days 3&4 down under: canberra sightseeing and the wonders of schnitty

June 19th, 2017

My first morning in Canberra, I woke up super refreshed and ready for the day.  My client site was just around the corner from the hotel so I got ready and left at 7:15 and arrived just before 7:30.

On my short walk, I noticed that there was an embassy across the street that was flying a blue and white striped flag, but it wasn’t windy so it was laying down on the flag pole.  I looked around for a sign and just underneath it read URUGUAYAN EMBASSY TO AUSTRALIA.  Ha!  My father was born in Uruguay and its not a very big place, but the one embassy this far in to the city happened to be that one!

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Also, to my absolute shock and awe, I saw a real kangaroo hop down the street in front of me.  I thought it was a deer at first but then it hopped high and long.  I could not believe it!  It was so fast that I didn’t even have a prayer to get my camera out in time.  By far the coolest thing I had seen in Australia so far.

When I arrived at work, I got some funny looks as I was in regular business attire and a small jacket. Everyone else I passed on the way and everyone inside were bundled up to the nines with heavy coats, hats, gloves, scarves, you name it.  It was only about 9C outside which is just about 48F.  Not a bad morning but a little chilly.  This is winter for Aussies so I found it funny that they thought I was underdressed!

I had an excellent first morning with my students and we broke for tea at 10:30.  I love morning tea.  I am going to make sure that I bring this back to HQ in DC.  We had coffee, a selection of tea available, and delicious scones with jam and cream.  I was in heaven.

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We went back to work and it seemed like just a moment before it was time for lunch.  They have a small cafeteria onsite so we all went down to enjoy lunch together.  Salads, sandwiches, and a hot food bar with the sweetest staff you can imagine!  It was just what I wanted.  I chose the roast pork and potatoes the first day, chicken and pineapple curry on Tuesday, honey and ginger roasted chicken on Wednesday and a chicken parma schnitty on Thursday!  (I’ll get to the wonders of schnitty later on 😊 )

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The afternoon was just as good as the morning, and we broke for tea again at 2:30.  They sure know how to break up the workday!  This time it was coffee, tea, and a fruit platter which my waistline thanked me for.

I had been invited out to dinner with some of the students who had flown in from various parts of Australia for the course and we agreed to meet at 5:30.  The course ended for the day at 4, so I had just enough time to hop in an Uber and get to the Australian War Memorial while I had an hour left of daylight.  I had heard so much about it and it was absolutely worth going.

The memorial is a little more centered in Canberra and it was gorgeous weather when I arrived to the top of the hill where it sits.  The temperature had risen to 15C or about 60F and it was nice and sunny.  The center of the museum is absolutely stunning, with an outdoor reflecting pool and the Roll of Honour which surrounds the top and has the name of the 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war over the last century.

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I was advised at the front desk to move briskly through since I only had an hour and, armed with a map, I made my way around.  The museum is beautifully designed and very thoughtful in how it was put together.  There were a few sections: WWI, WWII, and Modern Conflicts.  With only an hour, I decided to focus on the World Wars and got to see them from the perspective of Australia and their involvement which was a really neat point of view.  There was an entire area on aircrafts and old planes hung up on the ceilings. Tons of artifacts and exhibits showed old Nazi and Japanese items that had been preserved.  There were videos projected in certain spots, a voiceover track with audio of bombings and stories from the wars playing softly if you wanted to listen to them.  I really enjoyed what I had time to see although I could have spent hours and hours there if I had the chance.

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Even though I only had an hour to look around, I actually came at a perfect time as there is a Last Post Ceremony that happens at the small reflecting pool at the close of the museum each day.  The sun was just setting and the scene was just lovely.  There were a few school groups on a tour of the museum and they had lined the reflecting pool politely to watch the ceremony.  I found a spot at the top of the stairs near the Roll of Honour and had a nice view.  While I waited for the Last Post to begin, I spent some time looking at the names of the fallen etched in to the wall.  There were small, bright, crimson poppy flowers tucked in next to each name, and the effect of seeing all of them together was stunning.

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The Last Post Ceremony happens at the close of each day.  It began with the Australian National Anthem and everyone sang it softly.  Then a serviceman played a somber melody on the bagpipes which echoed throughout. There were a few chosen children from each school group that held wreaths of flowers to place along the reflecting pool in remembrance, as well as relatives of one of the fallen soldiers. After the flowers were placed, a serviceman told the story of one the fallen soldier who had fought in WWII.   The ceremony ended with the Ode, short and somber, honoring all who have served their last post.

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It really was a lovely way to end the visit.  I went back outside to the front where the sun was almost set and took a few pictures of Canberra from the hill with Parliament House in the distance.  There were TONS of cockatoos all around, enormous and very, very loud, that were entertaining to watch as I called for my Uber back to the hotel.

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Back at the hotel, I dropped my work bag and changed my shoes (my poor feet were still in heels after standing for 13 hours!) and went back to meet my students for dinner.  We had a few beers to start and then walked over to Kingston Foreshore, the area by the water I went with my colleague the first day, to pick a spot to eat.  They were a super sweet and lively bunch which made dinner such a fun evening!  We chose a Thai restaurant called Chong Co and had a few more beers and some really tasty food.  The conversation quickly turned to how many weeks of vacation we all had (they get 6 standard with their jobs) and healthcare (of which they loved to poke fun at how much we had to pay) but it was truly all in good fun and I laughed and laughed the entire night!

We walked home in the “cold Australian winter” (it was about 5C outside, or 40F) and I made it back to my hotel happy and full.

Still no jet lag for me!  “Wait until the second night”, they said.


 

June 20th, 2017

I slept beautifully Monday night and woke up refreshed on Tuesday.  What was that they said about jet lag?  Nothing for me!

