Nonno Alby’s Handcrafted Wood Oven Pizza

Image

701 Penn Avenue, West Reading, PA 19611

I remember the freedom and ease that came with summer.  I remember running around the backyard, which at the time seemed limitless, catching lightning bugs, and the smell of the magnolia trees around my house.  There is something in a summer evening so sacred to us, it’s hard to put into words.  We hold them close to us, knowing that their memory will never fail to bring us comfort, and look forward to more with the ever changing seasons.

Image

Raffaele Cirandine, chef at Nonno Alby’s, (left) and Massimo Grande, restaurant manager (right)

While my memories of summer revolve almost entirely around Berks County, the men and women behind Nonno Alby’s had a very different kind of experience.  Every year, they went to Italy where they had the opportunity to get in touch with their family’s heritage, and, more importantly, to eat real, Italian pizza.  “You know the feeling [though] when you’ve been away from home and you just miss the flavors, the taste of home…there’s nothing like it,” Massimo, one of Nonno Alby’s managers, explained, “That’s how we felt about the pizza that we had in Italy every summer!”. The response to their insatiable pizza craving?  Open a restaurant that specializes in authentic, neapolitan pizza: Nonno Alby’s Handcrafted Wood Oven Pizza!

Image

Diavola Pizza

And that is exactly what they did!  On a Wednesday afternoon, my parents and I found a few patrons scattered around the restaurant, some enjoying pizza, others burgers.  And after one glance at the menu, I knew that I had found a new local favorite.  All of the dishes sounded amazing, but my mom and I finally settled on the Diavola pizza, topped with fresh mozzarella, hot sausage, hot pepper, and imported San Marzano tomato.  We watched as Raffaele Cirandine, Nonno Alby’s chef, worked his way through the kitchen, carefully dressing the dough before placing it into the oven.  “Everything’s fresh,” he assured us, “it’s fresh in Italy, so it’s got to be fresh here.”  Massimo chimed in, “we wanted to bring the taste of Italy back to our home in Berks County.  That is our goal, and that’s what sets us apart from other places in the area.”  Anyone who listened to them talk would realize the same animated passion that they bring to the art of pizza, filled with excitement in their new business venture.  Quite frankly, they have every right to be proud, and a fellow customer couldn’t help agreeing with me.  “I’ve been to Italy,” he said “and I haven’t had anything this much like true Italian pizza since I came home.  It’s awesome.”  I could only nod along in agreement as Massimo and Raffaele exchanged a proud, grateful glance.

Want to see the rest of the menu?  Click HERE for page 1, and HERE for page 2!  And remember, it’s BYOB!

Image

Margherita Pizza

The restaurant’s name and logo were inspired by their father, Alby, which only serves as evidence to their devotion to family, an ever-present quality in Italian culture.  However, at Nonno Alby’s, you will not only see the Grande family and their love for each other, but you will feel like you become a part of it.  From the inviting atmosphere to the welcoming staff, you will have no trouble getting comfortable.  Where many restaurants constantly work to get customers promptly in and out of the door, the crew there are more than happy to engage in conversation about their business and their families.  What’s more, they seem genuinely interested in getting to know their customers.  For that and the fantastic meal, I truly have to thank them.  My parents and I so enjoyed our experience and we will undoubtedly be coming back frequently (with friends)!  See you soon!

Image

View of the Kitchen

Manager’s favorites: Bianca, Tartufata, Frutta di Mare, and the Diavola

Location: 701 Penn Avenue, West Reading, PA 19611

Phone: 610-376-1011

Hours of Operation: Monday-Sunday 11:00am-9:00pm 

Be sure to check them out on Facebook and Twitter!!!

P.S. The desserts are delicious too!  I couldn’t help myself from stopping by tonight before I finished this post.  

Image

Cream Puffs and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake

Advertisements

Shameless Smoothie Post :)

Image

I have not been in the habit of blogging about healthy eating and fitness, mostly because I feel that fitness bloggers can come off a bit preachy.  But, since I’m not traveling and it’s a dreary day in Pennsylvania, I decided to take my new blender for a spin.  The result was the above-pictured apple-cinnamon smoothie, and I am sincerely happy to tell you that many of my breakfast woes are gone or, at the very least, diminished.

