Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stragglers

I found a few more photos of my weekend in Elba on the other side of Ged's memory card last night.

I felt they deserved to be posted.

























Really nice panning shot:
























It might be a little difficult to see, but this shot shows the spiraling road that had the 14% gradient.  I'm in the left part of the photo.









Hasta luego.

~Amanda

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Sea Level to 2,000 ft.

I officially have a favorite place in Italy:  the island of Elba.  Yes, the place where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in 1814.

This place encompasses everything I could ask for in an island:  great beaches, breathtaking views, tasty food and challenging bike rides.

Saturday
To get to Elba, Ged and I had to hop a ferry with his car at 5 a.m.  It took two hours to drive from Florence to Piombino, where the port was, and another hour to get to the island by boat.

Piombino is perhaps the ugliest part of Italy.  It's full of factories and pollution.

Here's a shot I took upon leaving:
















Gross, right?

We set up camp at a site in the town Marina di Campo.  Our tent was only a few yards away from the beach.  Pure bliss.  I baked in the sun for a few hours before going on a bike ride with Ged.
















Satuday's ride was 50 km (30 mi).  It took around two hours to complete.

This was definitely the most beautiful ride I've done so far.  I could see the coast the entire time and the rich foliage made it feel like I was riding through a jungle.  The road was undulating and pleasant for the first half.  There were small climbs sprinkled throughout but nothing too serious.  Nearer to the end, however, there was a constant, gradual climb.

Those always get me.  You know, the upward slopes that visually seem flat, so you start to get pissed because you have no idea why you're going so slow.  Yea, those.

Saturday night was a bit painful, however, as I watched the U.S. get beat by Ghana in the World Cup.  :(

Sunday
I mostly laid out on the beach all day.  I really do miss going to the beach.

After Ged came back from his bike ride we went to the beach bar to watch the England v. Germany game.

Post-ride sandwiches at the tent:
























Unfortunately, Ged's team didn't get a win either.  Sad weekend for football.
















Monday
We checked out of the campsite at noon and then jumped on the bikes for a 35 km (~20 mi) ride.

This ride was seriously tough for me.


We started from sea level and ended up climbing 2,000 feet.  The climb was at a 14% gradient in some spots, which is like Tour-de-France-style riding.

I swear the ants on the ground were traveling faster than I was when I hit those steep parts.  At least I didn't stop.

Ged snapped some action shots.



















After basking in the sunshine for a few more hours, the time came to snap back into reality and head back to the ferry.

Even though I was sad to leave Elba, I know I'll be back.  I just have to.

If you love the beach, friendly people, beautiful scenery and intense bike rides, you must go to Elba.

I took some more pictures when leaving:















Do you have a vacation spot that trumps all others?


~Amanda

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lentil Fail

I'm kind of new at cooking.  And part of being an amateur is totally screwing up from time to time.  Like I did with last night's dinner.

I wanted to make a lentil dish.  Side note:  I've never cooked lentils before.

I chopped up some carrot, potato, onion, red pepper, tofu and garlic to go along with my lentil surprise.

Then I added some vegetable broth and lentils.  Here's where I messed up.

I put THREE TIMES as many lentils as I should've.  I didn't realize that lentils can soak up so much water when cooked.  Oops.

So dinner was a little lentil-heavy.  Everything tasted pretty good, there was just WAY too much.  After Ged and I finished our plates there was still 3/4 of a pot of lentil stew left.  Hm.

Lesson learned.

I took pictures anyway.

















Since today was a holiday in Florence, there was a fireworks show at 10 p.m.  Ged and I wanted to look down on the city, so we rode the bus to Fiesole.  Unfortunately, we weren't the only ones who thought to do it.

























This weekend we're going to the island of Elba off the west coast of Italy.  Camping, cycling and roasting in the sunshine.  What more could one ask for?

Have a good weekend.

~Amanda

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What a Beautiful Day

Ged had the day off from work because of a random Italian holiday, which meant a bike ride was in order.

We rode east to Pontassieve and went a back way up to Fiesole.

The climb for this ride was very different from the steep curves of Fiesole.  The ascent was super gradual--more of a test of mental stamina than physical capability.  I'm proud to say that I didn't stop at all during the 5 km (3 mi) climb.  Even though the ride up was not as sharp and steep as my usual ride to Fiesole, I found it amazing that the two completely different rides could be equally as hard.

By the time I reached the top, I was exhausted.  Ged still wanted to continue on toward the monastery, the place that's infamous for a hellish final climb.  Not today, I told him.


Besides being a kind, thought-provoking and honest boyfriend, Ged is also a great photographer!

Here's some shots he took of me riding up to the top of the hill.



















Where we were headed:


















Pointing toward the monastery I really didn't want to ride to:


















Ged and I stopped at the Commonwealth Cemetery near Florence.  

















Best friends.  :)



















The entire ride was 54km (34mi).

