Photos of the Week

This week I have a collection of simple photos that I took at the Three Rivers Arts Festival a few weeks ago. I love when this yearly festival comes to Pittsburgh because it is such a wonderful way to support local artists and walk away with some fabulous and unique pieces of art! There is an artist’s market (which to me is the interesting part) as well as many local music events in and around the city. Make sure you check it out next summer if you haven’t yet!

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Apartment: Step 1

The apartment search has now gotten real. Wahoo!! This afternoon I am heading out to physically look at two apartments that I am interested in renting. I could not be more excited. I am so very much looking forward to being independent again. On top of that, I have been dreaming of decorating ideas for the past few months now. I have created a Pintrest account for the sole purpose of organizing and documenting my thoughts. I am a very visual person so that website is wonderful for me! My ideas are so all over the place right now (and rather extravagant) that I doubt I will be able to accomplish it all. But hey, shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars right?

First off is the kitchen… as you may know already, I spend a good majority of my home time in my kitchen so I am looking for an apartment that has a nice kitchen. I have seen a few layouts online that have the kitchen and the living room combined as one big space. To me, that would be perfect! I’m also looking for a nice amount of counter space. I have some great ideas for counter top storage and I’ll need space for my new blender that I just got for my birthday! =]

For the living room, furniture is going to be a big challenge for me to find. I am going to take a few pieces from my parents, and my sister’s old TV, but that still won’t fill the room. The couch is the scariest one for me to tackle because I don’t want anything exorbitantly expensive but I also want a nice piece that will last many years and not lose it’s appeal. I have been very interested in the idea of “up-cycling” (like recycling, but better) an old door into either a table (coffee, or dining) or a nice large piece of art. That also depends on what luxuries I have with hanging things on my walls.

My bedroom will be easier than the living room because I am just going to take most of the furniture from my room here in my parent’s house. Convenient, huh? Again, I am thinking of painting one or two of the pieces though. I’ve had this furniture since middle school so I am ready to give it a fresh look to go with my fresh new life! =]

Moving is so very stressful usually, but I’m not feeling much of that yet… I don’t expect I will get overwhelmingly stressed either. I am moving within the same city, I have my parents and many friends to help me, and I have several months (with not much else on my schedule) to get it done. I can see it now… Take a few boxes over, unpack them, then spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool. Sounds lovely right? Boy am I excited!!!

Great Things Come in Three

Since returning to my humble abode I have been unavoidably graced with an immeasurable amount of free time. I was well aware it was coming. I was looking forward to it in a way. Some days (like today) there is something oh-so-satisfying about lazing around in my pajamas until the early hours of the afternoon. Other days, I can’t imagine anything worse. On those days where my need to prance around begins to drive me crazy, I cheer myself up with a few fail-proof activities… shopping, taking pictures, and cooking. My triad of stress relievers.

I’d say shopping has fallen behind the other two activities for the time being due to my current unemployment and dwindling funds. The holiday season really brings a crushing blow on one’s account. The unemployment matter will be resolved in just two days however. I am about to begin part-time intern work, a perfect solution to earn money while still having enough time to maintain my same level of focus on ballet.

Photographing has come in second place. For a little time almost everyday I have either taken my camera out to take pictures or have sat and edited photos on my computer. When my mind is involved in a creative task (be it photographing, editing, dancing, or even cooking) I forget about all the other upsets that so frequently occupy my thoughts. It gives my mind freedom and thus helps me relax and enjoy the calmer moments, keeping me emotionally balanced.

Cooking has certainly been at the fore front of my activities in this past week at home. My dear mother has been loving my enthusiasm to cook and is enjoying the weight I’ve taken from her shoulders by aiding her with the task (or pleasure) of making dinner for my family nearly every night this week. The week began with us collaborating in the kitchen. As each day went by I began cooking the meals more and more on my own. From minestrone, to an omelet and roasted sweet potatoes, to homemade pizzas which I made from start to finish entirely on my own. Ok, I started with a pre-made pizza crust and sauce. Those were already in our fridge so why not use them? In fact, I put much of this meal together by creatively combining ingredients that were already present in our kitchen. An activity I rather enjoy the challenge of.

