December 29, 2009

Unemployment makes for a busy kitchen

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So apparently having a little time on my hands has created a monster in the kitchen. This is my latest creation. Recipe is over here.

December 22, 2009

Pandoro French Toast with Lemon Rosemary Butter and Blood Orange Butter

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Another collaboration with Chelsea over at {frolic!}. My recipes, her photos. You can see more photos and the recipe here.

December 17, 2009

Sleepless. Because I want to go to Seattle.

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I've felt something calling me to Seattle lately. Oh who am I kidding. The food is calling me. The food. And maybe the artsy literary types.

The New Guard Dinners - art, music and food by up and coming artists.

Delancey - a new pizza restaurant owned by Molly Wizenberg and her husband.

Spring Hill - I've heard an awful lot about this place on Twitter lately.

Union Restaurant
- Because of what Kari wrote.

Kim Ricketts Book Events
- Because how awesome is this. Cooks and Books? Words and Wine? Um. Yes.

Photo from

Spaghetti with Mascarpone Sage Meatballs: Comfort Food for {frolic!}

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My sister Chelsea (also known as {frolic!}) and I are collaborating on a new feature for her blog about comfort foods. I create the recipes and the food and she's the photographer. Our first collaboration is Spaghetti with Mascarpone and Sage Meatballs. So good! Check out the recipe on {frolic!}.

December 15, 2009

I knew you all along, John Roderick

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Mississippi Studios is still an intimate venue, even after the big remodel. I was a big fan of the airstream trailer and the white canvas outside where they used to beam flickering black and white movies in the summer. But what I loved most about the small little venue was the cozy red interior that made it feel like you were in North Portland's living room. The little pillows on the chairs and the long red curtains that served as the backdrop to so many musicians over the years. The pillows and the curtains are gone, but it's still cozy and red, albeit a little more spacious.

On a Sunday night not long ago, I went to Mississippi Studios for dinner and talking and music and inspiration. Michael Hebb made dinner for 30 and John Roderick and Kathleen Edwards were there, in conversation and song, celebrating Roderick's newly published book of tweets, Electric Aphorisms.

It was a lovely evening. I found myself pulled into the conversation on stage between Publication Studio's Matthew Stadler, the book's publisher, and Roderick and Edwards. They talked and sang about truth and lies and fans and Twitter and crying and death and murder while I ate winter salad, beef stew with creme fraiche and dinner rolls. The red walls aided the stew in keeping me warm and feeling homey.

Roderick said he had written a song about a public tragedy, one that was displayed over and over on TV. The space shuttle disaster. He talked about how humbled he was when he heard that people at NASA had listened to the song. Then, he started playing the song.

I hadn't heard The Long Winters prior to the week of the dinner - I had heard of them, but never listened to their music. I did no research before I went - I like to discover in person. But the amazing thing was, as he started playing the song, The Commander Thinks Aloud, I recognized it. In fact, it was a song that I loved and had listened to hundreds of times for years on a random CD that I had because it felt emotional and hearty to me, but I never knew who sang it or what it was about. It felt intense and powerful in a sing-your-guts-out kind of way. I love those kind of songs. And when he started playing it, I got all choked up because now it all made sense. And I loved it even more.

I began feeling amorous towards everyone on stage, towards the people around me, as I experienced the moment with them. Of course, they had no idea and I swallowed my emotional reaction. I left in a hurry when it was over, as there was going to be mingling and heaven knows I'm awful at mingling and I didn't want to ruin the spirit of my moment.

It was awesome. And I still love my moment.

December 13, 2009

A Words Week

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This week is a good week to appreciate words. Just because. Here are a couple of events that will help you appreciate your favorite words:

Friday, December 18th
Write Around Portland Community Reading & Anthology Release
6:30 - 8:30pm
First United Methodist Church, Collins Hall
1838 SW Jefferson St.

The new anthology is called More Than a Book, with a special introduction by Dave Eggers, who was the very reason I got involved with Write Around Portland to begin with. It's a free event, and like I have said many times before, these events are inspiring and life changing. I hope you can make it. All of you. Yes, I'm looking at you.

Saturday, December 19th
Live Wire!
Aladdin Theater

An always entertaining, funny and inspiring evening, Live Wire! is a variety show taped live once a month at the Aladdin Theater for broadcast on OPB. Poets, singers, storytellers and other fascinating people are interviewed by the fabulous and funny Courtenay Hameister. Music and good words. This is seriously the best use of $20 on a Saturday night. And come prepared to write a Haiku.