I cannot and will not take credit for the recipe.  In truth, I snagged it from here–> http://www.fitsugar.com/Harley-Pasternak-Breakfast-Smoothie-Recipe-25151750.  FitSugar is one of my favorite go to places to find new recipes and exercise tips, and this one was too good to pass up.  I did alter it a bit though, so if you want to try my take on it, feel free!

Apple-Cinnamon Smoothie (serves 1 or 2, makes approx. 16 fl oz)

Ingredients:

  • 1 red apple
  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 3/4 cup nonfat plain greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions:

Place all ingredients in the blender and blend until you have desired consistency.  Pour it into your favorite cup (mine is a cheap plastic zebra cup from college) and enjoy!

Nutritional Information:

Calories: 358, Carbs: 58, Fat: 5, Protein: 21, Sodium: 160, Sugar: 39

Roots Intertwined

So, it’s been a while.  Quite a long while actually.  Truth is, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach this subject.  As some may know, I came to my first home to celebrate the holiday season with my family.  What you may not know is that my stay in Hungary for the second year was cut unexpectedly short.  Long story, but put simply, there wasn’t enough funding to support me in a full time position at my school, and the pay of part time in Hungary would not come close to covering my living expenses, much less allow me to save up for travel.  My return home, thus, has been extended, which certainly has its perks–heated blankets, fireplace, Mom, Dad, family, friends, and, most importantly, the dryer machine.  Feel free to self-insert any #spoiledfirstworldproblems or something of that sort.  I admit it.  I like my socks and sweaters soft, not stiff.  

 

My mom’s cat sits upon her thrown in the kitchen like a gargoyle, poised for treats that are too readily given to her.  Spoiled little thing, but she’s funny enough and she allows me to hoist her into the air while I sing “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.  Good sport.   Anyway, I digress.  I originally intended to write about the holiday, how wonderful it has been to see my family and friends, but I’ve decided instead, given the last minute change of circumstances, to change the so-called mission of my blog and tell you about it.

 

Today, I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with my best friend, and all professional critiques aside, I really enjoyed it.  The story centers on a middle-aged man, Walter Mitty, a photographic negatives processor for Life Magazine and–a dreamer.  This movie was uplifting for many reasons.  Mitty is stuck in his routine, despite getting lost in his own thoughts of what he wishes his life to be, until he embarks on an incredible journey.  The beautiful cliché, of course, is that he finds an inner strength to pursue those dreams and turn them into a reality.  As a traveler, it was inspiring because I too want to not just see the world, but experience it, and Walter does just that in his personal transformation.  On a deeper level, though, I felt that the film provided a meaningful message upon which my generation can and should reflect.  Mitty is, as I said, a middle-aged man, who pursued his career in the very typical way with which so many of our parents are familiar, and yet he is not satisfied.  He foregoes life to ensure safety and security, but I think that one thing people my age have learned is that, given the political and economic environment today, little is safe or secure.  Why not embrace life while we have the opportunity?  Maybe if we did, we wouldn’t be involved in so many nonsensical wars and world conflicts.  Those who defined modern success are a driving force in the problems that we now face, and a philosophical reevaluation could be just the thing we need.  

 

Now, allow me a moment to climb off of my soap box.  All wordy vigor aside, my new focus in this blog will look at my attempts to not only make it by on one or two minimum wage jobs,  but to rediscover my hometown of Berks County and the personalities here that I often missed while I was away.  From comical stories and run-ins with customers to more hiking adventures, I wish to ensure a relationship with my family in Hungary by bringing them home with me here via blog posts.  Join in if you like.  More world travels certain to come…soon.

 

 

Vissza!

Ok, so it’s been a while since last I wrote. My summer in the United States came to a close, and, while I was eager to return to Hungary, I must admit, my return was bittersweet. On the one hand, I had the opportunity to reconnect with some amazing people while I was home, which made leaving them again that much more difficult. On the other hand, I was incredibly excited to not only get back to Europe to continue my adventures, but I also truly missed the friends and family that I have here, and I was very much looking forward to spending time with them again.