Tuesday went similarly to Monday with an abundance of scones, a warm lunch, and fruit for tea in the afternoon.  This was the end of my first course so my students hugged and smiled and said goodbye at the end of the day to catch their flights back to their various cities.

My colleague Nick invited me to dinner that evening with his partner, Ale, and their daughter Rafaela who had just turned one the weekend before.  We agreed they would pop round my hotel at 6 and grab some dinner.

Between work and dinner, I caught up on some emails and watched an episode or two of MasterChef Australia (which is excellent), relaxed, and was ready to go.

Nick chose a restaurant in nearby Barton for dinner called Maddies at the Kinsgston Hotel, but more commonly known as the “Kingo”.  It was a short drive but little Rafela and I became fast friends in the car.  She is the same age as my niece, Eva, and was smiley and giggly just as Eva is.

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We started with a few beers and Rafaela equally enjoyed eating the chips we had ordered and tossing them on the ground.  But she was overall extremely well behaved and a lot of entertainment throughout the meal.  There was a footy match on TV just over her shoulder so her eye was caught by the striking green of the grass on the screen, but throwing chips was even more fun!

Nick introduced me to the wonders of “schnitty”, or schnitzel, at the Kingo.  Ale, his partner, is from Chile and she likened it to a milanesa which we eat all the time in Uruguay.  I have had schnitzel many times in many countries but this was THE schnitzel, apparently! There are also a slew of different sauces to choose from. During this small lesson on Australian food, Nick also told me that Aussies shorten everything that they say—footy, shnitty, avo, Kingo… lots of examples during the evening.  But the shnitty I wanted to order had the best name of all: the Chicky Chicky Parm Parm!  It came with a salad and chips.  And it was really, really, really good.

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Rafaela, in her tiny, springy, pig tails, was smiling and laughing throughout the meal.  At the end, she started to get a little restless so Nick popped her out of her chair and off she went!  She is definitely mobile—able to walk and even toddle in to a run!  The Kingo was a perfect spot for kids as it was a casual restaurant/bar with a fireplace, some couches, and lots of tables, so Rafaela was not in the way.  She enjoyed being chased after and made a load of friends in her travels through the tables!

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We made our way back home and Nick dropped me at my hotel.  I was properly tired and tucked in to bed shortly after.  I’d call that a great couple days in Canberra so far!

days 1&2 down under: the great journey to Australia

June 16, 2017

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Australia (for the first time!) to teach a course in Canberra for a week.  I was able to squeeze out a few more days of personal time on the other end, making my trip 10 days in total.

After eating all of the food in my apartment in preparation, packing “winter” clothes, and sending Piper off to “Camp Aunt Jane”, I was ready to make the journey.  My mom dropped me off at the airport and, since I flew business class, I was treated to “executive” check in and security lines.  What a treat!

I had about an hour and a half before the flight and my business class fare got me access to the United Club, so I hoofed it down the terminal to find the lounge.  I found a seat, had some cheese and crackers, a glass of wine, and relaxed.

The first leg of my journey was Washington Dulles to San Francisco, about a 5 hour flight. When it was time to board, I really got to experience the height of premium travel—boarding first, getting to my spaceship seat (which I’ll get to in a moment), champagne before take-off, and a veritable home theatre system at my disposal.

Now, if you know me, you know I really don’t like to fly.  I was truly anxious for the sheer number of hours I would have to spend in transit, specifically over water, to get to Australia.  But boy was this trip different.

Let’s start with the seat itself.  It was really more like a spaceship pod.  I few United the whole way at this was the very first flight this particular aircraft had ever flown commercially.  The business class has been completely redone and was now called “Polaris”.  Business class sections were in a 1-2-1 formation and these “pods” were outrageous!  I had a window seat and did not, honestly, see another human apart from my flight attendant during the entire flight.  The pod had 4 walls, a humongous window, a lay-flat seat that operated with electronic controls, a spare cupboard for my various items, sweet noise cancelling headphones, and about 700 hours of in-flight entertainment on an enormous screen.

At 5:00PM, we took off just before bad weather rolled through and soared up to 36000 feet.  Being so close up to the front of the plane, I had a great view out the window!

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My flight attendant came by shortly after takeoff with a hot towel, and then followed with a warm bowl of mixed nuts and the menu of dinner selections for the flight. She was almost more excited than I was that the plane was brand new!  I quickly found The Office on the TV and settled in.

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I chose the salmon for dinner and was tickled to get real silverware and linens.  Pinkies up everyone!

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I finished dinner and moved on to House Hunters and a lemon sorbet for dessert.

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I knew I had a significant number of hours of travel ahead of me and didn’t want to sleep, so I stayed up in my spaceship pod and watched as many TV shows as I could to stay awake.  It was an absolutely beautiful day to fly and the clouds were incredible!

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We arrived in San Francisco about 5 hours later, about 30 minutes ahead of schedule.  My flight wasn’t scheduled for take off until 10:50 local time, so I had about 3 hours to kill, so I visited the United Club again.  I worked on my class materials for the training course, had a bite to eat, and enjoyed freshening up in a real (non public) airport bathroom.  Thank goodness for travel toothbrushes!

We were immediately treated like kings and queens upon boarding the flight to Sydney.  The international travel manager introduced herself to each of us in these $1,000,000,000 seats, and had memorized all of our names and seat location prior to boarding.  I sat in a window seat next to a gentleman who took this flight all the time, so he knew all of the features and buttons in our seats, but I clicked all of them like a kid in a candy store.  It was the softest and most comfortable seat I’ve ever sat in on a plane for sure!  I am a short person already, but this leg room was luxurious.  No way I would have ever felt cramped!

Let the 15 hour flight begin!