December 10, 2009

A Festive Dessert

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Today I tried an experiment in fruit crisp. We had a ton of cranberries in the fridge, so I decided go crazy with cranberries. And pistachios. The Five Spice Chinese spice gives it a nice bite that complements the sweetness of the crisp. And the vanilla adds a mellowness to the cranberries. It was quite tasty.

Cranberry Crisp with Pistachios

7 1/2 cups cranberries
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp Five Spice Chinese spice
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup pistachio nutmeats

1. Add cranberries to the food processor and pulse several times until cranberries are roughly chopped.

2. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large pot over low heat. Add 1 cup brown sugar and stir over medium heat until combined. Add cranberries and apples, spices, vanilla and salt.

3. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Then add to an 8 1/2 by 11 pan.

4. In the food processor, add 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup oatmeal and 1/2 cup pistachio nutmeats. Pulse until ingredients are combined and clumping together slightly. Crumble on top of the cranberry mixture.

5. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

December 7, 2009

An Experiment in Fish and Chips

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We feed my British grandmother every Sunday. She eats a lot for a 91 year old and if there's one thing I like about her it's that she can appreciate the taste of well-made food. She said a couple of weeks ago that she'd been craving fish and chips like she had when she was a child. I sort of took it as a challenge. Never mind that I have pretty much no experience cooking fish (I'm scared of it) and pretty much no experience deep frying anything (a few burns thwarted my desire to have access to delicious fatty foods in my own home).

I started out by heading over to Rick's Wild Seafood food cart on SW 3rd and Ash downtown Portland. (I have to specify Portland since I live in the suburbs and West Linn is my frame of reference now. *sob*) Plus, they sell frozen cod for $3.40/lb, so I decided to pick some up while I was testing their professional fish and chips.

The poor girl at the cart was bundled up - it was freezing yesterday! I ordered my fish and chips and the girl re-fried the chips (which is what the British do. I checked online. So it must be accurate!) and threw the fish in the deep fryer. A few minutes later, I was warming my hands on the hot fries and fish, and filling my belly rather quickly. It happened to be my breakfast and lunch that day. The fish was crunchy and I could see the herbs in the crust. A squeeze of lemon was just what it needed. It was tame in flavor, which is the experience I have had with all the fish and chips I have ever had. Which is not many. Because as I said before, fish scare me. A bit.

Because my sense of what one pound of cod would amount to in fried fish is bizarrely off, I decided to play it safe and over do it by getting five pounds of cod to take home. FIVE. As it turns out, that is quite a lot of fish. Hello, freezer.

So anyway, this morning I started on my journey to make a real British fish and chips dinner. I started out by making the tartar sauce. Quite easy, actually. Sweet pickles, capers, flat leaf parsley, two teaspoons of spicy mustard, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a cup of mayo in the food processor. Mine turned out a little green due to perhaps an over abundance of parsley, but I liked it that way.

I made coleslaw with shredded cabbage and one shredded sweet onion and a vinegar-based dressing and let it marinate. Chopped up the Russet potatoes into thick, bite-sized pieces, tossed them with olive oil and salt and threw them in the oven to bake. I wasn't going to attempt frying everything. Especially because my parents don't generally eat fried food, and I didn't want to kill them off.

Keeping that in mind, I decided to make some baked fish as well as the traditional beer-batter fish. You know. Gotta please everyone.

The beer batter was very simple. Self-rising flour + a little salt & pepper + seafood seasoning + one bottle of beer (I used a brown English ale); whisked together until thickened and smooth.

For the baked fish, I dredged it in flour + seasoning, then egg bath, then homemade breadcrumbs with herbs. For both kinds of fish, I seasoned the fish first with salt and pepper and seafood seasoning. I am sort of a flavor fiend, so I seasoned probably way more than is traditional. But I liked it. A lot.

The fish baked for about 20 minutes at 350 and the fish fried in 3 inches of hot canola oil for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the piece of fish. I was by no means consistent in the sizing, so we had small pieces and large pieces. The fried fish was moist and flaky and perfectly cooked. The seasoning came through in the crust quite well. The baked fish was drier and maybe a bit overcooked, but still tasted good.

To round out the British meal, I heated up some peas, then drained them and smashed them with yogurt and salt and pepper.