Some things that I learned over the summer:

1. My hometown is not as horrible as I once believed it to be. In fact, it’s pretty great. I find it funny that it took time away from everything I knew to truly appreciate it. Berks County, for all of its idiosyncracies, is a beautiful place, geographically and in terms of its community. I still don’t feel that I’m ready to move back there permanently, but I’m also not ruling it out as a possibility.

2. It is entirely too easy to fall back into old habits and attitudes. The flipside to being home and spending time with the people there was that I found myself feeling the same uncertainty that I did before I left. Who am I? What am I doing? What’s my next step? While these thoughts certainly ventured into my mind when I was in Hungary before, they didn’t bring about quite the same level of anxiety. And these habits, I mean to say that they are some of my worst. Less than stellar eating habits. Far from frugal in terms of spending. Entirely too easy to be consumed by minute details and unnecessary drama. Why is that? Is it because there was more available? Or does the term “creature of habit” really apply that greatly?

3. I find myself much more focused in Hungary. Perhaps that’s because there aren’t nearly as many distractions as I had in the U.S. Yes, that’s my nice way of saying that Komárom, while quaint and charming, is boring. But, can I say that I prefer myself here? I exercise very reguarly, eat healthily, spend less (mostly because I’m saving for travel), read more, study more, etc. Is it Hungary or the independent lifestyle? And, assuming it is the independent lifestyle, does that mean these “new habits” will carry over in an American lifestyle in say NYC or DC for grad school? That is to be determined, I guess.

4. I’m ready to go back to school. The prospect of grad school one year ago was nauseating as I did not leave my undergrad with the warmest and fuzziest of feelings. I’m going to throw it out there and say, with complete confidence, that I was more confused leaving college than I was upon entering it. So, let the GRE studying and reading prep begin. I have every intention of starting the application process come this time next year!

5. That all being said, I know that this is my last extended stay in Hungary (or Europe), at least as an English teacher. I won’t rule out anything in terms of my “true career” in the future, but this chapter of my life, I know, is coming to a close. And, it’s time for something new and more substantial.

The last part saddens me for many reasons, but most importantly because I feel that I’ve found a home and family here that I didn’t know before. My time in Hungary is the first that I’ve set off on my own so to speak, and, all in all, I can count it as a success. The original intention, of course, was to build up my resumé, but it didn’t take me long to realize a greater sentimentality in my experience. Just under a year ago, I met, for the first time, my Hungarian relatives. I didn’t know what to expect of them, and, to be honest, I was hesitant to meet them, the reason for which I cannot now remember. On the train, I was overwhelmingly nervous. Cranking the volume on my ipod and getting lost in the emotionally charged tracks of the Glee Cast (yes, I admit it) was all I could do to calm myself down. It occurred to me while sitting there that I didn’t even know what these people looked like. But, I remember getting off the train, and fumbling with my phone in an attempt to not look lost, and gave myself away in the process. I started walking with the crowd, looking for faces I wouldn’t even recognize if I did see them when I locked eye contact with a woman looking just as carefully around the swarm of people shuffling toward the stairs. We maintained a cautious stare for a few moments, both wondering if we were looking at the right person, and then she ventured a smile. Whatever happened after that, I just knew. Over a month being in Hungary, questioning what the hell I had gotten myself into, and in less than 24 hours, it made sense. I had various occasions to meet these same relatives throughout my first year here, getting to know each of them and becoming more comfortable with them each time.
Getting lost in Sopron
This past weekend I was able to see them again after having been away all summer. And, though I’ve said this before, this was the best experience I’ve had, probably because it seemed to me the most natural. Even though the mother and father in this family are technically my third cousins, I’m going to refer to them as my aunt and uncle, and their children as my cousins. That just feels more fitting to me, and I hope they won’t mind me taking liberties.
Veronika and I at Széchenyi Castle
Within moments of walking in the front door, I was presented a bag in which I discovered a glass bottle of palinka, engraved with my name and the Hungarian crest.
It's not filled with water!
The contents, though magically delicious, were not what made me happiest, but the fact that it was given to me as a “welcome back” gift. What I felt, though, was that it was not a “welcome back” gift. It was more of a welcome home gift, and this year, unlike the first time we met, so cautiously, I felt that this was true. The rest of the weekend consisted of movies, a Formula 1 race (far superior to NASCAR, by the way), a day trip to Széchenyi castle and Sopron, chicken paprikas (sorry Mimi, but Judit’s is better), palinka, wine, youtube videos, and laughter.
Széchenyi Castle
Sopron fire tower
Atop the Sopron fire tower
Sopron
My favorite part of the weekend: Judit giving me hell about my lack of socks. Americans, be warned, it doesn’t matter if the temperature is in the high 60’s, you better put on some socks because, in Hungary, if you don’t, you will get very sick, no doubt about it. It seems like a small thing, and I still do not fully understand the problem, but whether or not I realize or admit it, I spend a lot of time missing my parents, especially my mom. And I hope she won’t take this the wrong way, but I didn’t feel the same absence that I did because, at least this weekend, I had a mom, and she gave me a prompt roll of the eyes before handing me a pair of socks to wear. It was human moments like this that made this weekend so special, so easy. I guess some things don’t need translation, a point I sometimes forget. Once again, I need to thank my Szombathely family, most notably Veronika and Judit, for the human moments, but more importantly, for the family moments.