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We were given the menu and my flight attendant came around to ask “what looks good for dinner”.  The appetizers were set (two enormous shrimp with mango salad) and the entree had options– I chose the roasted eggplant ravioli.  By the time I finished the ravioli, I was absolutely stuffed.  We had also eaten on the San Francisco flight after all!  I could hardly eat the cheese plate which was such a shame because they looked delicious.  I flat out refused the pastries for dessert or I would have exploded.

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We finished dinner and I forced myself to watch a movie before going to bed.  La La Land has been on my list for a while and it was one of the featured movies.  By the time I finished the movie it was 1AM San Francisco time, which was 4AM body time, and I was READY for bed.  We had Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, had received an adorable amenities kit filled with a really nice sleep mask, socks, toothbrush, lotions and sprays, and all kinds of things to make you feel like you didn’t want to jump in the shower after 2 hours on the flight.  I also TOTALLY took advantage of the cotton pajamas and got my very own set!

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I reclined my seat until it was totally flat and went to sleep.  For someone who is anxious on planes and never, ever, ever sleeps in flight, I think I slept for a good 6 hours (off and on) and woke up as we flew past Hawaii.

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There was significant turbulence around the middle of the flight which was not fun so I wasn’t able to get back to sleep.  About two hours later I dozed for a few more hours.

I was awake for the last 5 hours of the flight and I was HUNGRY.  I had saved the crackers from my cheese plate and ate those in no time, but I wasn’t able to access my bag since you can’t have luggage at your feet in the business class seats.  My seatmate was totally reclined and blocking the aisle so I didn’t get up to find any snacks.  Instead, I distracted myself with a movie.  I watched “En man som heter Ove”, a lovely Swedish film about a grumpy old man who ends up befriending his new neighbors.  I would definitely recommend it!  I believe it was the Foreign Film Oscar winner this past year.

I was literally about to eat my own shirt when the cabin lights finally came on and we were served breakfast.  I had chosen the omelette the night before and it was delivered to me with blue linens and a mimosa to my seat.  It was, by far, the best meal I was served in all of my business class legs of the trip.  Spicy, warm, filling– it had sausage, beans, peppers, corn, potatoes, and roasted carrots inside with a spicy cheese filling. I ate every single crumb on the tray including the croissant and yogurt. I still dream about how good that omelette was…

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It was still pitch black outside just until about 30 minutes before we landed, so there wasn’t much to see until we began our descent.  It was really beautiful to be landing while the sun was rising in the distance and Australia started to come in to view!

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I managed to see a very familiar and lovely sight from the plane….

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We landed in Sydney at 09:30 Sunday morning local time (7:30PM Saturday in body time). I had just under two hours to pick up my checked bag, make it through customs, re-check in and check my bag, and transfer domestically to catch my flight to Canberra.  It took way less time than I thought and was actually pretty seamless (thanks, ePassport!)  With some time to spare, I went to freshen up.  I totally changed clothes, re-applied makeup, brushed my teeth, and made it to the gate.

The flight to Canberra, Australia’s capital city, was set to be just 55 minutes.  I saw out the window that we were flying on a propeller plane and my stomach dropped.  Damn you plane anxiety.  We boarded via outside stairs (a la the Bluths) and I got a window seat.  By some miracle, the airplane gods had smiled on me this entire trip, and the flight to Canberra was no different.  It was by far the smoothest flight I have ever been on.  We didn’t hit one single bump, the sky was crystal clear, and we flew at 18000 feet the entire trip so it was beautiful to see the ground the whole way.  Out pilot even told us that we were taking a shortcut (!) so the flying time literally was 22 minutes in the air.  The flight attendants still were able to give us bottles of water and delicious sticky date cake in that short of a flight!

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We landed in Canberra at their small, but really nice, airport.

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I collected my bag and called an Uber to head to the hotel.  I had forgotten that Aussies drive on the opposite side, so I was totally out of sorts on the drive.  He was an excellent driver but I kept feeling like he was veering in to traffic on the wrong side of the road!

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Thankfully my hotel, the Burbury, had some rooms ready when I arrived, so I checked in around 10:45.  I could not wait to get in the shower.

My coworker who lives in Canberra had planned to meet for lunch around 12 so I got ready and he came around to pick me up.  We went to Kingston Foreshore, a beautiful area by Canberra’s big lake, to get a burger at Beef & Barley.  I ordered the Hang Ten Hen and it was absolutely phenomenal.  Look at those chunks of chorizo on the grilled chicken!  The chips and slaw that came with it were also delicious.

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We split up after lunch and I went to explore around Foreshore for a few hours.  I was handily beating jet-lag (thankyouverymuch), so the more I was outside and walking around, the better I felt!

Canberra is the capital city and the seat of government in Australia.  Its grown up around a man-made lake.  June is the middle of winter in Canberra, but it was about 65 degrees and beautiful weather.

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Just up from the restaurants was a Sunday craft market that had tons of cool vendors, produce, food, and artwork.  I walked around excited to purchase something, but my credit card didn’t have a pin so I wasn’t able to use the ATM to get any cash out.  Bummer.

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I planned to walk back to the hotel and find the nearest market to get some snacks for breakfast the next day.  On the way back, I found Telopea Park which was calm and sunny.  I spent the next 30 minutes taking jumping pictures (#thingskaradoes) and generally enjoying the weather.

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Back at the hotel, I sorted the credit card pin and “just laid down for a moment”…. and woke up 45 minutes later.  Because I didn’t want to go to bed until at least 7:30, I made myself get up and walk to the market for some milk and fruit.  I just made it before the sun set at 5PM and dashed home to stay out of the dark.

I realized it was about 9AM in Oslo, so I got to skype with my brother and stinking-cute-niece Eva for about an hour before bed.  Alec remarked that my body language was changing as we talked.  I went from sitting straight up, to leaning against the headrest of the bed, to totally horizontal on a pillow.  It was surely time for sleep!