It was a hit. My grandmother loved it and said it was just like her mother used to make. I wonder if my great-grandmother was a flavor fiend, too.

*Photos of my fish and chips dinner by the lovely Chelsea Fuss.

December 4, 2009

Wherein I Tell You My Diabolical Plan

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So I've been busy lately. Just kidding. I haven't. I've been taking a big fat break from life since Thanksgiving. And it's been nice. Lots of naps and working out and cooking and taking deep breaths. And. I've formulated a plan for my jobless life. And I'm really excited about it.

I'm going to be partnering with my dad in his accounting practice to do payroll, bookkeeping and HR consulting for small businesses, an area that I've been working in for the past 10 years. I'm excited to be bringing my expertise and knowledge to his business.

I'm also going to be spending a great deal of time writing. Which I am thrilled about. I'll still be blogging, but I'm aiming at something bigger. And also maybe tackling a little freelance writing.

Whatever happens, I'll keep you posted. Because I feel like you are all my friends. I've met several of you recently and I just have to say how wonderful it is to see you in person and exchange pleasantries in real life. Thanks for reading.

**P.S. If you need any payroll, bookkeeping, HR consulting services, or someone to write crap for you, please drop me a line at elizabethfuss (at) msn (dot) com.

November 27, 2009

Word to the Wise(men)

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On December 2nd, Back Fence PDX, Mortified and True Stories join forces for a stellar storytelling event. You should go because: 1. It will probably be funny, 2. Support storytelling in Portland, 3. I am going. I went to a Back Fence PDX event a couple of weeks ago, I met a bunch of people and laughed my ass off. Well, not totally. I still need to exercise and not eat crap. But it was fun anyway. So check it out. For tickets, go here. For more information, go here.

November 18, 2009

Where an amateur drinker goes to a cider pairing dinner

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A few weeks ago, I got an invitation to a dinner at Davis Street Tavern, showcasing Crispin Cider. It sounded good. And I thought, this will be a good opportunity to meet people and not say stupid things. And network. Since you are going to be unemployed like any minute. Also, to eat delicious food. Which is actually the highest priority. I mean, who cares if I ever work again, as long as I get to eat fabulous food. Right? I see you nodding your head and rubbing your belly. Of course right.

So when I got there, they were passing out cocktails - the Crispin Mule: vodka, lime, ginger and light hard apple cider. I held it in my hand, nervous to drink because 1. remember how I am a lightweight and not an expert drinker, or even really a drinker at all? 2. I hadn't really eaten all day 3. what if I get tipsy before dinner and say stupid things, which would defeat one of my major goals for the evening. So I took baby sips and chatted with some lovely people and I largely avoided saying anything stupid.

When we finally sat down, they brought out a big, tall, overwhelming glass of Crispin Brut cider and a plate of Kumamoto Oysters with apple mignonette and trout roe. The cider was very delicious and went with the oysters (oh and I was an oyster virgin before this dinner. I like them!) and the mignonette quite well. I took about two sips of the cider and set it aside with my nearly full cocktail. Around this time my head started buzzing just a bit. (Stop laughing. I'm not kidding. It can happen THAT fast. When you are like me.)

Next course: Pan Roasted Quail with quinoa and hazelnut stuffing, chestnut puree, sauteed escarole and marionberry gastrique. Oh. And another big, tall glass of cider. This time, it was the Original cider. I had never had quail before, but it was quite lovely and packed full of flavor. The chestnut puree was very hearty - I think I want to try to make it sometime. It added a bit of heft to the dainty course. Incredible flavors all merged together in my mouth and the cider was a perfect complement. Again, I set aside my nearly full cider glass next to the two other drinks by my plate. I was looking in awe at the people around me who were drinking all of their drinks. How do they do it? Ah well. Next.

Grilled pork loin with grilled figs, butternut squash and marcona almond puree. This was the star of the dinner - the juciest, most flavorful pork loin I have ever had, popped with a spicy, red-pepper flake spiked dish of butternut squash and the intense mellowness (it seems a contradiction, I know. But it's not. Just go with it, okay?) of the almond puree. Oh. And another big tall glass of cider. Honey Crisp. This cider made the biggest impression on me because I could really taste the honey and it was very nice with the pork. Very. Two sips, set aside.

