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The Ruins of St. Paul’s

The geographically-inclined among us can likely pinpoint Macau on a map (just off the south-eastern coast of the Chinese mainland), but most of us would be a trifle fuzzy on the particulars.  Nowadays, Macau is best known for its casino-punctuated skyline (their gambling industry rakes in a bigger annual haul that Las Vegas), cobbled streets, and unique cuisine.  It wasn’t so long ago, though, that Macau was a European colony.

The Grand Lisboa Casino

The Portuguese landed on the island in the 1500s and made it an official colony three-hundred years later.  In 1999, they returned the land to China, effectively snuffing out the dying embers of European colonialism in Asia.

Luckily, they didn’t snuff out the food. Continue Reading »

It’s February 20th today–our six month wedding anniversary! Continue Reading »

This blog has not run a correction before, but I suspect it is merited this time.  I posted a link to my friend Marcella’s blog, but I think it went to a Chinese site…oops.  I fixed the link in the related post, but in case you already read it and suffered a twinge of despair at its inaccuracy, here is the correct link:

Check out the Dec 31st post, entitled “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night” for possibly incriminating pictures of us all in reindeer ears.
Happy Chinese New Year!

It’s finally getting cold(ish) here in Shenzhen, so it’s time for warm stews!  This one is super yummy–you can make it totally vegetarian if you want too, just take out the sausage.  🙂

Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew Continue Reading »

Forthwith, you will find the final installment of the Schneider Christmas Trip Extravaganza, and then I promise to return to normal life (and there are so many interesting things to tell you about China!)

I left off last time when Matt and I were about to drive out to the South of France to spend Christmas with our friends.  We were warmly hosted by Marcella and Andy, who got married in May, 2011.  Luckily for all of us, Andy’s dad owns a house in France, but was gallivanting off to South Africa for the holidays.  Leaving the house free…and us free to build fires and cook feasts within it.

Here is Matt relaxing on Christmas Day:  And that might be Andy about to grab Marcella’s butt in the background?  Te he.

(In actuality, Matt is not exactly relaxing.  He spent $0.99 on a special present for himself this Christmas–the Angry Birds iPhone app.)

My Husband Playing Angry Birds

I got a kick out of this purchase because Matt tends toward more serious diversions, like watching financial news, reading the biographies of inspiring leaders, or peering at the tiny Wall Street Journal on his phone.  He just got so excited about these birds though… (He hasn’t stopped playing since then, I should mention… but, he’s not crazy.  AB is a fun game.  They really suck you in–there are like 40,000 levels or something, and you just keep launching scowling fowl at these smug, self-righteous piggies, who hide in increasingly complicated configurations of precariously balanced wood and stone…it’s deeply satisfying, in an Animal Farm sort of way.

But I digress.  Our first morning in France, we all woke up very early (e.g. 9:50am) to make it to a special appointment…with an olive-tree owner.  I am still not quite certain how this happened, but let’s just say that Andy’s dad and long-time girlfriend Rosemarie know how to befriend awesome people.  We pull up to the address we’d been given, in which the “backyard” showcased some 60 olive trees (those shorter, round-foliage trees), in a sweep of breath-taking French countryside.

Olive Trees

Oh, and this gentleman and his wife lived in a renovated medieval farm house.

Here is our friend Flavia posing in the centuries-old entrance to the basement:

Our new friend was a painfully posh Brit, mid-50s maybe, with round sun-glasses, a leather jacket, and a balding head that worked for him (in a trim, Bruce-Willis sort of way).  When we asked if he lived at the farm all year, he joked “are you with the tax authorities?”  And then explained that no, in fact he and his wife spend just over 6 months in Barbados, and the rest in Cotignac…(so if you were feeling jealous of our holiday trip, now is the time to consider switching your allegiances…)

He gave us a quick tour of the property, and then produced what we had come for:  glistening, 10 gallon jugs of olive oil, pressed from his very own olives.  Most of it was for Andy’s dad and Rosemarie, but apparently, by some miracle, the rest was for us!