With love.
Atop the Sopron fire tower

Theme of the Day: Courage and Discovery

20130725-155445.jpgIt’s rather dreary in Pennsylvania today, and my outlook, unfortunately, is often very dependent on the weather. So to rally the spirits, I thought I’d steal some inspirational quotes from a few famous minds for my personal aid, and maybe a few others out there:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

“Courage is not simply one virtue, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
–C.S. Lewis

“There’s something liberating about not pretending. Dare to embarrass yourself. Risk.”
–Drew Barrymore

“When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.”
–Henry David Thoreau

“After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It’s better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.”
–Sophia Loren

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
–Winston Churchill

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
–Eric Roth

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”
–J.K. Rowling

“We too must shatter the mirrors. We must look into ourselves and root out the distortions until that thing, which we know in our hearts is perfect and true, stands before us.”
–Garth Stein

Don’t climb a mountain for the sake of conquering it

Don’t climb a mountain for the sake of conquering it

Being 23 is a strange sensation. It’s a state of limbo and no two 23 year olds are built the same way. Some of us have the apartment, the job with the benefits, the dog, hell, even the kid. Some have the part-time job that we use as an excuse to serve as a stepping stone for the “ultimate goal” even though we may not have a concrete idea of what that goal is in the first place. Scared. Eager. Anxious. Goal-oriented. Ambitious. Lively. The attitude probably changes from day to day. And, quite honestly, in this economy, what are we supposed to do or feel.

A recent study came out that this generation, my generation, is going to be the first to not surpass the previous generation, i.e. our parents. We probably won’t earn as much money. Companies are going to be more reluctant to provide benefits or hire people who need/want benefits. At first glance, it’s a depressing picture. Keeping up with the Jones’ is a concept with which we are all familiar. And to be told that this accepted concept might not be a part of your reality, well, let’s just say it’s irksome.

Take a step back, though. Look past the picture that’s already there and consider the borderline cheesy, metaphorical empty canvas or wall space that lies beyond it. I think we’ve gotten so caught up, as a society, in making our mark on a picture that exists, that doesn’t need to be touched, that perhaps is too maimed and busy as it is right now, forgetting the beauty and excitement of a blank surface. We, in this generation, have an opportunity to define ourselves in a way that was either too extreme or unconventional, and therefore, unacceptable, before.

This is probably too idealistic considering the circumstances, but I’m also saddened by the fascination and pleasure we get from our own discontent, the catharsis that some feel when they can say their bad day just trumped your worst day. Regardless, we’ve been given an opportunity. No, not just an opportunity, but a choice. I hope this euphoria reigns itself in before I get to a battle between good versus evil, but I will say that this choice will split us into two primary parties with a variety of sub-groups. In this generation, and their leanings will become more apparent in the near future, if they haven’t already, will be the coasters and the challengers.