I set out my things for the morning and went to bed at 7:30PM.

And I didn’t wake up until 6AM.

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Stay tuned for my first full day in Canberra!

the little french cookie with a big personality: macarons!

Hi everyone!  Between moving from DC to Florida, setting up the apartment, traveling like crazy for work, and taking a million photos along the way, I have finally found time to properly link my blogs together.  Welcome to the new and improved Piquant Plates!

In honor of this big step in to the official blogging world, I wanted to share my latest baking journey, French macarons! Nope, these are not macaroonsthe coconutty and syrupy American treat that your grandmother may have made way back in the day and that your dad still loves to this day (love you, dad!).  These are light and moist meringue cookies that are just as stunning as they are delectable.  There are a million macaron shops, blogs, recipes, videos, etc. of macarons these days, so you could say they are en vogue at the moment.  My inspiration to start making macarons didn’t come from a fad, however, but a pastry class I took at the cooking school in my area.  We spent a good three hours baking countless flavor combinations and I fell in love with the texture and look of these cookies.

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Now, since I work from home in Tampa and thus have no co-workers except for my adorable dog and taste-tester boyfriend on off-work-hours, I unfortunately don’t have a place to drop off the results of my baking efforts like I did before at the office.  I don’t have a sweet tooth, and neither does P, so we can’t eat a whole pan of nutella brownies or 24 cupcakes by ourselves. Enter the problem of the macarons: I desperately wanted to make batch after batch when I got home from the pastry class, but I had no one to share them with. Lucky for me, I controlled the urge to bake for another week before P and I were due to drive back up to DC for work and a hockey tournament, and then made 6 BATCHES of macarons for the trip! I might have gotten a wee bit carried away… :)

In an effort to ease you delicately in to the recipe and procedure for these cookies, I would like to share some of the things I Googled when making them on my own for the first time.  Luckily, 6 batches of cookies later, I was able to answer said questions as well. Read on!

Q: Oof, I’ve heard macarons are difficult to make.  Can I really do this?

This post will share the recipe I learned, practiced, and use myself at home, but there are dozens of variations by other chefs and bloggers.  I like the one I will share today because 1) it works for me, 2) its not as fussy as some of the other recipes out there, and 3) it is accessible for the home cook.  In my next post I’ll be writing more about my new personal culinary journey and philosophy, but in a nutshell, I don’t think every recipe and technique needs to be as complicated as tradition or craft would demand.  Make things that look beautiful, taste good, and make you (and others!) happy!

Follow my tips and tricks that I learned from an excellent pastry chef (thanks, Chef Barb!) and you’ll be a maca-pro in no time!

Q: What fancy shmancy tools do I need to make these cookies?

Unlike many other French desserts, this one requires no special pans or molds.  Hooray!  However, there are a few tools that will make your chances of making a perfect macaron go up exponentially.  Here’s what you need:

1. Two identical sheet pans – You MUST use two pans stacked together when making macarons to help control the heat. I like the aluminum quarter sheet pans that NordicWare or Calphalon make.  They are inexpensive and indispensable in the kitchen, not just for macarons!  Check out discount stores like Home Goods -they always have them in stock for right around $10 a piece.

2. Parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet – the jury is really out on this one– some bakers prefer the silicon to bake the macarons, and some vehemently prefer parchment paper.  Either way, you need one of the two to lay on the sheet pan and pipe your macarons on.  I actually prefer parchment paper myself, and its a whole lot cheaper!

3. Piping bags – either disposable or polyester (reusable), a piping bag is mandatory for making macarons. This is a piped meringue cookie, so a piping bag is a must.  I have a few polyester bags which are great but must be cleaned between uses.  Plastic disposable bags are super easy if you have those on hand!

4. 1/2 inch round pastry tip – this is optional but highly recommended.  The 1/2 inch round tip makes for super easy piping and even, round cookies. As much as these little cookies are fru fru, the shape is truly iconic and the tip here helps achieve that shape.

5. Electric Mixer (Stand Mixer or Hand Mixer) Lastly, it is crucial that you have access to a stand mixer or a hand electric mixer to whip your egg whites.  This is not one of those “Ok, Kara, I have strong arms and can TOTALLY whip these by hand” moments. The egg whites need to be very stiff for this recipe to work, so an electric mixer really is a must.

Q: Macarons are crazy expensive at the bakeries… are they made of expensive ingredients?

Macarons are expensive at the boutique bakeries because they are popular right now and because they are finicky to make, but they are not made of anything outrageously expensive.  There are three main ingredients in a macaron: almond meal (~$10 for a 1 pound bag which makes about 6 batches), confectioners sugar (super cheap), and egg whites (very affordable).

Q: I’m scared, can I have a hug?

Yes you can, once your first batch is in the oven ;) Let’s make some cookies!

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French Macarons:

Recipe adapted from The Rolling Pin Culinary School. 

– 3/4 cup almond flour (or almond meal)

– 1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar

– 1 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean

– 3 large egg whites, left out overnight on the counter

– 1/4 cup granulated sugar

– 3 tbsp flavorings (optional), eg: espresso powder, cocoa powder, fruit powder

For the Filling:

– Buttercream icing (butter, confectioners sugar, vanilla)

– Fruit preserves or curds (lemon, lime, orange, etc)

– Flavors (espresso powder, peanut butter, etc.)

Step 1, the waiting: A day before you bake, prepare the eggs.  This seems easy but is a really important step.  The day or night before you’re ready to embark on this culinary adventure, separate three large egg whites in to a bowl being very careful not to get any yolk in with the whites.  Leave them out on the counter overnight (a day is best) so that some of the water evaporates.  Old, slightly dry egg whites are the key to fluffy macarons!