I made three different pies.

Grilled chicken and roasted broccoli.

To a certain extent this was a request from my little sister who is not the boldest when it comes to ingredient affection. For example, I left a corner of the spinach pizza without cheese because she doesn’t like goat cheese. (What a nice big sister.) The chicken I pulled from the freezer, it was left over from a previous meal, and the broccoli was hanging out in the veggie drawer of our fridge. I chopped the broccoli into bite size pieces and tossed it in a pan with some salt and olive oil and let it roast in the oven for about 15 minutes until it began to soften and get a nice brown to it. To assemble the pizza I first put just a few large spoonfuls of sauce onto the dough and spread it around. I left about an inch of dough around the edge that I then brushed with some herb infused olive oil to make a lovely golden crust. Sometimes the crust can be my favorite part of a pizza. On top of the sauce I arranged the pieces of chicken and broccoli and then slices of incredibly fresh mozzarella. I made sure to evenly place all the ingredients so each bite had a mix of different flavors. The pizza went in the oven directly on the wire rack and baked at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes until the crust began to brown and the cheese was fully melted.

Mushroom and onion.

I sadly must admit this was the blandest of the three. I am an avid fan of mushrooms. I just did not put enough seasonings on this pizza, or maybe shiitake mushrooms were not the best choice. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible. I just know I could’ve made it better. I began this one by sautéing some onion and the mushrooms with a bit of salt and olive oil. This is where I should’ve thrown in some extra seasonings. I spread the sauce out just as I did on the previous pizza, brushed the rim of the crust with olive oil, and laid the toppings on in the same fashion as before. In the oven under the same guidelines, yadda yadda. If I were to make this again I don;t think I would sauté the mushrooms first. They became too wet and lost much of their mushroom flavor. I would also put in more seasonings like oregano and basil and other pizza flavors. Maybe some crushed red pepper would’ve given it a nice level of excitement.

Spinach and egg with goat cheese.

This was the first time I have ever made a pizza with egg on it. I have eaten it in a restaurant before (Serious Pie in Seattle, WA) and absolutely loved it! The egg adds such a wonderful richness and depth of flavor.  We had both spinach and eggs in our fridge… what better time than the present to give it a go? For this one I decided to forgo the traditional red sauce and instead brushed the entire crust with the herb-infused olive oil that I had brushed on the rim of the other pizzas. I then spread around the spinach that I had quickly wilted in a pot with a little water. I cracked two eggs into a bowl, one at a time, to make sure I didn’t get any stray eggshells. I delicately poured them on the pizza far enough from the center that they wouldn’t collide. Into the oven this one went. It was in there for a few minutes less than the others, I didn’t want to over cook the yolks so they would still be a little runny. Once the pizza came out I crumbled fresh goat cheese on all but the corner I left cheese-less for my sister. This pizza was my favorite. It was the simplest yet had the most interesting flavor combinations. Upon reflection of all the pizzas I have made, this night and previous nights, I don’t think I am always the biggest fan of red sauce on my pizza. It is hard to use jarred sauce and get the same flavor complexity as a sauce made from scratch that many restaurants use. I also have struggled with what is the best amount to spread on the pizza.

My family members all commented several times on how great the pizzas were. I was left unimpressed but I am most definitely my own worst critic. All three pizzas were completely gone by the end of the meal so I am happy they were well appreciated by my fellow diners. That is what matters most.