Flavia considers the oil from below

Flavia and I, health-food-fact enthusiasts, could barely contain our glee.  The olive oil man then went on to explain just how awesome this green-gold oil really was.  First, he doesn’t spray their olives with any pesticides, or with anything at all, really.  Consequently, he loses about 1/3 of the crop every year, to bugs and critters, but with 60 trees and only 2 owners, this isn’t a real sacrifice for organic oil.  When the olives are ready, he and his wife invite a bunch of friends over for a picking party.  Then (and this is where things got crazy), he hauls the olives to the medieval olive press in town.  Which HE WAS TAKING US TO.  It was like olive-Christmas.

He explained that the EU tried to shut this press down because the process isn’t up to modern-day regulations.  (duh…it’s like 600 years old!)  The town wanted to keep their time-tested ways, though, and so the governor cleverly declared the press a museum.  So, it doesn’t have to be up to code, people are allowed to go and look at it…and of course, it needs some olives for visitors to look at…and so it remains basically uninterrupted.  🙂  (Those clever French politicians…)

The operates on hydropower, captured from a little river outside, which moves a wheel, which in turn moves various levers and bars to move a big stone wheel, which crushes the olives.  Isn’t that cool?

Our olive guru explained that very few modern olive-oil production processes can actually avoid heat altogether.  “Even oils that claim to be cold-pressed usually have a heat-related pasteurization or steaming process,” he said.  “So, nothing on the market is truly cold-pressed.  This process is the only way I know of to truly cold-press your oil.”  Flavia stammered in shock, “But, I’ve been buying cold-press oil for years!  And paying extra!  Where can I get this kind of oil, do you think?”  He shrugged.  “Probably only right here,” he helpfully offered, hitching up his sunglasses.

Here is a little French lad, poised to make a go up this ladder as soon as his mother turns away…it led to a log on a string that traveled up and then dropped about 10 feet in one of the press-lever-processes.

Go, Petit Garcon, Go!

The following is a true sequence of events:

Our Husbands Agreed to Buy the Olive Press

Marcella Expressed Her Extreme Excitement

But Then Matt Yelled A Lot Upon Hearing the Cost

But I Applied My Feminine Wiles....

And Marcella Applied Logic and Verbal Reasoning

To Show That As Long As We Bought a Place to Put It...

Then Flavia Agreed Everything Would Be Fine

And So It Was Settled

Okay…so that didn’t exactly happen.  But, we did all go home with a hefty jar of what now felt like precious olive oil indeed!

Our Christmas gang spent a few days holed up in the cozy house, building fires, and making piles of exciting Christmas food.  I had been on the road for 2 weeks at that point (eating in fabulous Italian restaurants, so I’m not complaining!), but I was itching to get back in a kitchen and chop something.  Matt joined in the culinary fun, making a really good lasagna from scratch, and cooking the Christmas Eve feast and the Christmas Champagne Brunch with me.  The Schneider Cooking Duo churned out some tasty victuals, and it was really fun to cook together for friends–something we haven’t got to try very often.

View of Tree and Feast

View of Marcella, Tree, and Feast

The house in Cotignac was in the countryside, or so it seemed, but it was a mere six-minute walk from there to the quaint and wonderful town center.  The “town” was no more than a tangle of five or six winding roads, full of restaurants and boulangeries (bread shops), as well as miel (honey), vin (wine), and other local delights.  Mmm!!

Matt, Marcella, and I stumbled upon a little adventure one afternoon.  In our pan au raisson and croissant-driven wanderings earlier that morning, Matt and I had found a little shop, called the Wine Cave.  And rightly so–because we had to descend into the proprietor’s homey stone basement to find the bottles.

The Wine Cave

I wish we had taken a picture of him–he was a jolly, large french man, with a mop of white curls perched dangerously close to his twinkly blue eyes.  He looked like a freshly minted Santa, and as it turned out, he sort of was.  His shop was one of the only ones open on Christmas Eve, and he told us he’d be doing a wine tasting.  As it was only 10am, though, we told him we’d come back later, and bring friends.

That afternoon, we convinced Marcella to trek back with us.  The shop-keeper was happy to see us, and invited us to take a look around.