Step 2, the whipping: Stir the almond flour (almond meal) and confectioners sugar together in a bowl.  I used a whisk to simulate sifting the ingredients, but just make sure they are well blended together with no lumps.  In a stand mixer (or with your hand mixer), whip the 3 egg whites and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar together until stiff peaks form.  Add vanilla and food coloring (if desired) at the last few whips. Test the stiffness by holding the bowl upside-down over your head for 10 seconds.  If you don’t get plunked with whites, you’re good!  It should look silky and smooth. Voila, you made meringue!

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Step 3, the stirring: Combine half of the dry mixture (flour and sugar) in to the meringue. At this point, I added 1/4 cup of pulverized freeze dried raspberries to flavor the batter. With a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients by hand in to the whipped eggs.  Once incorporated, add the remaining half.  THIS IS THE TRICKY PART. Macarons are made or broken by this step.  Fold the eggs and dry ingredients together just until they are combined and then use your spatula to make a line in the middle of the batter.  If the batter slowly fuses back together, you’re good!  You want to take care not to overmix here or the macarons will be as flat as a pancake.  Undermix and they will look like puffy Hershey’s kisses!  About 50-60 mixes should do. Here’s the picture of my raspberry batch:

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Step 4, the piping: In a piping bag with a round tip, divide half of your macaronage (a fancy French name for the gooey mixture you just finished folding) in to the bag.  On a parchment lined baking sheet, pipe small quarter-sized circles about 1/2 apart.  On a standard quarter sheet pan, I can pipe close to 35 cookies.  My pastry instructor would kill me if she knew (she likes to do ~20 per pan but not everyone has an unlimited pan collection!).  Piping technique? Hold the bag completely vertical, 1 inch above the parchment, squeeze, stop, and rotate your hand so that the cookies don’t get a swirly top. If you are normal human, like me, and your cookies get the swirly top, dip your finger in a tiny bit of water and pat them down.  No big deal!

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Step 5, the slamming: Once piped, we need to settle the cookies in to their smooth, round shape.  This step lets you take out any pent up aggression by rapping the cookie sheet firmly on a countertop over and over until the cookies spread ever so slightly and get a smooth top.  Don’t be shy… you have an excuse to bang around and make noise!  Use it! :)

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Step 6, the resting: An interesting quality of macarons is that they have a hard shiny top but a soft and moist inside. That shiny top is achieved by letting the piped cookies rest and dry for at least 20-30 minutes until they are dry to the touch.  This can take much longer in a humid environment (COUGH, FLORIDA), so I like to pop them in front of a fan to help them out.

Step 7, the BAKING! Once they have dried, put the macarons in to a preheated 300 to 310 degree oven for baking.  This is a trial and error sort of temperature– if your oven runs hot, I’d back the temp down around 300.  If it is a reliable temperature, meet in the middle around 305.  Making sure there is another empty cookie sheet stacked under your beautiful pan of piped macarons, put them in the oven for 6-8 minutes, rotate, and again for 6-8 minutes.  Pro tip: My instructor taught us to prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon to let excess heat escape during cooking.  This helps prevent an oven that is too hot and will cause your cookies to crack!  Check doneness by juggling the top of a cookie after the second 8 minutes. If they are firm and don’t wiggle, you are done!

P.S.– this is the step where your macarons get their FEET.  Feet are the hardest thing in the world to achieve on a macaron and I didn’t have success until my third batch.  That dry shiny top makes the macaron puff over on the bottom as it cooks, creating a little bubbly layer around the outside of the cookie called “feet”.  Keep an eye out for them!  Here are my chocolate ones WITH FEET!

(P thought I was crazy when I ran in to the bedroom shouting, “they have feet! they have feeeeeet!”)

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Step 8, the filling:  When your macarons are finished and cooled, use an offset spatula or a knife to quickly slice under the macaron to release it from the parchment paper.  If using silicon, this can be a little tougher.  Use a buttercream frosting, preserves, lemon curd, or any other thick filling (eg: nutella or peanut butter, etc) to pipe in between two identically sized cookies.  Very gently squeeze the halves together and set aside to “cure”, or let the flavors meld together for a few hours in the fridge. (I know… you have to wait!  I’m so sorry!)

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Step 9, THE EATING:  Eat and share with your loved ones.  Sharing is optional. If all the cookies don’t disappear in the blink of an eye (very common), you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer until you are craving just oneeee more at 11:30 before bed… :)

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I made 4 different flavors of macarons for my adventure and we made 6 different kinds in class.  I will not mislead you at all in to thinking that my macarons were perfect– some batches came out better than others.  I had some cracks, some overmixed batter, some undermixed,  No matter the hiccup, each batch was delicious and made with love!

Dark Chocolate Macarons with Nutella Buttercream

Vanilla Macarons with Blackberry Buttercream

Blueberry Macarons with Lemon Curd Buttercream

Raspberry Macarons with Raspberry Buttercream

I hope after reading this you all have a better idea of whether you’d like to take on the mighty macaron in your kitchens. Although there are quite a few steps and extra considerations, its not that difficult to make a delicious and impressive box of these cookies for special occasions, family gatherings, or just for fun!  I’m getting better with every batch and having a blast along the way :)

a detour to south america: my week in Uruguay (Part 3)

December 26th, 2014:

We all woke up to a spectacular morning and trickled in to the kitchen for a light breakfast of toast, dulce de leche, and fresh plums and peaches.  Ingun was extra excited for the morning because Nacho and the kids were coming up to El Campo to get the horses ready to ride!  I, personally, am terrified of horses.  Mostly because last time I was at El Campo I was thrown off the back of one after it was stung by a horse fly.  It backed up kicking in to a fence and me, not being an expert in anything equestrian, fell off terrified of being trampled.  Ingun and the little cousins, on the other hand, love horses and are great at riding them, so I was more than happy to snap photos in the sun all morning, starting with a jumping picture of course :)

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While Nacho and Cookie were getting the horses saddled, the cousins decided to play some football with their new Christmas gifts.  Alec was half referee (for the on-field arguments that broke out) and half opposing team, and they all ended up kicking around in a circle.  It was about 95º outside but they played for quite a while!