My plate was now surrounded by three full glasses of cider and a cocktail. I was starting to feel bad. But I didn't want to get drunk and sloppy and unable to walk or drive just so I wouldn't hurt someone's feelings. That would be super bad form, right? I was thrilled when the waitress offered to remove my embarrassment. "It's a bit overwhelming, isn't it?" she said in an understanding voice, as she put the glasses on her tray.

At this point I was so full. So full. But dessert was next. I was enjoying listening to people around me and at some point, I started talking about Greece. But I was nervous, you know, talking to people, because that's scary and I think my voice got kind of loud and my face got red as I talked about how much I loved it. The girl next to me had traveled all over and she probably thought I was silly, getting all excited over Greece, because she talked about traveling through Europe as if it was a completely normal thing that everyone does and she clearly did not get four-year-old-giddy over it like I did, even though she was probably half my age. Okay, maybe not half. But something young. I wonder if I will ever be as nonchalant and sophisticated about traveling as she is. I'm going with NOT.

Oh and then, as I nibbled on the breathtaking soft ginger snaps with sage whipped cream, someone said something about my blog and I didn't quite hear it but I laughed anyway. Then I realized they might be waiting for a response, so I said, "I'm sorry, what did you say? I didn't quite hear you." She said: "I can't wait to read what you write about this dinner." Oh she was nice. I laughed as my face turned 40 shades of red and I filled my mouth with the cookie so I couldn't talk anymore. The drink they brought for dessert was like a hot buttered rum, but it was made with the Crispin Honey Crisp cider. One sip and I was done for. I could not eat or drink. One. More. Morsel.

A few people gave me their business cards. I had none. But I guess I should get some for my little blog, huh? Seeing as I'm going to be spending a lot more time with it in the coming months. So, I said thank you and good bye. What a delicious dinner. I will have to go back to Davis St. Tavern to taste their regular menu - the chef, who designed the dinner to go with the ciders, did an exceptional job.

**Disclaimer: Crispin Cider invited me to this dinner and paid for it. They did not tell me to write anything about it and I seriously doubt they expected me to write a big long blog post about how I'm not a good drinker. But thanks to them and Davis St. Tavern just the same.

November 4, 2009

One More Thing... Write Around Portland Documentary

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Hi again. I forgot one more thing:

For those of you who don't know me too well, Write Around Portland is a passion of mine. I've had to take a year off of volunteering and I have missed it dreadfully. I am so tickled that Director Brian Lindstrom has made a documentary about Write Around Portland that will be showing at the NW Film Center on November 10th at 7:30. Tickets are $8. I can't wait to see what I have personally experienced expressed on the screen.


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I know I've said this before, but Portland has the best storytelling events. I just bought my tickets for Back Fence PDX and Mortified for November 19th and 20th. You should come! Because I only bought one ticket for each event and I'll need people to talk to and laugh with.

Let me know if you will be there!

The Virgin Traveler: It's Over

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I've been trying to figure out what I want to say in my final Virgin Traveler post. It's pretty simple really: I loved my trip. I loved traveling. I loved the food. I loved the people.

Now that I'm back to work, I day dream a little bit about swimming in the sea and sitting on the waterfront. I have no idea what's next for me. In the next two or three weeks, I will be unemployed and for the first time in my life, I don't have a plan for what's next. Maybe more traveling, maybe more writing, maybe another job.

My Grecian experience kind of knocked me off my feet and cleared my head. It was gloriously relaxing and beautiful. I'm hoping that my trip was clearing the way for a brilliant plan for my future. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading!

The Virgin Traveler: Our last night together, a tomato feast

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The night before Chelsea and Amber left for Athens, we scouted out a restaurant that one of Chelsea's blog friends had told her about. A signless little place off the beaten path in Pyrgos on Santorini. So delicious. All authentic, Greek, and mostly tomatoes. We sat there forever. Talking, eating, relishing in our last moments.

Fried Tomato Balls
Lamb in tomato sauceGrilled eggplant with shallots
Tomato and olive salad
Stuffed cherry tomatoes with fetaTomato salad with olives and feta

November 3, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: Where We Were Regulars

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It was the brightest light in the ghost town of Perissa on Santorini. The entire town was boarding up for the winter and Ntomatini was one of only three or four restaurants open on the waterfront. The bright green and white checkered restaurant was lit with bright lights and laced with vines and pots of flowers, easily the most inviting eatery open.

