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We’ve all experienced head-smacking moments during our travels. We realize that we forgot to bring enough cab money, or that the person who described December weather in Mexico as “cold” has clearly never been to the Midwest. Despite the plethora of travel guides available, there are some things that only an experienced traveler can tell you.

My friend David, a junior double-majoring in Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering and Spanish, has been studying abroad in Toledo, Spain, since January. I asked him over email about some of the surprising things he’s discovered about life in Spain over the past few months.

1.  What was the first thing you bought in Spain?

Food, I think, as in groceries.

2. What was the last thing you bought?

A beer.

3. What do you wish you had remembered to pack?

My cord to connect my camera to my computer (luckily my brother brought it when he came to visit).

4. Was something insanely expensive there?

Food in restaurants. I love going to restaurants in the states to try new foods and was expecting to do so here. But unless you want to destroy your wallet, you don’t really go to restaurants.

5. What is surprisingly cheap?

Bread is surprisingly cheap. They eat baguette type bread with everything (you can get it anywhere) and it’s really good. It [costs] as low as 40 euro cents for a loaf of it, which is very filling. That’s less than a dollar.

Read the rest of this entry »


I eat a lot of pasta.  I love Italian food and I prefer having it over anything else, whether I’m eating out or staying in.  I grew up with an Italian step-grandpa and so many family dining experiences were at the local favorite, St. Paul’s Buca di Beppo.  It’s probably not the same as eating in Italy, but it’s the closest I can get while not traveling abroad.  My personal favorite Italian dish is my mom’s spaghetti pie, a tasty spinoff from regular spaghetti.


¾ lb of ground beef or Italian sausage

¼ cup of chopped onion

1-1/4 cups of spaghetti or marinara sauce

¼ tsp of Italian seasoning

1 egg, well beaten

5 oz of spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained

¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp of butter

¾ cup of drained cream styled cottage cheese (optional)

½ cup (2 oz) of shredded mozzarella cheese


Brown the meat and the onion in a saucepan.  Add sauce and seasoning, stir together and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Cook spaghetti noodles according to package instructions.  In a mixing bowl, stir together egg, cooked (hot!) spaghetti noodles, Parmesan cheese, and butter.  Press noodle mixture into bottom and up sides of the pie pan (glass dishes work best) as if forming a pie crust.  Spread the drained cottage cheese over the bottom of the noodle crust.  Spread meat and sauce mixture over the cottage cheese.

Choose one of two cooking options:

  1. Cover with wax paper and place in microwave for about 9 minutes.
  2. Place in oven uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

After the pie has been cooked, sprinkle the top with mozzarella cheese and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Serve pie by the slice, with a side of steamed asparagus.

I love this dish, and I can guarantee you it will taste delicious.  If you’re interested in other homemade Italian dishes, check out my friend Antonietta’s cooking blog, Cipolli, which also has helpful pictures!

Italy may have offered up a smooth and creamy gelato, but it has nothing on Argentinean ice cream. Freddo, a family business that opened in 1969, changed the way ice cream is experienced in Argentina. Some of the ice creams are smooth and creamy, while others might be described as irresistible or dense, traditional or kosher. Freddo offers up a flavor for everyone. The variety is vast and it is divided into groups such as chocolates, creams, dulce de leches, and fruits.

This flavorful fiesta in your mouth usually contains more milk and less cream than the American counterpart. This means you can save a few calories (as long as you keep the quantity down!). This treat is super sweet too – perfect after a full entrée!

If you’re headed to Buenos Aires anytime soon, it’s a good idea to check out what the L.A. Times travel section says about ice cream shops in that beautiful city. Apparently those little shops are busy, busy all year round.

If you’ve ever been to an authentic Japanese restaurant, then you probably know three flavors of aisukuri-mu (ice cream): green tea, red bean, and vanilla. They all sound so normal, and they typically are  (red bean tastes similar to strawberry and it’s my favorite one to get at the sushi bar!). But when you are in Japan, or maybe just at a Japanese grocery store, such as Kim’s Oriental Market in St. Paul or United Noodles in Minneapolis, you’ll discover that there are many more flavors available  than just the typical three.