Deliciousness and a Dream Come True

Yesterday I did some exciting things. It was a long day. I went to sleep much later than I should have, I’m paying for that today, but my adrenaline was just too high to sleep at my usual bed time. Let’s start at the beginning…

The morning began in the standard fashion. My alarm went off at 7 am. The sky was still dark. Torture. I stumbled in to the kitchen for breakfast and lots of coffee, read a little paper, did my usual morning tasks and headed off to ballet. One class later and I was done dancing for the day so I headed back home. To kill some daylight hours (until my Mom returned home to be my activity buddy) I decided to replenish our granola stash. Home made granola. Oh yes. It seems that nearly every person who makes his/her own granola swears by one certain recipe, likely his/her own, and says that is the best granola recipe ever. Well guess what, mine is really freaking amazing too. I can’t get enough. There was still a little bit left from the previous batch but I made more to guarantee we wouldn’t run out. A morning without my granola just doesn’t start off the same way. I have come to depend on it as much as coffee. Ok, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point. It is unbelievably simple to make and takes under 45 minutes from start to finish.

Granola

6 c. old-fashioned oats

3 c. seeds and/or chopped nuts (feel free to use your favorites. I use almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and sunflower seeds)

1 heaping T cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2/3 c. maple syrup

1/3 c. honey

1 – 1 1/2 c. dried fruit (depending on how fruity you want it!)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl then add the maple syrup and honey. Make sure you mix it well. Spread the mixture evenly on a sheet pan. I split mine between 2 pans so everything has room to breathe and get extra crunchy but I’m sure it would all fit on one. Put the pans in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. After about 15 or 20 minutes give the granola a little stir so it can brown more evenly. I have found that 30 minutes is a little too long when I bake my granola on two pans. I always keep a close eye on it after the 20 minute mark. Once it is nice and golden brown it’s time to come out. Be careful it doesn’t burn. No one likes burnt granola. Trust me, I’ve done it. After you take the pans out of the oven sprinkle the dried fruit on top, split evenly between the two pans. Give each pan a gentle stir and just let it sit in the pan to cool. Once it is cool transfer your delicious granola into a container. I store mine in the fridge because it keeps it nicely crisp and crunchy. I like to keep my nuts and trail mixes in the fridge for the same reason. It’s just how I roll.

I should've taken more pictures...

Well, after I finished making (and consuming) my granola I moved on to exciting thing number 2. Camera shopping. For quite a while I have been interested in photography and have wanted to buy myself a nice camera. The time has finally come. I have saved up enough to make my dream come true. For a few days prior to yesterday I constantly read websites, got advice from my uncle, and browsed the market to find the camera of my dreams. The winner is the Sony DSLR A-580. A stunner of a choice if I may say so myself. It has an incredibly fast shutter speed so I can capture magnificent balletic moments. That was one of my main criteria because in addition to taking pictures of every day beauties and oddities I would love to take photos of ballet. Having never used a DSLR camera before I intend to take a class or workshop of some sort to familiarize myself with all the features that will be at my fingertips. There is only one slightly sadder aspect of this story. I don’t yet have the camera in my hot little hands. I went to Best Buy to look at the camera in person but they only carry the Sony A55 in the store. They have other brands too but I was most interested in Sony. I can’t really tell you why. I returned home camera-less but shortly thereafter placed my order online. That was probably beneficial however because the website that I purchased the camera from (B & H) also featured an “essentials kit” that I got. Being a first time camera buyer I am lacking a lot of knowledge and am without any materials so I just got the whole shebang right off the bat. The camera lady at Bust Buy mentioned I would need to get a few things in addition to my camera before I could get started like a memory card, case, and lens filter. Those items and many more were in this “essentials kit” so I’m thinking it was a good buy and will save me some trips to the store later. This way I can start using my camera as soon as it touches my doorstep and I rip open the box. It should arrive sometime next week. I will be waiting by the door.