He told us he had 3 wines for tasting, a Burgandy and a Chablis for 4 euro each ($6), and a special Meursault white that was 12 euro ($15).  We asked him what this special, spendy white wine was, and he said “It is very special.  So special, that I don’t actually sell it; if I do a tasting, I bring the bottle home and finish it for myself! ”  (I thought this a clever approach)

What the heck, it was Christmas–we ordered one of each glass.  Matt, Marcella, and I then had fun blind-testing each other, trying both whites to see if we could discern a difference.  And oh…sometimes price is just hype, but in this case, there was an amazing difference.  The fancier wine was just heavenly–it slid down the throat without any bitterness, and had a wonderful taste.

Melissa in Wine Cave with Inexplicably Large Red Bow

“How much would this bottle cost, if you were selling it?”  Matt asked.  The shop-keeper scratched his head of curls.  “About 200 euros, I believe.”

What?!?  He had let us taste a $250 bottle of wine?  He smiled, and said,

“Since it is Christmas, I thought, maybe today is a day to open another bottle.”  It was indeed.

The rest of our French holiday passed in blissful relaxation–sleeping in, enjoying food and good company, and even some Monopoly.

Matt and I said goodbye to our friends on the 26th and turned Willis (our compact Fiat) south.  We had a flight from Rome to China on the 28th, but we wanted to spend at least one day enjoying the city.  We had both been to Rome before, and had loved it, so one day was just enough time to revisit the short list of amazing places we remembered from last time.

St. Peter's Square, Basilica View

Inside the Awesome Basilica

And The Lord Said...

This Guy Is the One! (For Me...Not Like a Returned Diety...)

Why Do We Have Mundane Plaster Ceilings at Home, Again?

The Trevi Fountain!

Me Making Another Weird Face at the Trevi Fountain

Kind of Normal Sauce

Mmmmmm Gelato!!

Ancient Roman Ruins

Matt Ponders the Fleeting Nature of Human Power...Or Maybe Just Forgot His Sunglasses

And Finally, The Colosseum...No Introduction Needed

3 Layers Thick!

Sigh.  Who could have planned a more wonderful Christmas trip? We are very thankful for all of the memories and experiences.

Over and Out!

P.S.  For our families, and other Schneiderphiles, check out my friend Marcella’s post about our Christmas visit for more pictures and laughs!

I am laboring under a strange inability to take up normal life prior to completing the final blog post about our Christmas travels.  I haven’t touched my relationship blog in a few weeks, and have barely made it to yoga or the gym since we got back from Europe…is this pure laziness?  Existential Occidental angst?  (I hear that’s contagious)  Or simply the fact that I churned out, like, 75 hand-written wedding gift thank-you cards this week?  Unclear…but this last hurdle between me and normal life will be vanquished tonight!  (While I also make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with Matt’s mom’s recipe…and eat 1/3-1/2 of the batter in the process…mmmm.).

I believe I left off last time with Matt and I poised to leave Munich, with a quick stop-over in Verona.

The Snowy Alps!

 

Neither of us had seen the Alps before, but they peeked through the inlets of several mountain passes.  So gorgeous!  Plus, I was glad we saw snow, as Christmas in France was lovely, but not white.

A few hours later, we pulled into the unraveling, cobble-stoned charm of Verona.  I think this ended up being my  favorite city of the whole trip.  I knew nothing about the city before we got there, only to find that my ignorance, rather than its merits, was at fault.  Verona was chock-full of awesome medieval and Roman antiquities–straight-up UNESCO style, yo.  Here’s a super-cool castle and en-suite bride at sunset:

Romeo and Juliet played patron to local several hotels and houses (and you get to see my 3-euro earmuffs, bonus!):

The town’s prime first-century ruin was called the Arena, and looks a lot like Rome’s Colosseum.  It was probably also used for killing Christians, prisoners, and the like.  The early Romans make these modern-day bull-fighters look tame!

Arena di Verona

Verona Houses

Matt and I wandered through Verona’s town square, and sat ourselves down on plastic stools to eat some wonderful pizza.  We found a shop that sells it by the kilo!  That’s right–the heavier your slice, the more it costs.  Matt got one practically over-flowing with delicious meats, artichokes, and olives, while I went kind of basic with cheese and onion and tomato.  Yum!