Instead of picking out a chocolate or vanilla, you could try squid ink, ox tongue, soy sauce, or even Dracula cool garlic mint.  Of course that’s not all…there are over 100 outrageous flavors in the Japanese ice cream world!  But besides the many quirky flavors available, nothing specifically sets regular Japanese ice cream apart from American ice cream. They generally have a similar consistency, although Japanese ice cream is not always as heavy.

The one very traditional type of ice cream, which is actually only 20 years old, that you should try in Japan is mochi ice cream. To most ice cream eaters, mochi seems like an odd creation. Made of an outer layer of soft dough (a type of sticky rice) and an inner layer of ice cream, this delicacy is considered finger food. Common flavors include green tea, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, mango, and red bean paste.

Even to an avid ice cream eater, this stuff sounds a little scary.  Chicken wing ice cream doesn’t seem too tantalizing, and I’ve got my sources (a few Japanese friends) that tell me that even the scariest sounding ones are actually sweet flavors that go down oh so smooth. I’ve loved the regular flavors for years, but maybe it’s time to be adventurous.

I love ice cream. I eat it all the time. If I ever went on a diet, I would fail miserably because I just can’t give up my ice cream.  I’m sure there are plenty of other ice cream lovers out there too, and some of them just might be studying abroad.

Now I’ve also heard that Italian ice cream, gelato, is one of the smoothest and most wonderful ice cream to try.  I’ve had gelato here in the States, but I’ve never had the experience of eating authentic gelato in Italy.  Two of my friends who studied abroad in Italy this past summer filled me in on their top five flavors.

Allie, a 21-year-old speech, language, and hearing sciences major, said her top 5 are:

  1. Dark Chocolate (very rich tasting)
  2. Banana (don’t let its bright yellow color scare you)
  3. Tiramisu
  4. Raspberry
  5. Mint (I love American mint ice cream; I can’t wait to try the gelato version!)

Lee, a 20-year-old design major, said her top 5 are:

  1. Pistachio (green and creamy with a hint of nuttiness)
  2. Cinnamon
  3. Banana (a common favorite apparently)
  4. Stracciatella (similar to American chocolate chip, but with finer chips)
  5. Mango

Apparently, though, it is uncommon to just get one flavor at a time.  Lee said she would always come away with a cup of 3 or 4 different flavors—a good tip for any Italy-goers.

So I bet you’re asking what makes gelato so special?  For starters, gelato is churned at a much slower speed than regular ice cream.  Less air gets into the mixture this way, and it creates a much denser cream.  It’s also made with different proportions of whole milk—as in, it contains less fat!  And of course, gelato isn’t meant to be frozen like American ice cream; it is typically stored at a slightly warmer temperature.  But even with all these differences, the one thing the two will always share: you can’t resist another bowl full!

My friend Aleyse Peterson, a 20-year-old theatre major, returned from Ireland in December of 2009, and she already wants to go back.  I figured it must be a pretty good place if her desire to return there is so great.  I wanted to know more (in case I ever decide to travel to Ireland), so we skyped and here’s what I found out from her:

Desiree: What made you choose Ireland for study abroad?

Aleyse: Well, it is my favorite country. I love the people, the country, the culture…pretty much everything about it.  When I found out I could study theatre in Ireland, I jumped at the chance.

Desiree: What kinds of theatre classes did you take there? What were the courses like?

Aleyse: Well, I took Devising, Movement, Voice, Acting and Irish Drama.  The first four were very physically intense, focusing on the performance side of theatre. Irish Drama was our “academic” class, the only one we actually sat in a classroom setting for.

Desiree: Which was your favorite?

Aleyse: Probably acting–although all of them had their amazing points.

Desiree: So you were fairly busy then? Did you get any time to travel around Ireland?

Aleyse: I was quite busy, but yeah, we had the weekends free.  It was our own responsibility to make travel plans if we wanted to, and we did. Read the rest of this entry »

With Easter coming up, I asked my friend Brook what Easter is like in Dublin. She studied abroad last semester and had a great story about Holy Monday, the Monday before Easter.  Straight from her mouth to the page:

So, Monday, Holy Monday, Nina (her host mother) let me invite four of my friends over for a Danish holiday celebration & Easter brunch. All of us had off school anyway, national holiday.

