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I'm Back!

I'm back!  We just spent the last two and a half weeks traveling around Europe on vacation!  I long overdue time off from work (last PTO day was around Christmas)... and the trip was exhausting...  I just didn't want to stop seeing and experiencing... and eating... 

The next couple posts won't be recipes, since I haven't been cooking, I'm still trying to adjust back to non-vacay mode, and the next two weeks will be super busy and will only involve super quick cooking.  I'll be sharing some about the food we ate (which I'll try to recreate and post recipes later), some tips for traveling in Europe, and a review or two.  But before that!  Here is a little summary of our vacation with a few (or more) of my favorite photos.

Our first stop was Rome!  Everywhere you turn there is some structure or column from thousands of years ago.  It's hard to believe people were able to build these architectural feats without modern cranes or trucks.  We stayed close to the Pantheon and saw it every day... and every time... I just looked at it in awe.  The food was delicious, of course.  And then the country within the city, the Vatican, was decked out floor to ceiling with art from famous painters, sculptors, and other artists... just amazing!

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Next on our trip was Switzerland.  We spent a night in Zurich and two days in Lucern.  While Zurich has a lot of modern vibes, Lucern is almost the opposite, seemingly stuck in the Renaissance period which made it seem fairytale-like.  We got on a ferry and then on an old cog train to the top of Mount Pilatus... the views of the Swiss Alps were breath-taking.
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Of course the City of Light was on our vacation agenda.  It was pretty neat to use the Eiffel Tower as our landmark to know which way was "home" since we were staying only two blocks away from it.  We went to the Louvre and probably walked 10 miles inside the building (phew).  Fashion Night Out was happening, so of course we joined in and saw French models and some designers in the streets of Paris and purchased some wearable souvenirs!
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London was our final destination and we had lots planned!  We went to a couple of Jamie Oliver's restaurants.  We saw a Comedy of Errors at the third Globe theater (the first two burned down centuries ago), two shows at London Fashion Week, and an English Premiere League football match (Tottenham verses West Brom).  The weather was actually nice and mostly warm, which we hear is rare there.
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Certainly more to come and recipes and menus will return soon!

Market District Granview Yard & Meeting Chef Mario Batali

If you haven't been to a Market District grocery store yet, you should definitely check it out!  I went to the grand opening of the one at Grandview Yard this morning where they had tons of things going on.  And... met chef Mario Batali!  He was so friendly, down-to-earth, and so insightful and poetic about food.

Back to the store...  If you have ever been to a normal Giant Eagle store, the Market District has all of that.  Then if you are looking for local, foodie faves, hard-to-find, or even obscure ingredients you will find it on the other half of the store.  It starts off with a Starbucks, then a bar (a real bar to chill and drink at, watch a game, and then do your grocery shopping), sushi area, made-to-order stone fired pizza station, deli for custom sandwiches and more perfect for the grab and go (aka wish I had more time to cook, but this is the next best thing).  In the produce section you'll find your normal everyday stuff, some organics, a section of local produce, and a section of oddball things like bittermelons and full sugar canes (which sound like a fun challenge to me!).

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My favorite is the cheese section!  I love to try new cheeses and they had enough variety to keep me entertained for quiet some time.  They get many of their cheeses in giant wheels and currently have a contest to guess how much one cheese wheel weighs.  I guessed 428 pounds (based on the weight of one of the wedges and how many times I thought I could fit it in the wheel).  I think I might be pretty close, but the guy behind me said I was way off and guessed over 1000 pounds.  I guess we'll see if I win!

Although I don't buy meat that often, their meat section was very intriguing.  Again, they still have your everyday stuff, they have a LOT of local stuff (including local lamb and boar), aged beef (I don't even know what that means!), python (what?!), and much more!  Plus most of the meat is labeled with the place of origin and some even have a sign with the story behind the farm.

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One of my pet peeves about Whole Foods has always been that they won't slice the fresh bread for you (or maybe I ask the bread lady on a bad day every time).  I hate slice it at home because I always smoosh the bread.  Well Market District will slice it at whatever thickness you want... yay, no smooshed bread!

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Chef Mario Batali came to talk to a few of us bloggers before heading down to the crowded store and doing a cooking demo and book signing.  It was awesome to just casually talk to someone who really helped re-start the whole cook-at-home movement.  We talked to him about favorite dishes to prepare, what he enjoys doing, a little about Eataly (my husband's favorite thing to talk about from NYC), about eating much veggies and less meat.  We all got pictures with him.  It was definitely a neat experience!

After a tour of the store by the head chef, Mario made some grilled cheese with the CEO of Giant Eagle.  Since he's a professional Italian chef, it wasn't just your everyday grilled cheese... this Italian version was with ricotta, fresh purple cherokee tomatoes (sliced thick) with cracked pepper and dredged in cayenned french toast batter.  We tried sample afterward and it was delicious!

He was very poetic about why he loves lots of fresh cracked pepper on his tomatoes.  He said because when the tomato plant is growing, it grows best when it is still hot in the early evening... it sweetens the tomato.  So too does a little heat (pepper) on the actual fruit... it brings out the sweetness.  Such an interesting way to think about food pairings!

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Like most Giant Eagles, the Market District has a decent wine and beer selection.  They also have a full liquor license.  This place really is a one stop shop!

Lastly, wanted to mention their local produce.  They had two large sections of produce with the farm  of origin listed on the sign.  Their definition of local is withing 150 miles of the store (so the Cleveland stores would not include Athens produce even if it is in the same state).  I thought that was an interesting (and honest) take on local.

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So there you have it, Market District in a rather large nutshell.  Oh... and... one of the best parts... you can use your loyalty card on everything!  Hello fuel points!

And to end with Mario's words (since he is way more qualified than I)... Simple foods you make with your hands in your home come from your heart.


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