My good husband Bryan and I loved to travel before we put down such deep roots, and were blessed with a passel of children (one at a time), not to mention a ridiculous number of chickens and a goose and a couple of dogs, and a bunch of farm cats, and a big garden and a little orchard, and a lotta bees . . . . and whatnot.
When it was just us . . . we dearly loved to travel.
During our senior year in college, we spent a semester in Europe. Our home base was Florence, Italy. I was a senior art student, and the art department was sponsoring the trip to Florence that semester, so it was a no-brainer, of course, to go along.
After all, hello: Florence, Italy is the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Not only that, we really really wanted to go. So we borrowed a bit of money, packed up our meager belongings in my parents’ basement (sorry, Mom, if some of it is still there), packed a couple of backpacks, and moved to Florence for a few months. Yes, Gentle Reader, we lived in Florence, Italy, for several months. We attended classes at the university’s villa during the week, and spent each weekend traveling.
Sound dreamy? Believe me, it was.
It was a breathtakingly wonderful time. We had little money, so we weren’t tempted to do what many of the better-heeled students, our travel companions (many of them with treasure in their pockets: their daddy’s credit cards) spent much of their time doing: shopping, and then arranging the shipping of their purchases back home. What silliness! Probably it worked out for the best that our pockets were empty, except for enough coins for an occasional gelato. 🙂
The artistic heritage of Florence is legendary. Who can spend time trying on boots or leather coats, when there are sculptures and paintings by Michelangelo all over the city (literally)? Who wants to spend time arranging shipping of knick-knacks back home (which will someday, probably, be donated to Goodwill), when two of the most famous picture galleries in the world, the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace, are right there?? Who wants to haggle over tablecloths and scarves when some of the world’s most famous art and architecture begs to be explored?
Are you with me, Gentle Reader?
I’d better stop now. I’m experiencing a mad desire to pack a backpack and just book a flight to Florence. Not to mention, to be 20 years old again. (Anybody have a time machine they would lend me?)
Okay, I’m kind of an art and history nerd, I’ll admit it. Bryan and I spent our spare time in Florence exploring free, or nearly-free sights: the towering basilicas, the beautiful gardens, amazing treasure-packed art museums, fascinating historical sites–free for the looking! And we could always grab snacks and quick meals for very little money, from street vendors or cozy cafes, or even corner grocery stores.
Some of my favorite memories, of course, revolved around the new foods that we were tasting, and there were so many! We doggedly refused to eat in the few American fast-food places that we saw, although there weren’t many of them at that time: I think we saw a McDonald’s or two, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Instead, we reveled in learning to drink Italian cappuccino (this was before fancy four-dollar cups of coffee became the usual here) served in tiny espresso cups, so strong it made my toes curl, and eaten with airy pastries for breakfast in the Italian neighborhood bars. We adjusted to Italian pizza (it wasn’t difficult!) baked in vast wood-fueled ovens, eaten in giant slabs that were folded in half. Glorious. One lovely morning, we had breakfast near a beach someplace in Italy: a thick slice of toast, covered with ham, pineapple, some gorgeous cheese, and then broiled and served piping hot, with the cheese all melted and oozy. Yum, yum, yum.
We spent a few days in Austria, and as it was getting close to Christmas, we took in one of the marvelous outdoor Christmas fairs. I wish I had photographs from that time, but I’ve got the next best thing: photos that my friend Eva Gold, who writes the exquisite food and travel blog that I follow, Passports and Pamplemousse, shared with me. Eva wrote a post about these Christmas markets here, only these are in Germany.
Eva’s post took me straight back a few decades (ahem), back to that market that Bryan and I wandered through, two small-town kids from Nebraska, probably with our mouths hanging indecorously open, and back to . . . Langos.
We were hungry (we were always walking, and we were 20 years old, so we were always hungry, too) and we spotted a vendor pulling what looked like big flatbreads out of a vat of simmering oil, and the air was filled with the smell of hot garlic and fried bread. “Langos,” the sign said, with a price. We couldn’t resist. Bryan bought us each one. I fell in love. I had never tasted anything quite so delicious. It was piping hot, a bit salty, very garlicky, crispy on the outside and nicely chewy on the inside.
I’ve done some digging for recipes, and some experimenting, and I came up with a recipe that is very much like those wonderful, garlic-infused flatbreads. Perhaps you ought to try it today–it’s not difficult, and possibly it will be just what is needed to perk your family and friends up, on this (possibly) cold mid-winter day. These flatbreads can be served as a snack, or of course would go well with hot soup!
Here’s the recipe I came up with:
- 1 russet potato, peeled
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 3 Tb sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour
- 3 Tb oil
- fresh ground salt
- several cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- oil for deep-frying
- shredded cheese and sour cream (optional)
- Peel potato and cook until fork-tender.
- Measure flour, sugar and salt into mixing bowl. Make a well, and add yeast.
- Mash potato while hot, and add milk. Add to dry ingredients, and add 3 Tb oil.
- Using a stand-mixer (or by hand) knead until the dough becomes elastic (about 5 minutes on medium speed).
- Add more flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until soft, but not too sticky.
- Cover loosely and allow to rise for 1-2 hours.
- Dump dough on floured surface and knead gently, adding flour if it's too sticky.
- Divide dough into 12 balls. Roll balls flat, one at a time.
- Preheat oil to 250F or until a drop of water sizzles.
- Carefully add one or two flatbreads and fry until golden brown on one side (1-2 minutes) and then turn over and cook 1-2 additional minutes.
- Drain on paper towels. While still warm, rub with fresh clove of garlic. Sprinkle with freshly-ground salt.
- You can add toppings to this bread, too: shredded cheese and sour cream are good, or sour cream with saurkraut. It's quite delicious served with hot soup!
- Note: if you really, really love garlic, smash and dice several cloves and add to the dough!
If you try this recipe, report back in the comments below. I’d love to hear about how you like Langos, too!
- Pigs in the yard
- Make Starving Student Chicken: the meal my kids beg me to make