All 10 of us, my host family and my friends, sat down to this glorious/ unbelieveable meal…

everything was homemade except the fish…

herring (prepped 3 different ways)

liver patee (livrepostej)

frigadellas (danish meatballs)

beats and cabbage

several different meats and cheeses

homemade bread and rye bread

spiced onion pie

4 or 5 different salads including: sushi seaweed salad, 10 different kinds of beer, and alcoholic ciders were on the table and schnapps (Danish schnapps, which I am told is as potent as whiskey, it’s no USA schnapps)

So the brunch was absolutely smashing, and every now and then someone would start a Danish schnapps song.  They have schnapps songs, not so much drinking songs, it all revolves around these shots! And everyone has a shot glass set at the table. They were really funny and all in Danish but they translated them for us, kinda dirty, haha it was hilarious, lots of laughs were passed!

We then went out to the park to play a little soccer, Denmark (4 players) vs our US 5 players, and it was evenly matched-ish. There were 3 half times, which were really beer breaks, and lots of cultural convo.

We got back from soccer and Nina had made us a lamb dinner, complete with scalloped potatoes— the best ones I have ever tasted EVER! Finished off with made-from-scratch chocolate cake— I wanted to die right there. She told me a great story about Holy Monday, the Monday before Easter.  Straight from her mouth to the page.

Nothing dies in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania, according to my co-worker Pricilla. “It’s spring and fall all year long. Everything is always green.” Melons, strawberries, and an abundance of other fruits grow in her family garden year round and she ate them all to her heart’s content.

Sound like heaven?

It did to me, so I decided to make a traditional Tanzanian fruit pie. The recipe calls for your favorite combination of papaya, guava, pineapple, orange, apricot and melon.

I used organic fruits—they have a slightly different taste than conventional ones. Pricilla said that when she first came to America, she couldn’t eat any fruit unless it was organic. “They don’t taste as sweet or as good.” I chose pineapples, oranges, and apricot nectar to make my pie since these ingredients are sold locally. I’m no desert connoisseur so I won’t do the pie injustice by trying to explain its taste, but what I will say is that in the mid-February Minnesota cold, the first slice was absolute summer.

Thirteen students of North Central College, Illinois traveled to Guatemala to learn a little more about that ubiquitous morning brew—coffee. Their project Mission Coffee Can (MCC) will begin airing a video series February 24th that documents the students’ research and experience.

As part of the Students in Free Enterprise competition, MCC’s pitch is to study sustainable business practices in the coffee industry. The students participate in all stages of the coffee bean’s life cycle, from sowing to harvesting, processing to roasting, grinding to brewing. In the end, they’ll know the recipe for a good cup of coffee.

Whether it’s a fix for neurotics, a tonic for sleep-wrecks, or a rite for adherents of the café cult, coffee is custom. Generalizations aside, I’ll add that students and coffee go hand in hand. I confess to my own dependency. Without coffee, both morning and I would remain amiss. There’s no pride in this condition, but I sip solidarity each week on campus where I pass multitudes of others bearing to-go cups.

The coffee industry must be keen on this too, given the proportionate number of cafés on and around campus:

If you savor coffee, a trip south to research the roots, like the MCC project, is a worthy cause. For those interested, the U of M’s Learning Abroad Center offers a similar coffee program in Costa Rica.

Singapore Sling, The Fall of Rome, Warsaw Waffle…these are not the names of bands or names of food. These drinks are originated in the countries and cities they are named after, but can you have one if you’re not 21 yet? That all depends on the drinking age of the country.

I just recently turned 21, so now I can have any kind of drink wherever I go. If you’re impatient to turn 21 to drink in the United States, and you’re in a hurry to get experimenting new things, just travel abroad.

If you find yourself travelling to Germany, Greece or Poland (home of the Warsaw Waffle) you can drink as young as the age of 16. Don’t travel with any younger siblings to Fiji or Morocco though, because there is no drinking age in either country, and you might end up babysitting in an unpleasant way. The majority of countries that you might want to visit have a drinking age of 18, so all you college students are already set to try a Chimay Beer or Pisco Sour when you arrive.

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