious!
Of course, there will be more to come.
* For a lazy blogger

Friday, July 04, 2014

Piedmont Food Porn Day 2

After a nice rejuvenating evening, we went our separate ways for the day, then reconvened for a local dinner at Ristorante al Capalletto. The nearest restaurant was busy with a christening dinner, but they managed to find room for us on the terrace. We had to tolerate this view, but we survived:

First up for dinner? Carne crudo, a Piemontese veal version of beef tartare, and vitello tonnato -- sliced roasted veal with a tuna sauce. The vitello tonnato was nice, but it's just not my thing. The carne crudo? Definitely one of the top tartares of my life.
Next was sellerie with ricotta, olive oil and walnuts. One of the vegetarian options, it was quite good. The crunch of the sellerie and olives mixed well with the tang of the ricotta and oil. Not what I expected, but scrumptious.
Next up was an involtini -- basically a crepe gathered into a pouch around a filling.  In this case the filling was asparagus and AWESOME.  I'd never had this before and it was easily a highlight of the trip.
Another primi highlight was the agnolotti al plin -- the pinch. The pinch in question was a very small filled pasta that is made by (wait for it) pinching the filling into a dough covering. The filling in our case was 3 meats: veal, beef and rabbit. Very earthy and very tasty.

 Our last primi? Risotto. You can't stay too long in Italy and resist its charms, because it's awesome. This one was simple with peas, but just toothy enough to have texture and flavor. Even our vegetarians didn't whine about another starch.
 Of course, starch wasn't an issue with secondi - I knew I was going to have the traditional braised beef the following night, so I opted for the rabbit with peppers. While not quite as exquisite as the previous day, it was full-flavored and definitely not dry (a common risk with Bugs's cousins).
 Dessert was a clear choice -- I thought.  Every semifreddo I've had before has been blah. And there was a local chocolate cake. Local! Chocolate! It's foodie entrapment. Fortunately, I had a phenomenally cool (currently unnamed) dinner partner. She opted for the semifreddo:
 It was A-MAZ-ING. Gelato interspersed with crunchiness and a bit of ganache on the side. Decadent but not overwhelming. Of the non-coconut gelatos on the trip, this was tops

 Of course, the local specialty was... great. In fact, had it not been up against the semifreddo, it would've contended for best of the week -- rich and satisfying, with a caramel sauce that didn't overpower. With a nice espresso on the side, it would be hard to go wrong. Unless you were seated next to someone enjoying the semifreddo.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Piedmont Food Porn Day I

One of the many great things about going to Italy is the food. Pasta, fresh veggies, local cheese -- and that's not even getting into the many delicious varieties of pork and veal. If Southern Cali is ground zero for traditional porn, then Italy is definitely fighting for the crown in food porn.

First stop? The weekly local market in Alba.  It had all the tasty produce you expect at the grocery store, except it was local and way better. Big grabs were cherries, caprese-fixin's, local cheese and salumi, and sun-dried tomatoes that so addictive that they tasted like they'd been dipped in cocaine
Next stop? A Slow Food-recommended restaurant in Alba, Osteria dell'Arco. It was quite delightful. First up? Roasted Eggplants layered with tomatoes and topped with fresh cheese and infused olive oil.
Our other appetizer? Anchovies with tomato chutney and maybe the most intense pesto I've ever had. I normally hate anchovies, but these were meaty and tasted more of full-flavored sashimi than the salty old fish I'm used to.

I was one of the few with space for a second (and the obsessive photo compulsion for taking pictures of my food), but the main course of rabbit with roasted zucchini* and potatoes was amazing. The rabbit was juicy by firm, and the accompany sauce was (I think) a light glaze made from pan drippings.

Dessert? I'd been in Italy over 12 hours at this point, and I was nearing a fatal level of gelato-deprivation. There was only 1 solution: 
As (almost) always, I couldn't be swayed from the Coconut-Dark Chocolate (here called Black Chocolate, so, duh) combo. But I should have gone for Pistachio, easily the best I've ever tried.  The local hazelnut was also crazy good, if you're into that sort of thing. Which I am.

 * Courgette if you're French/British

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Why Each Country Left WON'T Win The World Cup

Now that the greatest collection of soccer/football talent ever gathered, the 2014 US Men's National Team*, has been eliminated, it's time to consider the unthinkable: If not the USA, who might win the World Cup? Each country has their weaknesses, and I'll lay them out for you:

Brazil: Their best striker has a porn 'stache as his main claim to fame and their keeper had to channel his inner Tim Howard to get them past Chile on PKs. Until they get a player other than Neymar who plays like he's actually from Brazil, they're not winning.