It was due to my excitement from that purchase that I could not get myself into bed. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Fun In Philly

This weekend I drove across the Keystone State to visit Harrison, one of my best friends. Being an avid fan of Pittsburgh sports I usually don’t get excited when I think about Philadelphia, but in this case I was extremely looking forward to going.
I arrived to the city at about 2 in the afternoon. After navigating my way through the narrow city streets which were flooded with sloppy drivers and bold pedestrians I found Harrison, then a parking spot, and we carried my things up to his lovely apartment. A very spacious 2 bedroom with lovely wood floors and sleek white walls. Last night we did a little wandering around the streets by his apartment and went out to eat at a very cute restaurant called The Dandelion. The food was very simple and delicious. English comfort food. The menu was full of dishes full of meat and cheese and potatoes. Harrison’s french fries were fried in beef fat. Enough said. After we ate up we headed back to his apartment for a low key night in. We had a lot of catching up to do.
Today we had a lazy morning at home before we headed down to explore South Street, suggested by my father as a fun area to check out. The street was full of life. It had many shops with incredibly varied items for sale. One record store we walked into had a bargain room in the basement. Every record in that room was only 50 cents! I found two records that were worth the price. Best $1.08 I’ve spent in a long time. (The $.08 was tax…).
After we walked the entire length of South Street we looked up directions to Pat’s and Geno’s. We wanted to do some cheesesteak comparing. Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks have each trying claim the title of “Best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia” for over 50 years. Their biggest competition? Each other. They are both located in South Philadelphia directly across the intersection from one another. We first ordered at Geno’s. Opened in 1966.

The line was flowing out into the oddly shaped intersection and it took us only about 7 minutes to reach the window. Those guys know how to get their subs out efficiently. We ordered one cheesesteak with provolone cheese and onions. They handed it to us within 30 seconds fully wrapped. We grabbed it, stuck it in a bag, and walked right over to get in line for Pat’s. Around since 1930! The line at Pat’s took a bit longer but we were in the shade so at least we weren’t baking.

View of Pat's from where we were standing in line at Geno's

At Pat’s we ordered the same style cheesesteak. Provolone and onions. At Pat’s we were handed our sandwich in an open wrapper, still steaming from the heat of the griddle. As you shuffle down to the fry and drink window at Pats you can see them cooking the thinly sliced steak on griddle. At both locations, the first window is for cheesesteak orders only and the second window sells fries and drinks. We got our fries from Pat’s only. Along with two bottles of water.

Both establishments offer cheesesteaks with your choice of provolone, american, or cheese-whiz and either with or without onions. I wasn’t brave enough to get one with cheese-whiz but that was a very common selection among customers. As evidenced by the orders I overheard and the 10 empty gallon-sized cans of it siting in the corner of Pat’s. We got super lucky to snag a table so we could sit down and start our comparing. We swapped the sandwiches back and forth often so It was very easy to compare. The cheesesteak from Geno’s had thicker slices of steak, larger and harder onions, and the provolone was not melted. It held its shape very well all the way to the last bite. The cheesesteak from Pat’s had steak that was more chopped up and very moist and juicy, small and thin browned onions, and provolone that was melted. This one started getting messy from the juices of the steak. I think I have to say my favorite was from Pat’s King of Steaks. The flavors all blended much more nicely and it had a better melt-in-your-mouth quality thank Geno’s. Yummy.

After we were full of steak and bread we wandered back through Little Mexico, which then turned into Little Italy, on our way to Outfest. Outfest is the largest coming out party in the world. According to the MC making announcements on the main stage. The festival spanned about three or floor blocks with booths ranging from food vendors to jewelry stalls to Best Buy Geek Squad representatives. There were so many people walking around, chatting, and dancing and enjoying the unseasonable 80 degree and sunny weather the city is hosting today. After walking around Phily in the heat for at least 3 hours, we left Outfest once we made a complete lap and came back to the apartment to rest our legs.

And the Steelers won.

Epic Win

Today was a great day. With our first performance of Swan Lake in two days we were doing everything but rehearsing. But really, that’s the truth. It’s a little disconcerting for me because that is not what I am used to but I’m sure it will end up to be just fine. Most of the company has performed it yearly for quite some time so if I ever get lost I can just look around and follow someone who knows it like the back of her hand.