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When it was time to ride, Cookie and Nacho had saddled up two horses to take turns on.  Ingun and Cookie went first, followed by Alec, little Sofia, and Paloma. They were all total naturals… especially Sofi who is only 7 and took charge of the horse as if it was a tiny dog!

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My mom and dad helped Nacho cool off the horses at the end of their ride with some cool water straight from the well.  I wouldn’t even get close enough to hold their reins, but I did manage to pet one of their noses briefly.  Progress!

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We were all super ready to take a dip in the water before leaving La Paloma to go back to Montevideo, so we packed up, said goodbye to El Campo, and went back down to the beach house.  On my way out, I noticed a list of “golden rules” next to the door on the farm.  It was both funny and sweet– a list of reminders to keep the grass cut and plants trimmed, to clean up whatever you make dirty, but also to be good to one another and be happy. I love the thought and humor that went in to this simple piece of paper and it made me smile to know that my family has our priorities in line!

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We spent the early afternoon at the beach and enjoyed some final moments of sun and sand.  My uncles brought out their small windsurfing/sailboat-thingie and took it out for a spin in the inlet.  It was pretty windy that afternoon again and the boat flipped over once or twice even under the firm hand of my expert sailor uncles.  Somehow they convinced my dad to go out with them and he took a nice little dump in to the water and walked all the way back from the other side of the shore soaking wet.  It was a pretty funny sight to see :)

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When it was finally time to say our goodbyes and give the last hugs and kisses to the little ones, we made sure to get a final photo in front of the beach house.  I’m pretty sure its the only house in the world that has our name on it, and I know its a special place I can always come back to :)

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We got on the road and braved the absolute torrential downpour to get back to Montevideo by the early evening.  Because it was my second to last night in Uruguay, we wanted to take Charito out to a nice dinner to thank her for hosting us and being generally an angel as always!  A few recommendations for a great milanesa restaurant in Positos, a cute area of Montevideo, took us to a restaurant called “Milamores”.

If you haven’t heard of a milanesa, it is a very typical Uruguayan dish that comes straight from Italy.  Its a very thin pounded piece of meat, often beef or veal, breaded and fried with all kinds of toppings.  This restaurant’s menu had nothing but milanesas of every variation and it took us a good 20 minutes to even read through (and translate for the non-Spanish speakers) everything that they had to offer.  We all ended up with different kinds… from a caprese to one with a mustard sauce, to Ingun’s: a milanesa topped with two fried eggs and three strips of bacon.  YUM.  Here we all are at dinner!

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In my tradition of always finding animals in every country that I visit, I found another beautiful kitten who posed for me in the doorway of Milamores as we were leaving.  A perfect ending to a wonderful day filled with dear family!

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Stay tuned for my last post about the old city and making gnocchi!

a detour to south america: my week in Uruguay (Part 2)

December 25th, 2014:

Christmas Day was beach day for all of us!  I was looking forward to getting some sun, enjoying the water, but most of all, getting to spend more time with family!  Truthfully, we could have been stuck inside while it poured down rain and I would have been happy as a clam getting to play with my little cousins and spend time with my aunts and uncles!  Luckily it did not rain, however, and we had a beautiful sunny day to spend at the beach.  The beach closest to our house, about 10 feet away, is more of an inlet and has tons of cool shells to collect.  The water was beautiful and we set up our umbrellas and towels before jumping in.

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Unfortunately it was pretty windy in the morning, so Yaya suggested that we head to another beach on the other side of La Paloma, about 10 minutes away, where the wind wouldn’t be blowing so hard.  We packed up the army of kids and stuff and piled in the car.  I love the “if you can’t carry it, it doesn’t come with us” mentality, so all the kids helped carry their items down to the shore.  They’re such well behaved munchkins!

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I had a great time chatting and taking pictures and playing in the water all afternoon.  La Paloma is so peaceful and not crowded at all– there were only about 5 other people on the beach with us!

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We decided to take a Boschi grandchildren photo where everyone lined up in height order next to the water.  With a little coaxing and some height disagreements, we ended up with an awesome shot!  The only three not pictured here are Emi, Flor, and Santiago– we missed them!  In order below: Felipe, Agustin, Matias, Sofia, Mateo, Luli, Juan Tomas, Paloma, Agustina, Magela and Diego.

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It started to get windy on this beach too, and the sand storm (although SUPER cool to see!) was kicking up, so we packed up to head back to the beach house.  Nacho guided us home and stopped at this really cool little surfing beach for us to peek at on the way.  Perfect opportunity for another jumping picture!

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We arrived back at the beach house to a delicious lunch of leftover grilled pork, salads, and tons of beautiful quiche: leek and onion, broccoli and cheddar, and an interesting sweet/savory one with ham, cheese, apple, and sugar.  It was the perfect light lunch before the amazing asado we were going to have for dinner!  The kids played with their Christmas gifts outside while the adults relaxed in the shade.

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After a little nap, we came back together for Christmas dinner– a traditional “asado”, or grilled feast.  There were all kinds of meats: chorizo (a type of sausage), ribs, steak, and some of the more exotic parts of the cow: kidney, small intestine, liver, etc. Everything is grilled on these beautiful barbecues that every single Uruguayan has at their homes, with big grates for grilling and a place for firewood that turns in to the hot coals on the side.

