Saturday, 4 July 2015

Eating Our Way Around Piedmont I

I cannot believe it has taken me this long to get around to writing about our weekend break in Piedmont (is it ok if I call it Piemonte? Is that too pretentious?)

In fact, over the next couple of months it's going to be a very odd jumble of posts about things that happened this year, things that happened last year and things that are happening right this second! Please excuse my absolute disregard for chronology and keeping up to date properly. I would promise that one day I will sort things out but seeing as I am unlikely to ever become a professional blogger, it probably won't change

We went to Piemonte last March (last March! I was still in the middle of my year abroad then!) After months of a grey and drizzly Milan, we decided it was time to do something; get out of the city and breathe some fresh air.

And eat some cheese. Vegetarians in Piemonte can expect to eat a lot of cheese as it is otherwise a land of meat. 

I am not complaining.

Because Piemonte insisted that I eat cheese at every meal for every course, I was introduced to the insane combination that is cheese, hazelnuts and honey. Don't believe me? Ask my friend Tamsyn. I forced her to try it when I got back to England. We slapped wedges of gooey brie onto slices of fresh baguettes, drizzled honey over it and popped toasted hazelnuts in our mouths with every bite. Incredible.

They even sprinkle hazelnuts on the pasta:

By the end I was very full and very, very tired.

We had come up straight from work that day and whilst the drive was only about three hours, it was fairly late by the time we got in the car and crawled back to the hotel.

And it was fairly cold too; look at the snow in the car park! This is Italy in March we're talking about, what is this madness?

We trundled back to the hotel, dipping and climbing with the rolling landscape, listening to Arcade Fire and watching the fields ripple past in the darkness.

And after a good sleep, we woke up on the Saturday morning to beautiful blue skies!

We stayed at the Relais Montemarino which I booked after a rather fast and furious session (I don't know what I'd do without that site!) It's situated in the Langhe region, right in the middle of the beautiful Piemontese countryside and has a really simple, rustic feel and a swimming pool with a view across the hills. I was really impressed by the friendly service too, the woman on reception took us up to our room herself and gave us a quick tour of the hotel, showing us where the pool was and giving us all the information we might need.

On that first day we headed to Asti to meet a couple of friends who were also enjoying the fresh air of Piemonte. We stopped by Il Cavolo a Merenda in the city centre for a spot of good food and good beer.

I had butternut squash risotto followed by baccala and polenta, some of my favourite Italian dishes!

And what's a meal in Italy without finishing it with gelato?

After lunch we spent the afternoon circling Piemonte in the car, visiting the pretty old towns dotted about the countryside and wishing we could go to a wine tasting without having to worry about designated drivers.

Especially as I gave driving a go - it's so strange driving on the other side of the road! I kept hitting the door with my hand, looking for the gear stick.

It was actually pretty terrifying and I managed to scrape the car along the kerb about seven too many times for Michele's liking so we swapped back (the car's radiator actually did end up breaking shortly after I'd driven, not sure if that was my fault or not though!)

The last stop of the day was Alba, a place famous for its truffles.

I am by no means a truffle expert but I do know that whenever it appears on the menu, as long as it isn't ridiculously overpriced, I'll definitely choose that option. I love the smell of truffle oil (although my housemates run away whenever I drizzle some on my pasta because they think it smells like paint stripper) and always have a small bottle in the house to liven up salads and risottos.

As such, a visit to this truffle shop was my idea of paradise.

By the time we crawled back to the hotel, dusk was well underway.

We finished the day with a dip in the pool before heading out to find somewhere for dinner.

I hadn't ever given Piemonte a thought before our trip but I really fell in love with it and would love to go back again. Have you ever been before? Or has another region or city ever captured your heart on a minibreak?

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Exeter Eats: Herbies Veggie Restaurant

Just a quick one today to share a rather well-known little place around these parts.

Herbies is a vegetarian restaurant which draws in veggies and meaties by the crowd! They have a huge range of vegetarian and vegan dishes and each and every one is quite frankly absolutely delicious!

For some reason I've only been twice in the four years I've been an Exeter student but seeing as I have another four years to go, I'm hoping I'll be able to make it a little more often!

Especially with my foodie partner in crime, Charlotte. She's the new Slow Food on Campus society president at the uni and we will be working together for the next academic year again, hooray! She's an absolute babe.

Now, all the food you see here was sadly not consumed by just Charlotte and myself as we were out with the rest of the outgoing Slow Food committee (we'll miss you guys!)

Happily, everyone was up for sharing, especially as the portions were absolutely huge.

I know that a lot of people might be put off by the sound of a vegetarian restaurant. Lots of people believe that a meal needs meat to be a proper meal.

Sometimes when I cook for myself at home, I can understand that - I don't feel full up and I just don't get that feeling of satisfaction (or is that just because I'm greedy?!)

We really did not have that problem at Herbies.