The waitress walked over to us, her light-brown hair bouncing cheerily in a pony-tail. She looked American. And she was. From Albany, Oregon. She met her husband, Kostas, a native of Santorini, when he was working as a chef in Chicago and she was a waitress, trying to earn extra money after a stint at Greenpeace. One thing led to another and they got married, had two adorable children, and moved to Santorini to open their own restaurant.

I wanted to know more. So a few days later, I sat down with Lisa the waitress and co-owner and over a glass of wine, she told me about how they had tried to open a restaurant in Chicago for five years, and it just hadn't worked out. She told me about meeting with a banker who responded to her presentation with a smirk and a snide response. She told me that she believed that everything happens for a reason and that she let it go.

As soon as Lisa and Kostas let it go, things fell into place for them to come to Santorini. Their friend was closing a restaurant, Kostas' family was there, it all seemed right. Lisa talked easily about their story - one she has probably told to every American who walks in their restaurant. Everyone wants to meet a guy and move to Greece - it's a fairy tale. Right?

It's just life, Lisa says. It's just the way things happen. It's not so glamorous, working 18 hours a day in the high season, managing your laundry based on the weather (no dryers), making family dinners, sending the kids to school. It's just life. Their life just happens to be in Greece.

The eleven or twelve year old daughter helps in the restaurant often, with a bright smile, wide eyes and speaking perfect Greek and English. The little boy laughs with a contagious laugh, playing with the stray dogs that stop by for a bite. Seriously adorable.

And the food. That's really what got me interested in Lisa and Kostas. Because the food was among the best we had in Greece. Family recipes. Tomato rissoles (fritters), moussaka, rooster in red wine (my favorite). The food was rich, flavorful, intense, perfectly seasoned.

I ate there four or five times in a week. It was simply tremendous. Each dish. Tremendous.

October 26, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: Mama Greece

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All we needed was a little direction. Which way was this hotel? Our original plan for a hotel was not working out and we had wandered to a nearby cafe to use wifi and do a little research. We wanted to look at a hostel-type place that we thought was close. "Can you help us?" I asked Tito, the chef, who had just finished explaining to us about his snobby sister in the USA and how the little man (George Bush) had made the economy bad and how Obama was going to save the world. "Is this close to us?"

"You need rooms? You need place to stay?" Crap. "We give you place to stay for cheap and better."

"We just want to look at this place. Is it near us?"

"We give you room. I talk to owner. He give you room for good price." Tito disappeared and we tried to figure out the map.

The owner, with shoulder-length curly hair, pulled back into a ponytail, his off-white button down shirt hanging from his little round paunch over his blue jeans, approached us quickly. "You need room? You stay with Mama Greece. I call her already. She come over and show you the room. You stay like queens. Two rooms!" Mama Greece. How could we not meet Mama Greece. We relented to the bombardment.

She pulled up in a silver hatchback, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, her gray and blonde curly hair pinned back loosely with bobby pins. She motioned for us to come with her. "My place in the middle of paradise! You live like queens in my place!" We opened the door to her car, scarred by ripped out stereo speakers, giant holes gaping just below the inside door handle, and climbed in.

She sat in the driver's seat, her tank top cut low in the back, revealing pockmarks and a black bra that was half unhooked. She rattled on about paradise and living like queens as we drove less than a mile to her palace.

By middle of paradise, Mama Greece must have meant a travel agency and a rent-a-car place. She continued to tell us how we would be living like queens as she showed us the stained kitchen counter with dirty dishes on it in a Vanna-White style swish of her wrinkled arm, cigarette in her fingers.

We smiled politely and told her we'd get back to her after we negotiated out of our reservation at our current hotel. She drove us back to her son's restaurant in awkward silence and as we promised her we'd call her if it worked out, we mentally promised ourselves that we would avoid that part of town from then on. We finally found our new hotel that was less dumpy than our original one AND Mama Greece's place. Relief!

October 16, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: The Raki Riot

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[Raki is a traditional Cretan drink, made of grape skins left over after wine making. Smells and tastes like rubbing alcohol with a little cinnamon.]

Missed tweets/Facebook status updates during Final Cretan Adventure:

On the road to Theriso, on the way to Omalos, a picturesque Real Cretan Town, as noted by Lonely Planet.

Surrounded by orange trees!

Amazing cemetery shows up out of nowhere in the middle of orange tree grove!

My authentic, handmade leather sandals from Greece just broke. Am now walking around cemetery with flopping sandals.