I had rehearsal for one hour this morning. I was dancing for about 20 minutes of that then just sitting and watching a part I was not in for the last 40 minutes. Quality. Once my dancing day was finished at noon I went out to lunch with some friends. We went to a local establishment that serves up a local specialty. There are many different names and varieties to what I am about to explain. (The version I got is called doner). Essentially they are the insides of a gyro stuffed into different carbohydrate exteriors. Mine was in a crunchy flatbread type pita. I have never encountered anything quite like it before. It was delicious though. Fluffier than normal flatbread but still somewhat dense. Then toasted to get that little crunch. (The other options were a large tortilla type bread, a smaller round bread with a bit of cheese crisped on it, and of course a bread-less option for the carb conscious). Inside was shaved lamb (mmmmmmmmmmmmm), tomatoes, onions, shaved lettuce, and 2 different unknown sauces, one red and one white. So there you have it. The German Gyro.

Fully stuffed and satisfied, we moved on to the next activity. Shopping. But don’t get too excited yet. On our way to the large outdoor shopping street something happened that made my day. No, probably my week. I got approached by a street fashion scout. She came over (dressed in her model-esque outfit) and put her head right in front of mine. The first question she asked was what language I spoke. Once we got that out of the way she continued to explain to me that her team was out there with Grazia Magazine looking for people on the street that are fashionable. She said I look “pretty fashionable” and asked if they could take my picture. “Of course”, I responded calmly. I was truly freaking out and jumping for joy on the inside. It has been a dream of mine to be stopped on the street for such a purpose for a few years now. I mean… it is only Dresden, but who really cares. Dreams can come true! I filled out a short form with my e-mail and such. I now am entered for a chance to win tickets to Fashion Week in New York. How exotic. At least there is an exciting activity to add to that gift. My picture was taken a few times, I was handed a copy of their magazine and that was that. That’s when I kind of hyperventilated a little bit. No big deal.

The day continued with some small purchases, a little down time, some burnt rice, and a roller blading street party. Yeah, about ten minutes ago I heard loud dance music coming from outside so I looked out the window. Down on the street were a few cars with flashing lights (not police cars I think) and blaring music. Behind them followed a mass of Dresdeners on rollerblades. I couldn’t see the end of them. Gotta love it.

Overall this day has been an epic win. Except maybe for the burnt rice. I was really looking forward to eating that but was way too lazy to make a new batch. Oh Well. It’s the big picture that counts.

Double Market Day

What is there to do on a Sunday in Dresden? Not much. Not much at all. Most of the stores are closed all day long and ‘Dresdeners’ somehow remain hidden until the early hours of the afternoon. Where they are or what they are doing is far beyond me. Maybe they all need to sleep off their horrible hangovers from the barrel of beer each of them consumed the night before. I wouldn’t be surprised. (Beer is cheaper than water here. No joke.)

Thankfully as Hannah and I were the wandering around Neustadt (the part of Dresden north of the Elbe River) searching for a café, we came across an outdoor market. On our way home from the café we wandered in to see what goods it had to offer. It wasn’t a particularly large market, about 25 craft vendors and 5 or 6 food carts. It was rather peculiar though. The vendors were all selling essentially the same things: ceramic mugs, dishes, pots, and bowls. The only difference from stall to stall was the decoration and the style of the items.

I wonder if it was a special ceramic festival or something because that truly was all that was there. There were 2 stalls selling beads, but I bet those were ceramic too. Hey, maybe when Germans have had too much beer they turn ceramic making into a party game then just sell off their excess to pay for more beer. (Not a bad idea actually.)  As we were wandering around the ceramics we passed by a food cart selling bratwurst and I decided it was time. Time to have my first wurst. I negotiated the entire transaction in German too. “Eins bitte. Ja. Ja. Danke.” Success. The wurst came fresh off the grill and was nestled into a bun. After asking me for approval, the “chef” then laid a line of mustard along the wurst. The meat stuck out a good 3 inches from the bun on both sides. A perfect way to ensure that the eater will enjoy the bratwurst in is pure, delicious untouched form. That was one of the best sausages I have ever had. The soft and incredibly flavorful inside pleasantly exploded from the crunchy casing when you bit into it. Then add the plain fluffy bun around the outside for the last few bites. Pure bliss.