For fear of dragging this on too long, let me be clear by saying that a coaster has no relation to a roller-coaster whatsoever. There’s nothing wrong with them. We need different kinds of people in this world to fill the various niches, but the coasters are going to continue painting on the pre-existing artwork. Let’s give them real jobs, though. They’ll be retouchers. They serve a valuable purpose-reminding us of our history, reexamining the social and political policies and, maybe, restoring/improving them. But their philosophy is still defined by the idea that more is better, that success is a product of an office job and a massive paycheck. Still important, but scared. Seriously, regardless of how sharklike they are in a business room or how many pounds they can lift in a gym, they’re scared of what this new life might mean, what it might, or, more importantly, might not give them.

But, then you have the challengers–named after the badass car that has made a pretty rapid comeback in the past few years and that has a rumble that shakes the windows of a coaster’s luxury sedan. They demand life and every feeling, every emotion that goes along with it because life is no longer defined by the size of your house or the money you make, but the experiences that you want for yourself and you make for yourself. They risk comfort for the expansion of thought and understanding. They forego the norm to write their own story. Sometimes coasting until they settle on their next venture, but always seeking. Granted, there will be times of heartache or uncertainty, and sometimes it will be maddening, but it’ll be worth it. They’ll be stronger, and, moreover, happier than the rest. And wouldn’t it be nice if we started defining our lives by happiness? By the relationships we make/have? By the stories we can tell to the next generation? I mean, come on, think of the stories! Those will be some of the best dinner tables, and they will, by far, be the best parents/grandparents.

Either way, you’re fine. But, I don’t want to be fine. I don’t want to coast. I don’t want to settle into a relationship because it’s something I feel I should do. I want to be a challenger, to feel everything, to love, to laugh, to leap. There you have it, my life philosophy as a confused, crazy, sometimes overly emotional 23 year old girl…

Happy Father’s Day!

Dad and I outside the language school

Dear Dad,
I thought about writing some funny quips about your various mannerisms. Truly, I considered some clever jabs about the way you park the car, or the frequency that biking or any topic related to biking comes up in conversation, even if it is totally unrelated to the current subject. It was a possibility, but then I reminded myself that today is Father’s Day. I mean, according to you, every day is Father’s Day, so technically, I guess I should be writing a post dedicated to you every day, but this will have to do.

Don’t get too excited. I can’t have you getting all carried away, but I just wanted to point out some things that some people might not know about you and all that you’ve done for me. Okay, so, thanks for making me go to my last choice for college. I’m not being sarcastic. Truly, thank you. Had I not, I would’ve been drowning in debt like my peers and I sure as hell would not have been able to take two years off to travel Europe and teach English in a foreign country, or go to Bhutan to play in rivers, or jet off to Hawaii (twice) to study humpback whales. I’m going on public record right here, and right now: You were right, and I was a stuck-up teenager who didn’t know any better.

Thanks for encouraging me throughout the years in my different interests. I mean, you didn’t know anything about soccer, but when I started playing, you read books and started watching games. You even volunteered as a coach on my first soccer team. We became season ticket holders to the Philadelphia Charge because of you. And I have the six soccer balls completely covered in autographs to prove it. You drove me to all of my travel team practices and matches, rain or shine. Don’t think I’ve forgotten that practice that we had in a torrential downpour when I was playing for RBU. I remember you standing there with an umbrella and a few other brave parents, probably cursing the future state of your car’s passenger seat. But you still stood there. You’ve always stood there, and you’ve always tried to give me everything I wanted.

You’ve been there for me during my hardest times, even though I may not have realized that they were my hardest times. You talked to me almost every day via skype when I was in Hungary, listened to me cry about wanting to come home, gripe about my boss, and heard out my ephemeral schemes for greatness upon my return to the States. You’ve taught me that it’s okay to have different dreams and to never settle when you’re not happy. At least, that’s what I’ve taken from the seemingly constant state of flux that is your employment history. Dad, you have instilled in me a strong moral compass, a strength, a vulnerability, and a sense of humor for which I am sincerely grateful. Though I don’t say it enough, I love you and I thank you for giving the last twenty-three years of your life to me. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, but I promise you I’ll never forget it.

With all my heart,
Sophie