Columbia: Any team that works this hard to choreograph their goal celebrations clearly isn't focused on winning. Learn from Da Bears - dance poorly until you're the champs

Germany: Experts agree that the ability to stay upright during free kicks is crucial to advancing in the tournament. Claiming that this was planned does not help one's case.

France: They're France, eventually they'll bicker or be distracted by underage hookers

Netherlands: As long as raging psychopath Nigel de Jong is on the team, the football gods aren't allowing them to win. Though if they do, look for a 2018 USA roster stocked with NFL players.

Costa Rica: To paraphrase Ash, "you ain't winnin' but two things right now: Jack and shit... and Jack left town". Excellent work by the Ticos to make it this far, but to go further they'll need something I can sum up in one word, "just one word: courage, dedication, daring, pride, pluck, spirit, grit, mettle, and G-U-T-S, *guts*. Why, Costa Rica's got more guts in their little finger than most of us have in our large intestine, including the colon!"

Argentina: When the coach's offensive "tactics" are "wait for Messi to make something happen", you can look forward to an early exit. Also, last summer's riots were NOTHING compared to what will happen if Argentina wins -- Brazil is going to be a war zone. Finally, Diego Maradona will die before he concedes the spotlight to anyone, so don't rule out a suicide bombing by him if Argentina makes the final. It'll be easy to hide the explosives in all the cocaine he carries with him.

Belgium**: If Ron Weasley is your best player, you've got trouble ahead. And even beating the best team in the world***, the USA, can't change that

* With the only exceptions being the teams that are/were better
** Thanks to the Irish Mirror for the photo!
*** Well, the best one composed only of men with US passports

USA World Cup Wrap-Up: My Thoughts

  1. Nooooooooooooo! Seriously?!?  We have Cameron, Gonzalez and Besler in and we can't shut down the middle? I respected Beckerman before, but now it's clear how key he was in the mid. Cameron may be Fresh, but he's no Beckerman.
  2. Fuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkkkk -- giving up a second immediately after the first? this was a backbreaker.  Or would have been, had the Belgians not spent the break chugging Chimay and eating waffles*
  3. JUUUUUUULLIIIIIAAANNNNNN!!! Everything I said or thought about you not deserving to be on the roster is proof that I'm a moron. I love you, keep it up.
  4. WTF WONDO? Seriously? Does ANYONE really think that Landon Donovan wouldn't have buried that chance? OR TAPPED IT TO DEUCE?
  5. YEDLIN! Big T put it best: "That guy is insanely fast". Seriously. He has wheels and can defend. I'm pretty sure Jogi Löw is regretting not locking down him or Fabian Johnson.
  6. Speaking of Johnson... What's up with the hammies? Our guys had the legs for OT, but at least 3 starters had hammy strains (Jozy, Besler, Johnson). It could be a fluke, or maybe there's a training issue? There's a fine line between ripped and ready and just ripped.
  7. Sooooooo... maybe a roster with no backup for Jozy was a bad idea. I don't think Klinsi is prone to second-guessing, but if he were honest, I think he'd admit that Boyd or EJ should've made the roster as cover. Wondo normally is a good poacher, but how do we not have a 2nd target forward?
  8. Finally, well-done by Bradley and Jones. Bradley had 3 rough games (well, 2 rough games and one late rough touch), but he had some AMAZING passes tonight (the long cross to Yedlin, the Green goal) and only a few missteps (esp. the horrid touch to not score early from Deuce). Lots of hustle by both, and Jones managed to get only 1 yellow and held his temper in spite of some nasty Belgian tackles -- and had an exquisite head-flick to not-Landon for what should've been a goal. Ugh.
So, a fun, exciting World Cup for the USA, but clearly the story was missed chances -- the Portugal game, not starting Yedlin vs Germany (no way that they could've handled his speed), no Donovan, no cover for Jozy. On the other hand... we beat Ghana, tied Portugal** and almost took down a very highly-fancied Belgian side.  Not bad, but not perfect. Let's hope 2016 is better!
* Or frites. The footage wasn't clear
** Not as good as 2002, but still -- Ronaldo can suck it.