 

After I recovered from the wonderment of my first (but not only) bratwurst, we headed home for some hydration and a little rest. About an hour and a half later we headed back out to explore market number 2. This market was in Alstadt (the other side of the river) in the Altmarkt. We have seen them setting up for a few days so we made it a destination for our weekend. This market was quite different. Thank goodness. The biggest change was where people were selling their goods. They upgraded from tables under tents to mini buildings. I can’t think of a better way to describe it really.

They were constructed out of wood. Each had a roof, a counter in front where the vendors displayed what they were selling, a room behind where they could stand, doors to get in and out of the back, and shutters to close them up at night. It was quite an ordeal. The items being sold ranged from ornate wood villages and doilies to leather purses and wallets to candy, spices, and dried fruits. There were a few repeats of course but overall the variety of goods being sold was infinitely better than at market number 1. There were also many more food choices at market number 2. The end of each row of buildings had a mini restaurant. There were picnic tables set up all around the plaza where folks were drinking and dining. The food being sold was classic German fare, bratwurst of all sorts, mushroom dishes, french fries (??), beer, some type of German doughnut, crepes (??), and ice cream. Germans eat a lot of ice cream. There are shops all over the streets and it is impossible to walk around Dresden in the afternoon and not see at least 20 people licking an ice cream cone.

I may have figured it out. The staples of a German diet necessary for survival are ice cream, bratwurst, and beer. (In no particular order of course.)

Peanut Butter!

Each day I have entered a place I have not yet been, many of which are grocery stores.  It is pretty safe to say that most of the money I have spent since in Dresden is going toward food. As it should, right? Today my eyes were opened to the best grocery store yet. (That says something when you consider that I’ve been to four different stores already) Karstadt is the winner. It is on the basement floor of a large department store. My was it a beautiful sight. I finally was excited to go grocery shopping again. To compare, I would say it is most similar to Whole Foods in appearance and variety (and price) but not everything is organic, only some. There is a large supply of organic foods available at most supermarkets but the choices aren’t as large as in the United States. Being picky about buying organic is something I have had to ease up on a bit in order to continue to enjoy a varied diet.

Although this market is slightly more expensive, it’s for good reason. There are so many options to choose from and everything is of impeccable quality. And… THEY SELL PEANUT BUTTER!! Now, I don’t really eat peanut butter on a daily basis but being in a foreign country where the food I am accustomed to are less prevalent (or non-existent) I found myself really aware of it’s absence. I thought it was nowhere to be found. Then alas! My life was complete. Not only did I find peanut butter but also jars of almond butter and sunflower seed butter to name a few. Scavenging through other grocery stores there would be a whole aisle of jam and jelly, Nutella, about 3 other types of Nutella-like products and no peanut butter. Are the Germans unaware of the magic of a pure peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I suppose not. (I tried it with Nutella. It just isn’t the same.)

Otherwise, I am still experimenting with different types of milk, yogurt and cheese. It is impossible to tell what they will be like from the German on the wrapper so each selection is an adventure. Milk I have learned what to look for (most important being 1,5% fett). Cheese is easier to guess by what it looks like even though I can’t read the German names. I bought a block of cheese the other day slightly concerned as to how it would taste but it is actually quite lovely. It is a firm “lamb cheese” that has a delicate flavor that reminds me of Emmental. Quite yummy. Yogurt… I just don’t even know.

I’m just happy I finally found peanut butter. I feel so satisfied even though I haven’t even had any yet.

The Beginning

Welcome! This is my first experience blogging and it is going to be a complete experiment for me. I am moving to Dresden, Germany from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to follow my dream of becoming a ballerina. This blog will essentially just be a place to share anything and everything that I experience, with a slight focus on food (yum!), fashion, and ballet. Hope I keep you interested! Thanks for reading!