If you go, make sure you order the daily salad as your side dish. Don't worry, there are no bowls of sad looking lettuce leaves drizzled in a suspicious looking dressing, it's always much more exciting than that:

I had the carrot and cashew nut loaf with the salads on the side ^

It was so scrummy and such an easy way to get my 5-a-day in!

As you may have guessed, food is a bit of an obsession of mine, so much so that I'm actually going to be conducting research on how to get children to eat less junk food and more vegetables (and actually enjoy eating them!) However I think Herbies may have done the job for me.

It's not all strictly healthy though...

Now whilst the food was damn good (think deeply rich tomato sauces, fresh vegetables, lightly salted homemade chips and a salsa verde that had us all exclaiming in delight and begging the chef for the recipe) I would go one step further and say that if you've already had dinner, it's worth going there for the dessert alone.

Each and every single one was exquisite. I know. I tried them all.

It might not look like much from the outside, the decor may be pared down and simple, they may not serve meat. But if you are in Exeter, you will regret not paying Herbies a visit.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

My Mid-Year Resolutions

Happy 1st July! Can you believe it's already the middle of the year? That means it's 100% acceptable to start counting down to Christmas people!

If I'm honest, it means I have also completely forgotten my New Year's resolutions for 2015. Did I even make any? Did you make any? Was this the year that I did the old my New Year's resolution is not to make any resolutions?

It is, of course, entirely possible that I was too busy to even remember to make resolutions this year. I would have been revising manically for my stats exam whilst trying to write essays and prepare to do my research project - phew! On top of that, New Year's Eve turned into a crazy little party chez moi which had been planned as a "quiet dinner with a few close friends" and turned into a four course extravaganza in which the fourth course was an entire bottle of port for some people and in which we managed to end up talking about clitoral piercings at the dinner table WITH MY PARENTS.

Needless to say, I was probably stressed beyond the point of even considering what my life goals for the year were (beyond finding sophisticated new friends that won't start discussing what metal does for your sex life with my mum).

And anyway, there's never a better time than the present to start reassessing and reorganising!

1. Keep on blogging

Obviously this is probably top of most of your lists. I'm currently manically writing about 30 posts ahead of time so that the blog will still be regularly updated when I head to the middle of nowhere in Canada in a few weeks. During my final year of uni I completely let it slide and my readership really plummeted. I'm not a whizz with Twitter and I hardly know what I'm doing with Instagram but I'd at least like to keep this site updated and to comment back to all the lovely ones who leave me a little note under these posts - thank you!

2. Go travelling

This is a complete cheat resolution. Our month-long trip to the USA and Canada is all booked and afterwards I've got a week in France to look forward to with my family. Seeing as I haven't been anywhere except Italy for the last four years (I know, life is tough) I'm so excited about changing things up a bit.

3. Be more charitable

I'm a complete hypocrite. Whenever I'm walking around Milan and I see all these mega-rich people walking around with about twenty designer carrier bags positively drooping from their arms, I get on my high horse and begin thinking how it's such a shame that people will spend thousands in a day just to treat themselves to a fancy bag or pair of shoes when that amount could make a huge amount of change in others' lives. Time for me to wake up and realise that my life too is rather charmed compared to those of others - and to start practicing what I preach (in my head).
(Although last time I tried to do a good deed by giving away sandwiches to homeless people they all turned me down and I had to throw the sandwiches away in the end. Sad times).

4. Read more

I love reading. I absolutely bloody adore it. I cannot pass a bookshop by without going in and practically sniffing the pages of all the books and thumbing through the recommended titles. I have a particular weakness for the Waterstones in Canterbury - that one manages to sell me at least three books per visit without the sales assistants even breathing a word. But I want to make sure that I dedicate quality time to reading - and stop going back to the same old chick lit in between Game of Thrones novels. The other day I spent at least 15 minutes patiently typing out titles and author names into my phone at a bookshop because the quality of the choices on their recommended shelf was just too bloody good. Now I need to get through that list! (And this one!)

5. Write more

I don't know why I don't write more. Ok, I do know - it's because I never think it's good enough and I'm scared of my own criticism. I know that whatever I write one day will seem crap on another day. But I need to stick at it and I need to save the drafts because usually, whenever I read what I wrote the year before, I think it's ace (even if it is only an opening paragraph of the same tired story - I never get past it!) I came 2nd in the university's creative writing competition earlier this year which was such a confidence boost and I really hope I can stick it out and finish some more works and build up a little portfolio.

6. Control my weight

Eek, a controversial one. Over the past few years, my weight has crept up by about 5kg. It might have something to do with the frequent trips to Italy, or that I started uni at that time or that I'm just getting a bit older and can't eat what I like all the time (sob). I'm still a healthy weight but if I let myself gain a kilo a year, that's not going to end well in 30 years! I'm a bit conflicted with this one because I know that weight and body image is so closely tied in to a media ideal that is unrealistic and utterly oppressive (I did my dissertation on this!) but at the same time, I want to look... a bit different. So I'm going to train with a focus on being strong and eat with a focus on giving my body the fuel it needs and see what happens.

Well I think that's enough for now! Are you still sticking to your resolutions?