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Diego and Jorge Enrique were the grill masters and kept the delicious food coming all night.  It wasn’t like a buffet of meats– they came out in small pieces for everyone to munch on with a piece or two of bread.  When the steak came off the grill, Diego asked us how we like ours cooked.  Susana and I both love our steaks almost “mooing”, so we got beautiful rare pieces that melted in our mouths.  I’m still dreaming about how good everything was!

At the end of the night, we wanted to take a group photo of all the Oyhenarts and all of the Boschis together.  It was not an easy feat but we managed to get some good combinations.  My favorite was the shot of all the adults!  What a wonderful way to spend Christmas :)

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Stay tuned tomorrow for my last day in La Paloma and fun in Montevideo!

a detour to South America: my week in Uruguay (Part 1)

December 22 & 23, 2014

For Christmas this year, my family and I took a trip down south to Uruguay to spend the holidays with family. If you have not had the pleasure to visit, or are googling a map of South America to see which country I’m referring to, let me give you a little background. Uruguay is hands-down the most beautiful and peaceful country in South America with gorgeous beaches, delicious food, and fantastic people.  There are only about 3 million Uruguayans, with almost half of them living in the capital of Montevideo.

My father was born in Uruguay and moved to the US with his parents and brother when he was just two years old.  Since then, he’s visited many times and I had the priviledge of going once in the winter of 2002, summer of 2009, and this summer of 2014 as well.  I should mention that their seasons are the opposite of our seasons here in Washington, DC, which was an absolute joy as we left 36º and rainy DC weather for the sand and 90º sunshine of Montevideo.

This trip was to be a particularly special one as my mom and Ingun were making their first visits to Uruguay.  My mom, dad, and I flew from DC –> Miami –> Montevideo while Alec and Ingun took a several flights from Oslo –> Paris –> Buenos Aires –> Montevideo.

After a significant delay and nearly roasting to death on the plane in Miami, we all arrived safely in Montevideo on Tuesday afternoon, ready to see family, eat good food, and take a nice long nap.  My great-aunt Charito and her beau Dario came with Alec and Ingun to pick us up at the airport with huge smiles and big hugs.  We were whisked away to Charito’s apartment for a lunch of Torta Pascualina, baked zapallitos (squash) with salsa blanca, caprese and a carrot and peanut salad.  It was absolutely delicious and hit all of my cravings for Uruguayan food all at once!  Maybe I’ll make torta pascualina next for my food blog! :)

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After lunch, we decided to take a quick detour at the Carrasco Lawn & Tennis Club before Alec, Ingun, mom and dad went off to their respective hotels for a nap.  My great grandfather was the president of the Club long ago and his name was even on a plaque on the wall!  I should take this opportunity to quickly mention that because Uruguay is such a small country, my relatives know EVERYONE.  The entire trip we couldn’t go anywhere without Charito saying hello to an old friend, and at the Club it was no different!  It always fascinates me that this is the one place in the world where my last name, Oyhenart, and my family names, Aviles, Boschi, and Martinez, are well known to everyone.  Its pretty cool :)

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We emerged from our naps a few hours later, showered and refreshed and ready for the highlight of the day: gnocchi!  My dad is a food lover, especially Uruguayan food, so Charito promised him a dinner of gnocchi for his first night in town.  She invited aunts, uncles, and cousins to join in and we had a spectacular night eating inside and outside on the patio, catching up and chowing down!  The gnocchi were served with a sinful porcini mushroom sauce and a delicious red sauce with braised chicken. It was so good!

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In good old Uruguayan fashion, we finished the evening around 3AM and, much like jet lagged zombies, pattered off to bed to get ready for another day of family and fun!

December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve in Uruguay, like many other places in the world, is the big day of celebration (unlike the 25th in the USA).  We had plans to drive to our favorite beach town, La Paloma, to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the Boschi side of the family:  Jorge and Susana (the matriarch and patriarch) were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and all of their kids (Jorge Enrique, Susi (Cookie), Ignacio (Nacho) and Adriana (Yaya)) were going to be their with all of THEIR kids… way too many for me to type out :)

Its about a 3 hour drive from Montevideo to La Paloma so we decided to split the difference and stop in Punta del Este, one of the most famous and popular destinations in Uruguay, for lunch.  Just outside of Punta, we stopped at an overlook with breathtaking views of the city and the water.  Alec and I decided to get a sibling Christmas picture!

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Next on my list of Uruguayan foods that I was craving was a “chivito”, or steak sandwich with every topping you can imagine. There is a great chiviteria in Punta del Este called Marcos, so naturally we stopped there for our fix.  My mom and I split a chivito but Alec, Ingun and my dad all took one for the team and finished one themselves.  We all decided to get the classic preparation: steak, ham, peppers, onions, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.  Its a beast of a sandwich but is so, so good! Here’s my lunch:

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We stayed a few nights in Punta del Este on my last trip to Uruguay in 2009, but since we were en route to La Paloma and didn’t have time to stay on this visit, I made sure that we showed my mom and Ingun my very favorite feature of the town: Los Dedos.  There is a spot on the beach where five stone fingers come out of the sand and look like a hand has been buried.  Its the coolest little piece of artwork and has become a symbol of the town.  Naturally I had to take a jumping picture with them!

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Full and happy, we continued on to La Paloma and arrived around 7PM.  Our family owns a farm outside of town called “El Casco”, but we have always called it “El Campo”, or “the farm”.  It sits on a bazillion hectares (a quadrillion acres it seems like) where we have a beautiful farm house, barn, and tons of land for horses and cattle.  We were going to stay at El Campo for those two evenings so we headed up while it was still light outside to settle in before going to the beach house.  Check out this view!

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We all piled in to the car and headed down with a sack of Christmas presents to the beach house right on the water where the rest of the family had gathered for dinner. Nearly everyone from the Boschi clan was there (minus Emi, Flor and Santiago), so we had a grand total of 17 Boschis plus the 5 of us ready to celebrate Christmas Eve with a barbecue dinner and some fireworks on the beach!  Dinner was slow cooked grilled pork and tons of different cold salads, sort of “picnic style”, with wine and beer all around.