I can’t say enough about Verona.  A cornucopia of stunning antiquities line the slice of river that runs through town, including several cathedrals and a Roman Theatre from the first century (that we got to literally 1 minute after they stopped letting people in, 45 minutes before close!  Since when are Italians sticklers for the time anyway?).  Matt and I barely scratched the surface–get yourself to Verona, my friends!  And take us…

Next stop–Genoa.  Home to hard salami, and a port city, which means it has that stacked-into-the cliffs quality of all Mediterranean sea-side villages.  Despite a veneer of grunge, and a propensity for small groups of men to whisper suspiciously in shadowy corners, Genoa boasted some great architecture:

Piazza Ferari, Genoa

Shh...

And...She's In

The Alleged House of Christopher Columbus

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

Even Statues Stretch their Triceps Now and Again

Genoa claims the largest “medieval quarter” (section of town) in all of Europe, not bad eh?  In addition to architecture appreciation, Matt and I availed ourselves of other local enjoyments:

Cookies, Candies, and Cakes, Oh My!

Hanging with the...er, Locals

Christmas Tree-Spotting by the Palazzo Rossa

Genoa is particularly known for its focaccia and it’s pesto.  We stopped for a lovely lunch of soup, pesto tagliatelle, and salad.  Mmm…

The next morning, it was off to the South of France…but first stop, Monte Carlo, Monaco!  Matt and i were spending Christmas with our friends Marcella, Andy, Flavia, and Flavia’s cousin Janoi.  We were all gearing up for a caravan trip out to Cotignac, France.  Without much time to spare, Marcella took us on a whirl-wind tour of the city before we made dinner:

A Ledge with a View

Me and My Honey!

And…I didn’t quite make it through all of our travels.  But I am so close!  Next time, I’ll regale you with Christmas tales, including exciting wine caves and olive oil presses!

Matt and I may be back in China, but European food still haunts me…forgive me for a moment’s reverie this morning.

Last night, I was craving this delicious lemon sauce we had eaten in Italy, so I made pork scallopinni (that’s where you bash pork filets with a heavy water-glass to flatten them out–very tender!) with a lemon white wine sauce (I used this sauce recipe:  they say it’s for fish, but whatever, it’s good!), and we ate it with roasted zucchini and salad.  I also served sliced baguette with a plate of fabulous olive oil we picked up in Imola, Italy.  (Here’s a buying tip:  Matt and I were at a little restaurant, and we both thought their olive oil was super-delicious.  I asked the waiter if we could just buy a bottle off the kitchen.  He said sure, and he thought it was 12 euros, but after rifling through a pile of purchase receipts, he couldn’t find the record, so he gave it to us for 10–a wine-bottle sized jar!  And we might have paid less than restaurant volume-pricing for it!)

This morning, we still had half a baguette…and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it…smother it with butter and honey!  You see, Matt and I celebrated Christmas in a tiny town in the south of France, with good friends of mine (Marcella and Andy and Flavia, for those who know them).  The town sold all sorts of regional specialty foods, one of which was honey.  This is honey on crack, let me tell you.  It’s thick, and viscous, and delicious, and they specify the flowers the bees eat, because the honey flavors differ as a result.  We tasted lots of honey at a little miel shop, and Matt bought me a big jar of lavender honey as part of my Christmas present.  (Along with a lovely olive wood mortar and pestal, and handmade honey and lavender soaps!  Full marks, all around.  If you want to know his shopping secrets, you’ll have to ask him.  ;))

Here is the lavender honey, side-by-side with some normal grocery store honey.  See the difference in color and thickness? (Well…thickness is hard to see, but basically the French honey needs to be spooned out, it isn’t runny at room temperature.)

Thus, my European raptures continued this morning over a warmed baguette, spoonfuls of honey, and New Zealand butter…(and a mango banana smoothie; I had to give our local foods a shout-out somehow.)

Tonight, we’re celebrating New Year’s Eve with one of our new favorite couples–Alisha and Rob.  I think we’re going to order take-out Chinese barbecue, but I’ll probably sneak some Italian pecorino, salami, and chocolate into the mix somehow.  🙂

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone!!