Post ride nutrition included whole grain fusilli pasta mixed with freshly sauteed veggies.
















I threw in some garlic, spinach, tomatoes, onions and red pepper.
















The Italy/Slovakia game is on TV right now and it's pretty intense.  I'm rooting for Slovakia...the Italian players aren't exactly winning me over with all their bitching.

~Amanda

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Burger Dilemma

Last Friday night, Ged and I ate at Caf√® Deluxe√®, a small cafe near our apartment.  I saw under the "burgers" section of the menu that they had a soy burger.  Having not seen anything remotely soy on any Italian menu while I've been in Italy, I knew I had to order it.  But before I go into the heated debate that followed my ordering of the soy burger, I introduce to you last night's dinner:

A concoction of chopped and sauteed tomatoes, onions, pepper, garlic and seitan mixed with whole grain rice and served with sauteed asparagus.

















This was Ged's first time trying seitan, and he said he preferred it to tofu.  I guess maybe that's because the texture is not as strange as tofu can sometimes be.  You know, that slippery, rubbery texture.

Right, back to the burger discussion.

When I got the burger, it looked great--a cutlet of soy with tomato, lettuce and onion in a fresh bun.  

I regret to inform you, however, that when I bit into it I was immediately disappointed.  The patty was hard and dry, clearly overcooked.  

I've had soy burgers before, mostly in the form of Boca Burgers, and that's not how mine should've tasted.

















I told Ged about my unfortunate meal selection and he said he wasn't surprised because it's Italy, and no one should expect to receive a tasty meal if ordering anything soy from a menu.

And then he said he didn't understand why I'd even order a "burger" in the first place because it goes against everything I believe in.  As an Englishman, he thinks the concept of the soy burger is a contradiction within itself because the burger has been perpetually advertised as a greasy slab of beef, such as the picture below:










That stereotype of the burger exists, I think, because big fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King have abused the concept of the burger by connecting it with the evil practices of animal abuse and the manufacturing of unhealthy, synthetic ingredients.

"Burger," to me, is effectively synonymous with "sandwich."  Thinking about what a burger actually is, I understand it to essentially be a piece of protein with lettuce, tomato and onion between two slices of bread.  Is it not?

Yes, the burger is most commonly thought of as a dish containing meat but I believe that's because a majority of people eat meat.  The tiny sector of non-meat eaters still exists regardless of the majority, and that doesn't mean that soy burgers can't also coexist alongside the traditional burger.

Furthermore, I think the burger is a staple of the American diet, just as pasta is to Italy or the baguette is to France.  

I grew up in a household that didn't have a lot of money.  My parents both worked two jobs each and were dog-tired when they came home to their three kids.  To them, 29-cent hamburger Wednesday at McDonalds was a blessing.  The food was super cheap and kept the kids full and happy.  I'm not condoning the restaurant in any way, I'm just explaining my personal experience with the food.  And I'm sure this is fairly typical of a lot of Americans around my age.  

When you've grown up eating something for 20 years, there are certain things you miss, like burgers, and the soy burger is a solution to that.

Sure, it's traditionally beef, but ice cream is traditionally made of cow's milk and I'm able to purchase soy ice cream, and instead of eggs I eat tofu scramble.  The important thing about the food I eat is not how it's prepared but that it's made from vegetables instead of animal flesh or product.  

Yes, semantics have changed as a result of mass media and advertising.  The word "burger" has become associated almost entirely with fast food giants because of billions of dollars of advertising and years of spotlighting the burger as a thick, greasy beef patty with white bread and condiments.

I think Ged's comment is a testament to the fact that money rules the way people perceive and think about the world and its contents.  Without marketing tactics such as massive billboards and incessant TV commercials showcasing mystery meat on a bun, there's no way the term "burger" would have inspired such a negative sentiment across the world.

Yes, burgers can be very unhealthy and unethical, but that's not to say that I can't go ahead and make a perfectly nutritious burger.  What I was trying to explain to Ged was that by being a vegan, I'm not standing against a certain style of preparing food, I'm fighting the murder and mistreatment of animals.  Simple as that.

What do you think?  Do you agree with Ged in saying that the burger essentially goes against veganism, or do you think my argument has more validity?



Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Getting Comfortable

I just finished a quick bike ride to Fiesole, and I can honestly say that I'm not only getting faster on the bike, but I'm also becoming more comfortable going downhill again since the scary crash I had about two weeks ago.

Three weeks ago, it took me 1.5 hours to complete the 21.7 mile (35 km) ride.

Today it took me one hour and 15 minutes, and I was still braking pretty hard on the descent.

Lunch
Ged took me to a really cheap pasta place for lunch.  I had a bowl of risotto (rice with tomato sauce) for 4 euro.  Not bad at all, especially for a tourist-flooded city like Florence.

I took pictures, of course.
















Ged was contemplating the deliciousness of his ragout.
















I'm off to cook dinner and watch Argentina beat Greece in the World Cup.

Amanda