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The little ones played with sparklers and had great fun writing their names with the glow from the sparks.  It was so neat to see how grown up they all were just 5 years after my last visit.  New cousins I’d never met, old ones who were no longer little babies– and they all had incredible patients with me as I regained my Spanish fluency :)

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We distracted the kids with fireworks on the beach as the clock struck midnight on the 24th marking the arrival of Christmas Day.  As they marveled at the huge firework display over the beach, my aunts and uncles and I rushed in to the house to put the presents under the tree.  In Uruguay, Santa Clause is called “Papa Noel” and he brings presents at midnight.  The kids came bursting in to the house as soon as the last spark fell with wide eyes and huge smiles as they saw that Papa Noel had been there.  “But I was watching the whole time!” one yelled, confused as to how he didn’t catch the man in the act. “How did he get in the house?” I asked one of them, pretending to be very confused.  “Papa Noel has keys to everyone’s house, of course”, came the reply of the littlest one.  It was such a sweet moment!

Here’s the before:

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And the after!

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The best gifts were the football kits that my little cousins Matias and Agustin got from Papa Noel.  They were absolutely thrilled when they saw the set of gloves, shoes, shirt and pants from their favorite football players.  Agustin, only 4 years old, knows every single flag of each country that played in the World Cup, along with every player and their team AND their jersey number! He is adorable.  Here they are in their new kits:

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All in all, it was a great Christmas Eve to spend in my favorite spot: La Paloma.  Sun, sand, good food and family… what more could you ask for?

en dag i Mariefred: en charmig stad på Mälaren

June 18th, 2014: We woke up fairly early on Wednesday with a a few things to do before heading out to Mariefred.  I showered while waiting for Sara and David to head to the flat and came out to find David making one of my favorite things in the world: Scandinavian breakfast. We buttered crisp bread, layered on thin slices of cheese, “guest quality” ham (haha we don’t know why it was called that!), cucumber sliced with a cheese slicer, and hard-boiled eggs.  It was deeeeelicious. IMG_4545 Next on our list was to stop by Vuxenskolan and UISS, our language school from last summer, and say hi to all of our old teachers and assistants.  I had emailed the director, Nelleke, a few weeks ago hoping we could snag a spot on the bus out to Hammarskog for Midsommar on Friday and she said for us to stop by Wednesday to double check.  We walked up during fika, actually the perfect time to come visit, and saw all of my favorite people!  My old teachers, Jenny and David, were there and I gave them big hugs.  Emma and Christian, two of the assistants from last summer, were running the fika and Christian picked me up off the ground with a big smile.  Its great to be back in Uppsala and to see these guys :) Vuxenskolan is right next to Uppsala C, so we walked over to catch our train to Mariefred.  Its a small, beautiful town situated on the Mälaren lake a little ways south of Uppsala.  We took a train to Stockholm, a train to Läggesta to meet David’s boyfriend Andreas, and then a bus to Mariefred.  On the train, David taught Sara how to play Spit so we had many rousing games on our journey. IMG_4549 Train/bus travel is expensive in Sweden but the trip was very easy!  The weather could not have been more beautiful: it was sunny, warm, a little breezy, and the sky was crystal blue. IMG_4558 Mariefred is quinessentually Swedish in all of my faovrite ways!  Painted houses, coffee shops and ice cream stands, flowers everywhere, strawberries in the streets.  We walked around for a little while before settling on a restaurant for dagens lunch: the daily special.  It was an incredible spread of locally grown vegetables simply prepared with herbs or raw and sprinkled with olive oil.  David, Andreas, and I chose the fish and Sara had the pork. IMG_4560 There was an outdoor area to sit and eat (my faaaavorite!!!) so we took our lunch across the street in the fresh air.  There were tons of super creepy and aggressive crows around, but they couldn’t spoil the fantastic lunch we were eating.  Look at this! IMG_4564 The crows got even more aggressive by the time we were finishing and one of them kept looking at David, opening its mouth, and turning its head sideways.  Super creepy… IMG_4566 After lunch, we walked down to the water to take some photos.  I hadn’t gotten a jumping picture in a while so my lovely friends indulged me and we got some good shots! DSC04916 Andreas wanted to show us the big castle, Gripsholms Slott, so we walked over and got tickets for a self-guided exploration.  It actually has the most portraits in all of Europe and was super interesting to walk around.  Portraits of kings and queens from everywhere in Europe hung on the walls with incredibly ornate frames– all of the pictures of old kings of Sweden from the history books are copies of these actual originals!  The castle grounds were also stunning: IMG_4581   IMG_4582   IMG_4606 The one especially notable thing that we saw inside was in the attic of the castle. I believe some king got a stuffed lion as a present, but the taxidermist had never seen a real lion before.  So he used his best judgement and tried to recreate this animal… We all agreed that its face, the biggest abomination of them all, looked like a mixture between a children’s toy, the Cheetos lion and the Pink Panther: IMG_4599 The castle was closing just when we finished our tour, so we found our way out  and relaxed by the water while we waited for one of Andreas’ friends to meet us at the castle.  Sara and I weren’t quite done taking photos so we had a little photoshoot on the lake.  Jumping pictures and nice pictures alike :) SONY DSC DSC04935 DSC04939 Sara had seen a sign for handmade Italian ice cream back in town, so we all headed over for a little fika. I got a scoop of stracciatella and Sara got melon gelato.  It was the perfect thing to cool us off after a lot of walking! We finally took the train and bus back to Uppsala and had a light dinner and a calm night.  Everyone was tired, but very happy, after our big adventure in Mariefred.  Another Swedish city to stick a pin in for me! :)