Back in the Fiat and on to Theriso.

These roads are crazy. Dropoffs and rocks and pending avalanches. Seriously.

Crap! There's men in camouflage on the side of the road picking up guns as we drive by!

Thinking my broken sandals will make running from men with guns a little difficult.

Chelsea is certain that these men are militants. I prefer the term assassins.

Wild mountain goats in the road!

Lonely Planet, you better deliver a f***ing quaint little town since we almost died at the hands of militants, almost killed a bunch of mountain goats and nearly drove off the side of the mountain!

Theriso is cute kind of. We are eating cheese and pork at real Cretan tavern.
We are surrounded by Cretan men.

Back on the road to Omalos. Windy mountain roads again.

We’ve almost turned back three times because of the darkness and the crazy roads, but now we have to see what this town is about.

Goats in the road again! This time a lot. A lot a lot.

We made it! Omalos is at the mouth of the Samaria Gorge, which I was going to hike but didn’t have the right shoes for it. No really, it was the shoes.

Stopped at only open restaurant in Omalos, in a hotel. Everyone is staring at us.

Beans for dinner!

Waiter brought raki glasses for all of us and one for him. He is wanting to drink with us. Uh oh.

We sipped, but waiter is refusing to take no for an answer.

Fine. ACH. My throat is on fire. I can’t talk. The raki is STRONG. Waiter is laughing and pouring more raki.

Chelsea just declared that she is Mormon and Catholic and very religious in an effort to convince waiter that she can't drink.

I decline on the basis of being a wimp. Waiter points to me, “Wimpy.” Points to Jen, “Big Lush!” and pours her more raki.

Burping up raki is painful. Also, Jen is on her 5th or 6th shot of raki. Waiter is laughing at us. He is going to get us more water.

We poured the rest of the raki in the water glasses in an effort to trick him!

He saw us.

The entire restaurant is staring at us. Waiter pours more raki for Jen. We don't know how much she has consumed.

Jen is drunk. Taking one for the team. Thank heavens for the token drinker! The rest of us escaped with minor throat burns.

Singing Mamma Mia soundtrack while driving down the mountain roads. Also. Jen doesn’t feel well, but she loves everyone.

Goats are all over the road. They are not moving! We have to open our windows and shoo them to get off the road.

Amber is a good driver. Jen still loves everyone. Also she loves Greece. And raki. And Greek waiters.

Back in our beds. Five am wake up time for early ferry to Santorini!

Some of these pictures are by Jen! Thank you Jen!

October 15, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: Last Day in Crete

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I woke up late. And immediately wanted to cry. Our last day in Crete. I had just begun to be completely in love with the island.

My last breakfast in Crete was my favorite thing I ate: fruit salad with ice cream. This time, it was banana ice cream with grapes, kiwi, pears, apples and bananas.

I am also going to miss the fresh juices I had every morning, like this banana orange juice.

After breakfast, I walked around for a bit, went back to savor our apartment for a few more hours. I walked over to a little cafe and had a Greek salad like this one:

And had a lovely conversation with an older American gentleman, who told me that I would love Santorini, that Mykonos was the homosexual capital of the world for rich people, that he loved walking where Paul from the Bible walked, that he had been to Europe 22 times, that it's never too late to start traveling and that he had no idea who puts things in the internet.

Then I went back to the apartment to meet up with my friends for our last road trip.

October 11, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: Shiny, happy people.

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She was a large woman. Maybe 260 or 270 pounds. Tattoos of flowers adorned her ankles and a red flowery bikini top held up her chest with industrial strength. Rolls of fat flopped here and there, over her blue bikini bottoms, which covered just what was necessary. Her long dangly earrings called attention to her short, reddish curly hair and her permanent, toothy smile. She was treading water in the clear crisp sea water while waiting for her boyfriend to climb in.

"It looks nice," I said to my sister standing beside me, not wanting to jump in the water quite yet. The woman was watching us. "It is quite nice!" she said, her Scottish accent like music interrupting our conversation, her smile never leaving her face.

Her boyfriend, a 40-ish Norwegian, plump, bald and grinning in his red speedo, climbed down the ladder on the side of the boat. He was nervous. He gingerly put one foot into the intertube attached to the boat, and then the other foot. "Love, you don't have to climb in it!" the woman yelled as they both started giggling. The Norwegian said something and laughed and paddled about three feet before the rope held him back. He floated back to the ladder and climbed up.

The woman put on her snorkel mask and dove down with her underwater camera. A few minutes later, she surfaced and came back aboard. "Look at my pictures!" she said as she approached us with unrestrained enthusiasm. "It's my new camera. He bought it for me just before we came on holiday."

"Your first time on Crete?" We nodded. "I came here last year for four weeks and stayed for ten months. Then I met him and now we live in Norway. We had a big party yesterday when I came back into town. It involved lots of kissing and hugging and singing and drinking." We laughed. She told us how it's not so hard to learn Norwegian. She told all of her friends in Norway to only speak Norwegian and not English.

At the next stop on our tour boat, they snorkeled again, this time, with him wearing a life jacket. She took close up pictures of him underwater and then showed me, while he was standing there, looking over her shoulders, giggling and both of them saying things about the fishies they saw. They got dressed, and continued smiling while enjoying the sun and some beer.

October 9, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: The Real Creta

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It's easier to stay inside your comfort zone. To not travel outside your neighborhood, to only talk to people you know. It's safer. Even when traveling, it's easier to stay within the space that you are familiar with, to take the most traveled way. Like taking the once-a-day bus to the famous beach with all of the other 99,000 tourists. That would be easy.

But to take the road less traveled (I know, overused phrase) is the most exciting. For the past two days, me and my friends, in our bright green Fiat, drove through the Cretan mountains to the Libyan Sea and to the best beaches I have ever been to in my life. Not that I have been to that many, but I think anyone would agree that these beaches are pristine, beautiful and addictive.

It's surreal - little old Greek ladies in black, sitting by the side of the mountain road selling olive oil and honey from their farms. I kept wanting to take a picture, but is that weird? Hello, you seem like a postcard, mind if I take your picture? Luckily, the wild goats didn't mind. There are so many of them, just sauntering across the mountain roads like it's no big deal. A shepherd standing on the side of the road with his staff, watching the sheep on the other side as they grazed. It's like the movies. And it's the Real Creta.

The roads are so narrow that Amber, our fearless driver, had to honk whenever we rounded a bend as we drove through the tiny mountain villages. And even on the narrowest of roads, the motorcycles zoomed around our Fiat as if we were standing still.

And when we got to the first beach, Elafonisi. Oh. Over the mountains this clear blue vastness appeared and we all stared. It was well-kept, with clean bathrooms and a litter-free beach. People old and young, tan and white, plump and thin, everyone in bikinis. Everyone free, not wearing shorts to cover bits of cellulite, not ashamed of their imperfect bodies. Frolicking in the pink sand and splashing in the clear turquoise water. I, in my granny-like bathing suit, joined them. Social pressure be damned, I did not hide. And it was the most glorious, care-free feeling.

The water was warm and no squishiness was found at the bottom of the sea. Just saltwater and pink sand. There were a couple of refreshment stands nearby, but that is it. There are no hotels there and the nearest restaurant is a mile away. It is untouched by tourism. Well, besides the one tourist bus that comes every day at 11 and leaves at 4. But since it is the off-season, even that was not distracting.

The next day, we made our way through Sfakia (where we had lunch overlooking the water) and ended up at a beach called Paradisos.

There were skinny-dippers and few others. I spent over an hour in the water, paddling, swimming, splashing and then the most fun. I was laying on my stomach in the shallow part and huge waves would come and wash over me, sending me into fits of laughter, as it kind of tickled. Yes, I am three. But who cares. The nearest person was far away. And if I had wanted to strip naked and skinny dip, no one would have seen or cared. Besides my friends. And I didn't want to scar them for eternity.

I love the Real Creta. I wish I never had to leave.

October 6, 2009

The Virgin Traveler: Markets and Gyros

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Went to a huge market the other day in Chania. Olives, fish, rabbit, beef, veal, salt, vegetables, fruit, bakeries, nuts and lots and lots of cheese and herbs. I was in heaven, and really wished I had a gourmet kitchen in Crete.

I had a recommendation from a local guy that we could get the best gyros in the city at a fast food chain called Time Out. I know - weird, huh? I would never have gone in if someone hadn't told me that they were the best. So we stopped there for lunch. I had a gyro with veal sausage. They put french fries in the gyro, which was interesting, and a big glob of Greek yogurt, which was delicious! We all really enjoyed them and we'll probably go back again.